Sunday, December 26, 2010

Favorite comments of '10: ChemProf on teasing and bullying


The bullying teacher scenario is a really tough one, as especially for socially awkward girls, the teacher can really create an environment where it is okay for other girls to pick on the outcast. I've been there. Also, at least in the 1970's, the prohibition on tattling was really confusing for me, and I know that was common for other kids who didn't pick up on social norms easily (many of whom I met in college!)

Interestingly, the teachers who targeted me were always women, and when I (rarely) found a defender, it was a male teacher or guidance counselor. I have always been amused by the assumption that women will support other women.

Also, as a parent, don't assume, even if your child tells you what is going on, that you have the whole story. When my high school English teacher was making my life hell, my mother knew something was going on, and had me go see my guidance counselor. She thought I might get angry and say something inappropriate. He realized I was about to commit assault, and gave me a get out of jail free card, which I could use anytime during that class to go see him. As for changing classes, the teacher taught the only sections of Honors English, so there were no other options for me.

Giving your child tools to deal with a bully is good, but parents need to realize that those tools are usually only minimally effective. It is important, though, that kids know they don't deserve to be treated that way.

It can be even worse than you think - the anti-bullying programs can themselves wind up targeting some socially awkward kids. That kid is baited until he or she lashes out, and is then taken to the teacher. Since the original baiting seems like normal childish behavior, and often the socially awkward child can't explain exactly what set them off, it can be the bullied child who actually gets punished. 

One of many reasons we are planning to homeschool is that our families both skip between merely geeky and mildly autistic, but wherever you are in that curve, you are bully bait.


Hainish said...

prohibition on tattling was really confusing for me, and I know that was common for other kids who didn't pick up on social norms easily

OK, what are the rules on tattling? Inquiring minds want to know!

Ray said...

In my second grade class, the students are to tell me if someone could be hurt, property is being damaged, or if someone is cheating on a test. I don't use the word tattling because it has a negative quality, and these children are trying to be helpful.

I am always interested in anything that can help me be more effective. Could someone share some specific examples of "baiting"? I want my class to be a place where all types of students can feel comfortable.

ChemProf said...

I'm not sure I ever really got the rules on tattling, but this was my basic experience. The socially awkward kid is being teased and getting increasingly upset. She tries all the recommended avoidance techniques -- ignoring the other kid, going away, telling them it is bothering her -- but she is visibly upset so none of them work. Maybe, as in my case, it is easy to get her to cry, which makes teasing extra fun. So she tells an adult, who says "don't be a tattletale" or "you need to work it out yourself". Or the adult repeats the advice that has already failed. The teasing continues, and eventually the more aggressive kid actually moves on to physical contact. Now, the socially awkward kid tells the teacher again, and is told "why didn't you tell me before?" At which point, she throws up her hands and decides adults are just irrational. I get what the teacher is trying to do, but it is based on the assumption that kids will "just pick up" the unwritten rules of when to tell and when not to. And that the general advice works, which in my experience is baloney.

As for baiting, socially awkward kids are often not able to deal well with teasing. In sixth grade, for example, a group of girls kept making sexual jokes I was totally unprepared for. My eventual response was to kick one of them and run off crying. Luckily for me, she had been pretty out of line and so didn't report me.

In another incident earlier, in about third grade, I had a group of three boys who liked to hassle me. It was verbal teasing mostly - again, it was easy to get me to cry - until they decided it would be fun to jump out at me when I walked home with my little sister. I'm sure they thought I'd scream and run and it would be funny. I hit one of them on the head with my (old school metal) lunchbox, and they reported me to the school. They were "just playing", and I had clearly over-reacted. Nothing much happened - I argued that I had been protecting my sister and it all happened off of school grounds - but that was also before the zero-tolerance era.

Ray said...

I appreciate the time you took to share this. At times I include hurting someone's feelings as part of the tell me if someone is being hurt idea, and maybe I need to emphasize this more. I can see that many of the suggestions we give to children have an element of blaming the victim. Why should a socially awkward child have to "walk away" when someone is teasing?

I struggle with the social problems I see in the classroom. I want to focus on academics, but socially awkward children can be so unhappy.

ciara said...

I was always confused about tattling as well. The rule, as I understand it is, if someone is doing something that doesn't concern you, keep your mouth shut. Of course, that's not much of a rule, because then you have to decide what does concern you. If you see someone beat another kid senseless, shouldn't you "tell" someone?