Campaigns against bullying got a boost this week with the story of Jonathan Martin, an offensive lineman (6 feet 5 inches, 320 pounds) with the Miami Dolphins who quit the team after prolonged bullying led by another offensive lineman, equally large, with the unlikely name of Richie Incognito. The narrative has since gotten complicated—Incognito was initially said to be vicious racist, for example, but a number of the Dolphins’ black players have emphatically said he isn’t racist and they like the guy—but the received wisdom at this point is still that Jonathan Martin was indeed bullied, his size and strength couldn’t protect him, and that goes to show how important it is to eliminate bullying from the nation’s schools.
As someone who was a nerdy weakling in my youth and ran into my share of bullying, part of me is sympathetic. However, I’m also a parent of four who wanted my children to have happy childhoods but wanted them to become happy adults even more. Those two goals are in tension. In particular, we want our children to be able to cope with the adversity that is part of every adult life, which means being resilient. But how does one learn resilience while growing up? How much adversity is needed in our children’s lives so that they can exercise their resilience muscle? We don’t want to send our six-year-olds into the streets to fend for themselves, but do we really want them to grow up without experiencing any tough times?
I put it as a question because many parents behave as if they would answer “yes,” sheltering their children in protective bubbles, fiercely critical of the schools if word gets back that another child has been allowed to be mean to their child, withdrawing their children from any environment—a sports team, a summer camp, a school activity—that doesn’t immediately enchant their child. Ask any K–12 teacher about the parents who refuse to accept that any disciplinary action against their child could be justified, and get upset because the teacher’s criticism of their children’s work was too blunt and insufficiently reinforcing.
None of these reflections have public policy implications. I am drawing attention to what I believe to be a universal truth—that growing up requires learning how to cope with adversity—and suggesting that the current parenting zeitgeist is devoid of any recognition of that truth. It’s time we reintroduced it into the conversation, lest we raise a generation with the resilience of crystal champagne flutes.
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