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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Maybe we’re teaching something else

May 19, 2010

Today's lesson is geography and what else?

A master teacher once pointed out to a group of student teachers: “If you’re not modeling what you teach or what you say you want kids to learn, then you sure as hell are teaching something else!”

Bullying is a systemic problem. Put downs, gossip, snarkiness are all pretty much the air we breathe. Yet when we see or read about mean-kid behavior we’re all righteously stunned. “They tormented the girl so badly that she committed suicide!? Then the perpetrators actually posted more cruel comments on the victim’s Facebook memorial page!!!”

Considering what passes for entertainment and bonding around the water cooler, the sidelines at the game, the teacher lounge, the TV, the blogosphere, why are we surprised? It would be more surprising if kids growing up in our Culture of Cruelty turned out to be something other than cruel.

I know it’s harsh to think that the enemy is us… but we might as well own it because until we do we are cluelessly fueling the problem. And any attempts to minimize school bullying, turn a blind eye, or infer that it’s just “kids being kids” misses the point and blows yet another opportunity to turn the ship around.

Blackberry vines have rooted amongst my rose bushes. If I simply curse them or pluck a leaf here and there, that won’t stop the spread of vines (which will totally take over if I permit it). I’ve got to get in there on my hands and knees, deal with the thorns and dig out those suckers and all their damn roots.

Same applies to bullying. Not only are parents and teachers responsible for rooting out malevolent behavior between kids whenever we see it, hear about it or sense it. But we adults who live and work with kids have the moral obligation of watching our own mouths and attitudes… all the time. Otherwise “Respect, Compassion and Social Responsibility” is just a school motto and the dirty truth is that we’re teaching something else.

Filed under: Cruel's Not Cool,Parenting — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 2:59 pm
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17 Comments »

  1. I completely agree. I try my best to model respect for my students by how I address not only my students but other teachers and members of the administration as well.

    Comment by Chase March — May 19, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

  2. Once again Annie you hit it right on the nail! We all try & place blame elsewhere – but the truth is “Bullying” is everyone’s fault & everyone’s problem. The bullying culture in our schools is systemic & deep rooted. The schools cannot do this alone. The only way we can break down this poison is a genuine partnership btwn schools & parents. Like you said Annie, until we are willing to get down to the core root of the problem, until we can “watch our mouths & attitudes” then we are teaching something else. Thank you, Annie for this “activist” post, lol, & for all you do!

    Comment by Kelsie Morales — May 19, 2010 @ 5:52 pm

  3. As a mom, I have to demonstrate my total acceptance of my children with special needs. To me, that means when people ask if I want to make autism go away, I say, “NO!” My children have taught me too much and have accomplished so much with their differences. As a professional, I too often see families who don’t fully accept their child’s diagnosis, and teachers who don’t appreciate their students’ challenges. Children are indeed looking to us to show them how to treat children with special needs. What are we teaching them?? Good stuff, Annie!

    Comment by Chelsea Budde — May 20, 2010 @ 1:10 pm

  4. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Lucy

    http://dataentryjob-s.com

    Comment by Lucy — May 24, 2010 @ 10:17 am

  5. Which means the teacher who says “I see Joey isn’t prepared today, as usual. How about you, Jenn?” is guilty of bullying, right? And the coach who says “You’re pathethic!”

    Comment by Tamora Pierce — May 24, 2010 @ 1:33 pm

  6. Tamora, I agree with you that there is always a danger in being overzealous when trying to change a culture. Like the 5 year old who got kicked out of school for sexual harassment because he hugged one of the girls. that’s just ludicrous!

    But in the examples you gave of the teacher who says “I see Joey isn’t prepared today, as usual…” That sounds like an intentionally hurtful comment. There’s no reason a teacher should speak to a child that way. I can understand a teacher feeling frustrated at a student who continually comes to class unprepared, but ridiculing a kid in front of classmates is wrong and it sends a message to the other kids that Joey should be targeted. Same goes for any coach who says “You’re pathetic!” That’s uncalled for. Coaches are supposed to help kids work together as a team… calling a kid “pathetic” isn’t likely to help him feel part of the team, nor is it likely to make the other kids want to play with him.

