We helicopter over our kids wardrobes, nutrition, sleep schedules, hygiene, science fair projects and then pride ourselves on how hands off we are on social issues.
By Leslie Blanchard
I will never forget the day my daughter told me that Bethany, a girl in her 4th grade class, was annoying her.
What is she doing to you? I questioned, instinctively protective.
Shes following me around on the playground and sitting by me at lunch! she quipped, as if that would sum things right up and get me squarely on her side of the matter.
You mean shes trying to be friends with you? I asked incredulously.
I realized immediately that I had a problem on my hands. I was raising my own worst nightmare. Smack dab in the middle of my brood of five kids, was a charismatic, sassy, leggy, blonde, dance-y, athletic girl oozing confidence … and apparently annoyance, directed toward another little girl that wasnt lucky enough to be her. Inconveniently for my daughter, her own mother WAS Bethany in grade school. Freckled of face and frizzy of hair, I was an Army brat, always the new girl clamoring for a friend, drawn to the natural confidence of girls like my daughter. This conversation found me vacillating between heartache and fury, but one thing I knew for sure: Mama was about to put her money where her mouth had been all these years.
The battle of two very strong wills ensued at my home the next morning. It wasnt pretty, but I prevailed. My daughter attended a private Catholic grade school, where on any given day, she and a handful of her cohorts ruled the roost. One quick phone call to Bethanys mother that same evening confirmed my worst fears. My daughter and her posse were using everything short of a can of Cling Free to rid themselves of the annoying Bethany.
Im sure there are parents out there who will say I overreacted. But, I firmly believe weve got to start to address our countrys bullying epidemic right at the heart; by re-defining bullying at its very core. To me, the rejection and complete lack of interest my daughter and her clique displayed toward Bethany was the beginning of a subtle type of bullying. It is true (confirmed to me by Bethanys mom and teachers), that there was no overt unkindness or name-calling, etc., just rejection; a complete lack of interest in someone they wrongly concluded had nothing to offer them. After experiencing childhood myself and raising five of my own, Ive been on every side of the bullying social dynamic, and I am convinced this is where it begins. A casual assessment and quick dismissal of an outsider.
We would serve our children well, in my opinion, if we had a frank conversation with them about Social Darwinism and what motivates human beings to accept and reject others. It happens at every age and stage of life, race, creed and religion. It has its roots in our own fears of rejection and lack of confidence. Everyone is jockeying for their own spot on the Social Food Chain. I feel like I have experienced demonstrable success with my children by tabling this dynamic right out in the open. Parents need to call it by name, speak it out loud, shine a bright light in its ugly face. We need to admit to our children that we too experience this, even as adults. Of course its tempting to curry favor and suck-up to the individual a rung of two above you on the Social Ladder, but every single human being deserves our attention and utmost respect. In spite of this, we have to constantly remind our children and ourselves that everyone can bring unexpected and unanticipated value to our lives. But we have to let them.
Its simply not enough to instruct your children to Be Nice! Youve got to be more specific than that. Kids think if they arent being outright unkind, they are being nice. We know better. Connect the ugly dots. Explain the Darwinistic social survival instinct thats often motivating and guiding their impulses. I promise you, they can handle it. They already see it on some level anyway. They just need YOU to give it a voice and re-direction.
As for my girl, I instructed her that she was going to invest some time and energy getting to know Bethany. I assigned her to come home from school the next day and report three cool things she found out about Bethany, that she didnt previously know. My strong-willed child dug in. She did not want to do that. I dug in deeper. I refused to drive her to school the next morning, until she agreed. It seemed that, at least until now, I had the car keys and the power. Her resistance gave us time to have the Social Darwinism conversation. I walked her through my ATM Machine Analogy. I explained to her that she had social bank to spare. She could easily make a withdrawal on behalf of this little girl, risking very little.
Lets invest! I enthused and encouraged.
She got dressed reluctantly and I drove her to school. She had a good daywhat was left of it. But, she was still buggy with me when I picked her up, telling me that her friends mothers stay out of such matters and let their daughters choose their own friends! (Such wise women.) And then she told me three cool things about Bethany that she didnt previously know.
I checked back in with Bethanys mother by phone two weeks later. Its called follow through. (I dont think enough of us are doing that. We helicopter over our kids wardrobes, nutrition, sleep schedules, hygiene, science fair projects and then pride ourselves on how hands off we are on social issues. If I had a dollar for every time I wanted to say, Seriously? You micro-manage the literal crap out of every thing your child does from his gluten intake to his soccer cleats, but THIS you stay out of? No wonder theres zero accountability and a bullying culture!) Bethanys mother assured me that she had been welcomed into the fold of friendship and was doing well.
Bethanys family moved to another state a few years later. My daughter cried when they parted ways. They still keep in touch through all their social media channels. She was and is a really cool girl, with a lot to offer her peers. But the real value was to my daughter, obviously. She gained so much through that experience. She is now a 20-year-old college sophomore, with a widely diverse group of friends. She is kind, inclusive and open to all types of people. When she was malleable, impressionable and mine to guide:
She learned her initial instinct about people isnt always correctly motivated.
She learned you can be friends with the least likely people; the best friendships arent people that are your type! In the world of friendship, contrast is a plus.
She learned that there are times, within a given social framework, that you are in a position to make a withdrawal on behalf of someone else. Be generous, invest! It pays dividends.
But, most importantly, she learned that, while I may not be overly-interested in what she gets on her Science Fair project, couldnt care less if shes Lactose Intolerant or whether her long blonde hair is snarled, shes going to damn well treat people right.
Parentsyour kids are going to eventually develop the good sense to wear a jacket and eat vegetables, invest your energy in how they interact within society. If we insist on being the hovering Helicopter Parent Generation, lets at least hover over the right areas.
About the Author:Leslie Blanchard is a wife and mother of five, who tattles on her husband, her own mother and her children by chronicling the insane and mundane in all of their lives in a fairly public way. Collectively, her family more or less rues the day they purchased her an iPad. Now that shes officially a blogger, Leslie lies in the tub, neglecting her considerable responsibilities and muses about marriage, motherhood, friendship and other matters of life outside the bubbles. Read more from Leslie on her blog A Ginger Snapped: Facing the Music of Marriage & Motherhood.