Monday, November 17, 2008

Teaching About Bullying... the WRONG Way

My kids' favorite books right now are the "Little Critter" books, by Mercer Mayer. They're simple, have cute illustrations and always teach a good lesson. I also like that there's a wide variety, so I don't stuck with the same book every night!

Last night Gregory grabbed one we hadn't read yet. It's called, "Just a Bully." I've loved every Critter book before that, so I didn't hesitate reading it for bedtime. Near the end of the book I wish I hadn't.

The story is about the same Critter who is in all the books. This time he defends his little sister from a bully. The bully then starts harrassing him. For most of the story, Critter acts like I hope my child would act- no retaliation, no fighting... he never stoops to the bully's level. At one point he asks as adult for help, but it just makes the bullying worse. In the end the bully hits him and the Critter starts fighting back (after his sister had encouraged to punch the bully the night before). The principal breaks it up and the bully gets in trouble. When Critter gets on the bus all the other Critters give him hi-5's, applauding him. When the bully gets on the bus, the little sister calls him a "fat head" and pushes him down.

The final "moral of the story" is to "stand up for yourself."

I was appalled. I wish I hadn't read it to my kids. We talked about it and I asked what Gregory thought about Critter's behavior. He didn't agree with it (thank goodness), but I still hated the fact that I'd read him a story about his favorite storybook character acting like that.

I considered later how else it should have ended. I know Fred dealt with bullying and, to my knowledge, never fought back. It didn't get better. But he never stooped to their level. Gregory has had to deal with bullies on the bus already. We've always firmly told him to ignore them and focus on something else.
On I read reviews on the books. Most parents were also dismayed, but a few applauded the book, happy that someone is finally taking a "realistic" approach to bullying and insisting that the parents opposed to the book obviously never dealt with being bullied as children.

I welcome any insight on this topic. Did the book have a point about "standing up for yourself" and just didn't present it well? How do you teach a young child to stand up for themselves without adopting the same negative attributes that the bullies have? Or should they just take it all and suffer?

I would hope my son trusts me and his teachers enough to always tell us if he's being bullied, and I hope we'd know how to address the issue so it's taken care of. That darn free agency! It's such a shame that small children sometimes have to suffer because other children misuse that agency.


maia said...

oh, that's such a tough one. that book is unrealistic, considering that in real life, both the bully AND the critter would get in trouble for fighting! i remember being bullied in elementary school and not fighting back, and it just went away. i don't think all kids are that lucky. and then in middle school i walked home from school knowing there were three girls waiting to jump me. i fought with all i had, and never had a problem with them after that. then there's the movie christmas story where the kid finally lets the bully have it. on the one hand, i hate that scene and think it's over the top and will not let my kids watch it this young (i can't stand the movie anyway - highly rated in my opinion) but on the other hand, that bully was awful and had it coming to him. sometimes bullies will always be bullies, but other times bullies will be bullies just as long as everyone allows them to be. i don't think we are a country that lets people bully us around :) again, it's such a tough call!!! i'll tell you what my mom has always told me, and tells me to this day - "pray about it. the answer will come."

Liz said...

That really is a tough one and I hope that my children will never have to go through something like it. But I do think that when it comes to bullying with words you should teach your children to ignore them and if at all possible try avoiding thier presence which could be hard if they are in the same class as you. Reminding your child that yes words do hurt, but the person who is being mean proabbly isn't too happy with himself because he's trying to direct the attention elsewhere to make himself look good. Plus if you ignore it, and don't give them anything to tease about by retorting back it won't be fun to tease you and most likely will leave.
If they start getting physical I have no problem telling my children to get physical back, not to hit him or her to try to hurt them , but to defend your self and get away from the situation.
What a toughy