    Comment by Annie — May 24, 2010 @ 6:01 pm

  7. As Annie stated in another blog entry, I too am looking at everything with my “bullying filter” on these days as I’m doing what I can to eliminate this problem in schools. I completely agree about the idea that kids are absorbing so much of what is modeled to them. This is why we are working on helping the “grownups” at the same time we work with the students. Our schools today are filled with the “Perfect Storm” of kids who lack appropriate social skills and character with teachers who don’t know how to manage them effectively.

    Sadly, bullying is the “end result” of this problem, but it’s so much broader than that. As I wrote in my blog the other day (http://socialsmarts.wordpress.com/2010/05/20/kindergartner-to-obama-are-people-being-nice/) the problem of incivility is so pervasive that there is no area of our society that’s immune.

    We’ll never “fix” it until we go to the root of the problem and so far, there aren’t too many folks who are willing or ready to do that. Until then, we’ll continue to see this problem “burble up” because we’re putting bandaids on surface lesions when there’s a severed artery we should be dealing with.

    Comment by Corinne Gregory — May 25, 2010 @ 5:56 am

  8. What a wonderful post from a unique and IMPORTANT point of view. Thank you Annie!

    Comment by ANAPHOTO — June 1, 2010 @ 11:23 am

  9. I completely agree with you. Great article.

    Comment by Aasiyah — September 9, 2010 @ 8:59 am

  10. Agree in every detail, Annie. Parents and teachers play a huge role in modeling respect, and unfortunately, can also model the lack of it. What passes for humor and irony to adults can be very hurtful in children.

    Would be great if teachers (and ok, parents!) had an opportunity to get trained on that along the way. I think most do it without thinking, and without realizing what they’ve done.

    You mention culture, which is the same issue on a broader scale. It’s difficult to turn on the television without a barrage of abusive language and negative role models. I think it started on are few channels, but it’s spread like a virus to every reality show in sight. Not to mention movies. In America, the disrespect and verbal abuse are simulcast. How do we insulate children from that? How do we unwind the damage?

    Comment by Chris Jones — January 3, 2011 @ 12:20 am

  11. So true. Adults are quick to judge the behaviour of kids and slow to look at their own behaviour. Bullying isn’t a problem exclusive to schools and children. I have seen gossip tear apart social groups including a homeschooling community and a workplace. We tolerate verbal, emotional and physical violence in the media and in our daily lives, yet act surprised when our children learn it. So often the answer is staring at us from the mirror.

    Comment by Laura — January 6, 2011 @ 8:19 pm

  12. Noticing the difference between what we say and what we do is a critical (second only to unconditional love) of being responsible for children. When we see behavior we don’t like we have to act as if we caused it or allowed it to happen even if we don’t really think we did. That is what taking responsibility for a child means.

    Comment by Rick ackerly — January 7, 2011 @ 3:14 pm

  13. Beautifully said. Kids don’t just magically come up with the idea that it’s funny to make someone cry. We seem to have entered an era in which it is considered passe to have a positive out look and hokey to be genuinely kind. If you want kids to be whole compassionate human beings then you have step up to the plate and try to be one.

    Comment by Kristin — January 20, 2011 @ 12:06 pm

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    Comment by What is OCD — January 23, 2011 @ 11:05 am

  15. So well written and easy to read! Love your blackberry metaphor and call to action, Annie.

    Comment by Jean Tracy, MSS — April 15, 2011 @ 2:31 pm

  16. My high school years were what I feel to be the beginning of the trend of snarkiness. One of my favorite teachers, who was great in many ways, was also snarky and sarcastic. It was funny and being rebellious teenagers finding a voice, most of us loved it.

    But as time moves on, I feel like everyone has the snark switch turned ON all the time. Kids look at people who have attained celebrity status based on their vitriolic dialog and imitate it. Teaching at a private elementary school I can’t tell you how shocked I was at the meanness that came from kids so young.

    I can’t change what passes for entertainment, but I can change me. I know that I’ve taken more of the snark out of my day to day exchanges in hopes that others will follow suit.

    Thank you for your thoughtful post and daring us to look at ourselves when we are horrified by what happens around us.

    Comment by Amber — May 5, 2011 @ 2:18 pm

  17. Annie great post!
    I totally agree that as adults we have the moral obligation of watching our own mouths and attitudes… all the time. Kids copy what we do not say..
    We have to help ourselves and our kids figure out what feelings made them be mean and how to say things differently.

    Comment by Ava — February 22, 2013 @ 5:29 pm

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