Are Kids Too Coddled?

The New York Times

OP-ED COLUMNIST

Andy Rementer
By 
Published: November 23, 2013 

AT a middle school near Boston not long ago, teachers and administrators noticed that children would frequently return from a classmate’s weekend bar mitzvah with commemorative T-shirts, swag that advertised a party to which many fellow students hadn’t been invited.

So administrators moved to ban the clothing.

They explained, in a letter to parents, that “while the students wearing the labeled clothing are all chatting excitedly,” the students without it “tend to walk by, trying not to take notice.” What an ordeal.

Many parents favored the ban, a prophylactic against disappointment.

Some did not, noting that life would soon enough deal the kids much worse blows along these lines. And one observer, in a Facebook thread, said this, according to a local TV station’s report: “Perhaps they should dress the children in Bubble Wrap and tie mattresses to their backs so they don’t get hurt.”

I assume that’s facetious.

But these days, you never know.

I occasionally flash on that anecdote as I behold the pushback against more rigorous education standards in general and the new Common Core curriculum in particular. And it came to mind when Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently got himself into a big mess.

Duncan, defending the Common Core at an education conference, identified some of its most impassioned opponents as “white suburban moms” who were suddenly learning that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good.”

It was an impolitic bit of profiling. Gratuitous, too. But if you follow the fevered lamentations over the Common Core, look hard at some of the complaints from parents and teachers, and factor in the modern cult of self-esteem, you can guess what set Duncan off: a concern, wholly justified, that tougher instruction not be rejected simply because it makes children feel inadequate, and that the impulse to coddle kids not eclipse the imperative to challenge them.

The Common Core, a laudable set of guidelines that emphasize analytical thinking over rote memorization, has been adopted in more than 40 states. In instances its implementation has been flawed, and its accompanying emphasis on testing certainly warrants debate.

What’s not warranted is the welling hysteria: from right-wing alarmists, who hallucinate a federal takeover of education and the indoctrination of a next generation of government-loving liberals; from left-wing paranoiacs, who imagine some conspiracy to ultimately privatize education and create a new frontier of profits for money-mad plutocrats.

Then there’s the outcry, equally reflective of the times, from adults who assert that kids aren’t enjoying school as much; feel a level of stress that they shouldn’t have to; are being judged too narrowly; and doubt their own mettle.

Aren’t aspects of school supposed to be relatively mirthless? Isn’t stress an acceptable byproduct of reaching higher and digging deeper? Aren’t certain fixed judgments inevitable? And isn’t mettle established through hard work?

Apparently not, to judge from some reactions to the Common Core in New York, which has been holding hearings on the guidelines.

One father said that while his 8-year-old son was “not the most book-smart kid,” he was nonetheless “extremely bright.” With the new instruction, however, too many kids were “being made to feel dumb.” There was “no room for imagination or play,” the father groused. “All the kids are stressed out.”

A SOCIAL WORKER testified that she’d been receiving calls and referrals regarding elementary-school students on the psychological skids. “They said they felt ‘stupid’ and school was ‘too hard,’ ” she related. “They were throwing tantrums, begging to stay home and upset even to the point of vomiting.” Additional cases included insomnia, suicidal thoughts and self-mutilation, she said, and she wondered aloud if this could all be attributed to the Common Core.

A teacher on Long Island did more than wonder, speaking out at a forum two weeks ago about what she called the Common Core Syndrome, a darkly blooming anxiety among students that’s “directly related to work that they do in the classroom.”

“If that’s not child abuse, I don’t know what is,” she thundered, to wild applause. Then she endorsed the idea of parents’ exempting kids from Common Core-related tests. “The mommies in New York,” she concluded, “don’t abuse their children.”

If children are unraveling to this extent, it’s a grave problem. But before we beat a hasty retreat from potentially crucial education reforms, we need to ask ourselves how much panic is trickling down to kids from their parents and whether we’re paying the price of having insulated kids from blows to their egos and from the realization that not everyone’s a winner in every activity on every day.

There are sports teams and leagues in which no kid is allowed too much more playing time than another and in which excessive victory margins are outlawed. Losing is looked upon as pure trauma, to be doled out gingerly. After one Texas high school football team beat another last month by a lopsided score of 91-0, the parent of a losing player filed a formal complaint of bullying against the winning team’s coach.

It used to be that trophies went to victors; now, in many leagues, they go to everybody — for participation. Some teams no longer have one or two captains, elected by the other players, but a rotating cast, so that nobody’s left out.

Some high schools have 10, 20 or 30 valedictorians, along with bloated honor rolls and a surfeit of graduation prizes. Many kids at all grade levels are Bubble-Wrapped in a culture that praises effort nearly as much as it does accomplishment.

And praise itself is promiscuous, though there are experts with profound reservations about that approach. They say it can lessen motivation and set children up to be demoralized when they invariably fail at something.

“Our students have an inflated sense of their academic prowess,” wrote Marc Tucker, the president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, in Education Week. “They don’t expect to spend much time studying, but they confidently expect good grades and marketable degrees.”

David Coleman, one of the principal architects of the Common Core, told me that he’s all for self-esteem, but that rigorous standards “redefine self-esteem as something achieved through hard work.”

“Students will not enjoy every step of it,” he added. But if it takes them somewhere big and real, they’ll discover a satisfaction that redeems the sweat.

And they’ll be ready to compete globally, an ability that too much worry over their egos could hinder. As Tucker observed, “While American parents are pulling their kids out of tests because the results make the kids feel bad, parents in other countries are looking at the results and asking themselves how they can help their children do better.”

I invite you to visit my blog, follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/frankbruni and join me on Facebook.

Is It Bullying Or Drama?

The Huffington Post

Here’s an interesting article on bullying vs. drama.  At CSH, we work hard to have all be responsible for Goal IV, the building of community as a Christian value, as we inspire the girls to address examples of unkind behavior.  While it is most effective for the person who is receiving the negative treatment to stand-up for herself, we are also inspiring the bystander to be brave and confront the issue.  We are also encouraging the girls to reach out for help, when needed – “never worry alone.”

Posted: 11/13/2013

bullying or drama

Acting like a jerk is one thing, being cruel is another. Knowing the difference matters. Bullying is… a repeated pattern of harmful or rejecting behavior that occurs over a period of time, leaving you feeling excluded, isolated, or humiliated on a large scale. Your life feels seriously interrupted, and you can’t see an end in sight.

Drama is… the everyday difficulties that all teenagers experience, including relationship rifts with friends or people you’re dating, onetime instances of classmates being jerks, and conflicts that eventually blow over. People involved aren’t victims or perpetrators—they’re just part of the social world where mean things sometimes happen.

By Melissa Walker You missed a key shot in the basketball game last night, and this morning at school, there’s a Post-it on your locker that says “Choker!” Then in math class, two teammates say you’d better step it up at practice, and kids whisper as you walk by in the hall. You feel kicked around and can’t wait for the day to be over—but are you a victim of bullying?

“If bullying is every single mean thing that happens, then there’s nothing we can do to stop it,” says Emily Bazelon, author of Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy. But recognizing the difference between true bullying and everyday drama can help you brush off the little things, keep situations from escalating, and help you realize when something serious is going on—so you can step in and get help for yourself or a fellow student.

Case 1: Gym Intimidation Paul dreads going to phys ed. He’s always been small and skinny, but now that he’s in high school, the difference between him and other guys his age seems huge. A few of his classmates have started calling him “bird legs,” saying that his chest is “concave” as he changes in the locker room. They also take every opportunity to knock into him or push him down during class. It’s so brutal that Paul would rather serve detention than go to gym.

Bullying or Drama? If this happened once, says Jill Weber, a clinical psychologist in McLean, Virginia, it would just be drama. But since Paul is facing ongoing rejection and humiliation, it’s definitely bullying.

What to do: Paul could try being more assertive—kids who stand up for themselves don’t get bullied as much. “Direct confrontation is the bully’s kryptonite, because deep down they’re scared and vulnerable too,” says Weber. But this is physical intimidation, and if it gets bad enough, Paul should tell an adult. Since the gym teacher doesn’t seem to be stepping in, finding another teacher Paul trusts is key.

Case 2: Out Of Line… Online Jess didn’t think anything of it when she texted David, her friend Laura’s crush, about the math homework. But when Jess went on Facebook later, her heart dropped. Laura and their friend Allie had created a “We Hate Jess” page, where they accused Jess of moving in on David. Jess’s eyes filled with tears. How could her friends post such hateful comments?

Bullying or Drama? It’s both. Laura and Allie feel they’ve been wronged, so they’re not just targeting Jess for no reason. That’s drama. But “the Internet has changed bullying,” says Bazelon. When the drama between Jess and her friends goes public, anyone can join in—and that makes it a bullying situation.

What to do: Bazelon notes that even friends sometimes act meanly. But as tempting as it is, Jess shouldn’t respond online. Talking in person, on the other hand, is much more effective, because it takes the drama down a notch. Jess should contact Laura and Allie, or have a neutral friend do so, and then hear them out. Although it’ll be hard, asking her friends why they did this and telling them how it has hurt her is important. “They will all probably be friends again,” says Bazelon, “so Jess should try and talk it out.”

Case 3: Is mean on the menu? It’s lunch period on Zach’s first day at a new school, and he faces the cafeteria with absolute dread. His heart pounds in his chest as he walks slowly around the room, hoping that someone will look up at him and smile. Finally, he sees an open seat at a table with a group of girls and guys, so he asks if he can sit down. One girl stares at him and pushes the chair into the table. “No,” she says. “There’s no room.” Ouch.

Bullying or Drama? Although that girl at the table is definitely a jerk, she’d probably do this to anyone who isn’t part of her inner circle. So unless she continues to harass Zach in some way, it’s a onetime brush with drama, says Weber.

What to do: The cafeteria is a classic setting for this type of popularity-war drama, says Danah Boyd, author of the upcoming book It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens—it’s like a big stage where new kids are in the spotlight, and where mean kids can get the attention they crave. The best thing to do is to bite your lip, turn around and find a seat on the other side of the room. Sure, this drama stings, but remember: It’s probably not personal—and it’s temporary.

How to stand up to drama and bullying: If you see someone caught in a cycle of drama or bullying, there are lots of ways to help. Here’s how to step up and step in.

1. Lend an ear Often it’s hard to intervene in the moment, but letting people who are struggling with bullying or drama know that they’re not alone—that you get it—can have an enormous positive impact. If you don’t know them well, even just asking “Are you OK?” can make them feel less distressed.

2. Find help If the problem is more than you can handle, be a friend—even if you don’t know the victim well—and suggest that they talk to an adult. Ask if they have someone they trust, or steer them toward someone you know. Boyd notes that just “telling a trusted adult” is kind of random—you want to choose someone who you think can really help deal with what’s going on.

3. CONFRONT the troublemaker If you have a lot of confidence, be a role model and an upstander by defending the victim when an incident occurs. Make it clear that you don’t agree with what’s going on. Try saying something like, “You’re being cruel, and it needs to stop.” Then walk away with the victim and get out your superhero cape, because that’s an awesome move!