The BullyJust read an interesting article on bullying in the Christian Science Monitor (Thanks Stacy!). It talks about what does and doesn’t work when you’re the victim of bullying. Looks like good advice to me. Excellent advice even.

Two things jumped out at me. First, it links to another article with the following statement:

A decades’ long focus on self-esteem may have given some kids too much pride, making them more forceful with others. And psychologists suggest the focus on kids’ confidence may mean a subsequent lag in mediation and negotiation skills – knowledge that could defuse volatile situations.

The idea that too much pride makes kids more forceful with others and lacking in mediation skills is fascinating. I don’t think it’s true. Real, healthy pride or self-esteem does not lead a kid to bully others. It leads them to do what they think is right despite peer pressure, among many other positive things.

But we’re not talking about real, healthy pride or self-esteem. In the public school systems and many private ones were talking about false praise handed out to kids who haven’t earned it because educational group-think prescribes handfuls of it regardless of performance.   The problem is and has been for years that the subjects of that false praise, the kids, know perfectly well that it’s false. And the kids who earn the real praise can’t tell the difference between it and the stuff you’re handing to the moron at the end of the row.

The message that effusive unearned praise sends is not the intended one. Instead of telling the kids that they’re worth something, we’ve been telling kids they’re not worth anything except false praise. In a situation where they get praised no matter what they do, there is no way for them to earn real praise. All they get is a constant repitition of the refrain “Here have some false praise, you’re not worth the real stuff.” And when you hand the same crap to those who excel as you hand to those who don’t, where’s the incentive to even try? As far as the kids can tell, trying isn’t worth squat.

I haven’t done and can’t do a real study of the matter but I would not be at all surprised if bullying was a direct result of a desperate search for a way to get ahead, excel, stand above one’s peers. To WIN. There have always been bullies. When I was a kid, they were usually the poor bastards who had real problems at home or in their personal lives. They were trying to lift themselves by pushing others down. The problem we’re running into now is that the false praise we’ve been handing out for that decade mentioned above doesn’t make troubled kids feel better about themselves, it makes all the kids feel worse, because it’s a lie. So they look for self-esteem in the hall.

Don’t get me wrong. Kids who fail don’t need to be ridiculed. They need to be praised too. But it has to be real praise, and sometimes it’s hard to find a way to hand that out. It’s never impossible though.

And it never hurt anyone to be told, “You failed at this because you didn’t try hard enough. Study more, practice longer and you’ll succeed.” Being a loser at something isn’t the end of the world.

And now we come to the second thing that stands out. What happens to the kids who fight back against the bullies?

Seriously, what happens to them? When bullying gets physical, the appropriate response is physical. If a big bully is trying to hurt you, stabbing him with your pencil is perfectly appropriate. Heck, your buddy stabbing him with his pencil is appropriate. Yet, in our culture today, the kid defending himself or another kid in that manner would be kicked out and sued. That’s another underlying problem in our society. We protect bullies by denying the victims, their friends, and any civic-minded bystanders the ability to respond appropriately.