It’s becoming a pretty common cliché. Which person are you? The one who does nothing when bullying and fighting are going on? Or the one who runs over and intervenes? Which parent are you? Which teacher?
I’m going to suggest that there is a time and a place for intervening. I’m also going to suggest that there is actually a time and place for letting kids work out their conflicts when no harm is being done. More importantly, I want to suggest that there is another option which might prevent the need for the other two choices to come up so often – EMPOWERMENT.
Regardless of age, size, gender, ability or other traits, kids can be empowered to tackle and at least attempt to solve more of their own problems. There is always something they can do; some step they can take. Research tells us that people who actually do something to participate in a solution will feel/recover better during and after a crisis. But that requires us to at times, resist the urge to take over while giving kids some opportunities to at least participate in solutions.
I worry very much that we are raising too many kids to believe that adults are the only solution to their (serious AND not-so-serious) problems. I spend a lot of time in schools and the message that is often sent is: “Tell an adult and the adult will run over and rescue.”
Please understand that I know there is a time to rush over and rescue. However, if kids consistently believe that we are the only solution (to conflict, mistreatment, and especially milder teasing), that can be horribly disempowering.
We already have people who revel in being victims. I know parents who actually get excited when their kids are ”bullied” because they can go on social media and get all sorts of sympathy and attention. These tend to be the same adults who think EVERYTHING is bullying. The other kids accidentally skipped my kid’s turn or laughed when he actually did something funny and… suddenly, we have an instance of horrible bullying and it needs to be a national scandal. We must get the story on the news. We must at least make a viral video and get lots of people on social media supporting/feeling sorry for us.
Can we see that we already have too much of this? Can we see how destructive it can become? When it comes to kids navigating through life, we need fewer victims and more victors. We need kids who, based on experience, believe they are capable of handling most problems.
The analogy I like to use is the swimming pool. Life is like a swimming pool with adult ”life guards” around the edge of the pool. Adult supervision is important and, just like life guards, I’m glad it’s there. Adults who pay attention and intervene when real harm or real danger is present are invaluable. But imagine if the life guards were constantly jumping in and ‘rescuing’ kids who were not in real danger and were perfectly capable of swimming?
The bottom line is we need to teach kids how to swim. There will never be enough life guards and we really don’t want kids who always rely on rescue anyway. We want kids who make good decisions and solve most of their own problems. We want kids who can get along, exercise self-control, and resolve conflict. Then, they won’t need us to run over and rescue very often. And when we do, they will be less likely to conclude that they are helpless victims in life.
Thank you for reading this and for being willing to empower kids!
For more, check out Parenting for Success.