May 26, 2016
How not to stop bullying
I think this mother is wrong. Not to not want her daughter to be a bully or to say that parents need to be proactive about stopping bullying at its source, obviously, but the way she decided to go about that is teaching some collateral lessons that I don’t think are good ones at all.
It’s not actually wrong to just not enjoy someone’s company and not want to spend time with them. Someone trying *really hard* to be your friend can be incredibly invasive and draining, and it’s not wrong to be irritated by that behavior.
If this had been a little boy, I’m wondering whether Blanchard would have reacted the same way. Or whether she’d’ve decided she’d rather teach her kid that she has a right not to have contact or relationships with people she doesn’t want relationships with.
(Same-sex romantic relationships exist, and stalking and harassment and domestic violence occur between same-sex partners as well as opposite-sex ones. This girl could just as easily have internalized the message that she’s obligated to give time and attention to a female romantic pursuer who won’t take no for an answer. This lesson won’t necessarily not carry over into someone’s romantic relationships just because this situation was a same-sex interaction.)
I don’t think the other little girl was probably a budding stalker rather than a lonely, over-eager kid. But that doesn’t mean she has or had a right to another person’s time and attention. That she does is a dangerous lesson for her to have been taught, too. That if she’s relentless enough, eventually people will break down and change their minds about not wanting a relationship.
Sometimes a kid might need to be prodded to look more closely at their rejection of a person, at whether prejudice or misunderstanding is at its core. Sometimes they have utterly correct instincts of discomfort with someone that they can’t verbalize or explain.
Apparently things turned out okay with Bethany. But a lot of other kids grow up and realize that their “friends” were directed to be their friends by parents or teachers, and that has really not great consequences for self-worth or good relationship skills. Volumes of writing at this point have also been done on the harm of knowing that you’re somebody’s assigned friend, and how you learn that people are only ever just tolerating your presence, that no one genuinely likes you and that being your friend is an act of charity that you should be grateful for.
“I dug in deeper. I refused to drive her to school the next morning, until she agreed. It seemed that, at least until now, I had the car keys and the power.”
This isn’t anti-bullying, this is an adult demonstrating her absolute power over a child’s choices, and it’s not impressive or endearing, or harmless. At its heart, it’s just “might makes right.”
“I’ve had a few people say, I don’t tell my children – force my children to be friends with people, but these very same people force their children to brush their teeth, force their children to eat green vegetables.”
That you teach kids to take care of their own bodies is a world away from teaching them that they owe their attention to whoever wants it badly enough.
I was a bullying target, but I also had a couple of relationships in which I didn’t really have choices about whether or how to be in them. Each of those things did its own kind of lasting damage. In some ways the effects of being pressured into friendships that other people wanted me to have, have been far more insidious.
It’s one thing to encourage a kid to see past her preconceptions about a dorky classmate (which I say as the dorky classmate) and to give her a chance, or say she can’t be snide to her or be mean about her behind her back. Maybe she could spend a limited amount of time with her. Maybe a teacher could get involved in matching the other girl up with another lonely kid. Maybe there could be a lunch or recess reading or game group so that no one winds up sitting alone if they don’t want to be. Maybe a kid needs to learn how to say “no” without being a bully, but maybe the other girl also needs to learn to take “no” for an answer.
It’s sad when someone doesn’t want to be your friend, but that doesn’t mean you can just make them be. Or hound them until their parents get mad and make them be. There’s no level of popularity at which you owe someone friendship.
There’s such a thing as saying no to a relationship gracefully. There’s a difference between not being a bully and not being allowed to say no. Ostracism can be subtle, but I can’t believe that makes the answer “You don’t get a say in who you have friendships with or spend time on.” And if I have a daughter who comes home one day and says she doesn’t want to be friends with another girl, that will not be my worst nightmare. It won’t even be close.
It was hard to not have many friends, and to like people who didn’t like me back. Their total disinterest was a hard lesson to learn, but the very last thing I would’ve wanted in response is for a relationship with me to be seen as an investment or an ATM transaction or a point to be made. For someone to see indulging my presence as a character-building exercise for their own kid as being my real utility as a human. For someone else to have been told they didn’t get to say no to a relationship with me.
That’s not what it is to truly be seen as a person.