Last night at dinner, the Boy brought up a story he’d heard about a Texas high school football team and its coach bullying the opposing team. A parent was claiming that the 91-0 score was evidence his kid’s team was the victim of abuse and mistreatment.
We all had a good conversation about the situation. Without knowing the specifics and details, we looked at all kinds of scenarios and options. Did the winning coach keep his first string players in the entire game? Was he purposefully running up the score? Were they overly aggressive in the way they played? