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My young granddaughter has been sick with fevers off and on recently, and I wondered what could be affecting her immune system. Tearfully, she told me some boys at school (elementary school) have been mocking her because her daddy died unexpectedly. “Da Da, hospital, hospital!” they chant.
I reminded her that she’s a good student. The bullies are probably jealous of her good grades as well as the lavish attention she received when her father was honored. They’re spewing the jealousy they carry inside—meanness that doesn’t have anything to do with her, really. Her mom helps her practice role plays to provide responses she can use. But advice doesn’t help much when you’re hurting.
Okay, I know elementary school children can be cruel, but teasing someone for a death in the family? Who would even think of doing that? I remember a boy I knew in elementary school who cried easily. To us, it seemed like he cried over everything. He was a classic victim, which made teasing him almost irresistible—for some of the kids. I can’t say I stood up for him. I thought he deserved to be called a crybaby because he whined so much. But I didn’t join in. I had been taught that picking on anybody is wrong.
While children can be cruel, they can also be amazingly caring. Some children go out of their way to do for strangers. What’s the difference? Why doesn’t bullying stop in elementary school? Why does it have to happen at all?
The topic of bullying has been a common one these past few months. I’m not blaming our president-elect in spite of the terrible example of insensitivity he’s presented. Hopefully, he wasn’t the one who gave the boys permission to be cold-hearted. However, as he built his own brand of influence, he proved to young and old alike that bullying can give you a kind of power when your audience doesn’t mind. Why didn’t we mind—enough to stop it?
Bullying is contagious. Treating other people like objects is contagious. Children follow the examples they see—especially the examples set by people who are important to them—probably not the president, but parents, siblings, friends, coaches, etc. They’re watching all of us.
I can’t protect my granddaughter from the ugliness in the world, although I will do my best to help her see that bullying is a symptom of a heart that has cold spots. In this season when people argue over how we wish one another well, I hope some adults pause to wonder what they can do to both model and instruct the teachings they’re supposedly celebrating. I hope they realize they influence both the children and the adults around them.