Bullying is all over the news these days — particularly as it relates to suicide and depression in children and young adults.
This kind of behavior has always been around, but appears to have reached new heights — and is happening at younger ages. Marjorie Campbell wrote about bullying in a recent article right here at IC.
The New York Times also ran a piece on Sunday called “The Playground Gets Even Tougher,” highlighting the extreme meanness among girls in kindergarden. Experts and observers say there’s no one cause, but they attribute it to early media exposure, earlier on-set of puberty, the loss of unstructured playtime, materialism, clueless teachers, and poor parenting.
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The media effect seems like a no-brainer:
“The research literature on aggression is very clear that with relational aggression, it’s monkey see, money do,” said Tracy Vaillancourt, who specializes in children’s mental health and violence prevention at the University of Ottawa. “Kids mirror the larger culture, from reality TV to materialism.”
We no longer live in the pigtailed world of Cindy Brady where a handful of channels import variations on sugar and spice, with prompt repercussions for the latter. “So much of what passes for entertainment is about being rude, nasty and crass,” said Meline Kevorkian, who studies bullying at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale-Davie, Fla. “What we see as comedy is actually making fun of other people.”
So much else can be summed up in the way children are parented. The article ends by saying that victims of bullying are often those girls who are raised to be more “age appropriate,” while the mean girls are the ones “who are 8 and want to be 14, and their parents play along.”
School boards and local governments are beginning to pass “anti-bullying” laws and regulations. As skeptical as I am about these, I also don’t think it’s enough to say, “It’s the parents’ responsibility to teach and model this at home.” The fact is, parents are part of the problem here — and for many reasons. So what’s the answer?
Well, here’s one: A Canadian-based program shows that having babies around older children makes a big difference. Roots of Empathy, founded in 1996, teaches kindness, acceptance of others, and empathy. They bring an infant and his or her mother (or father) into the classroom at the beginning of the school year for 45 minutes and then every month, the infant comes back:
During the baby visits, the children sit around the baby and mother (sometimes it’s a father) on a green blanket (which represents new life and nature) and they try to understand the baby’s feelings. The instructor helps by labeling them… Children learn strategies for comforting a crying baby. They learn that one must never shake a baby. They discover that everyone comes into the world with a different temperament, including themselves and their classmates. They see how hard it can be to be a parent, which helps them empathize with their own mothers and fathers. And they marvel at how capacity develops. Each month, the baby does something that it couldn’t do during its last visit: roll over, crawl, sit up, maybe even begin walking. Witnessing the baby’s triumphs — even something as small as picking up a rattle for the first time — the children will often cheer.
The program has gone into 13,000 classrooms; when writer David Bornstein investigated, he said: “What I find most fascinating is how the baby actually changes the children’s behavior. Teachers have confirmed my impressions: tough kids smile, disruptive kids focus, shy kids open up. In a seventh grade class, I found 12-year-olds unabashedly singing nursery rhymes.”
So maybe babies are the answer. And since kids don’t get to experience babies at home anymore, I guess we need to bring babies to school.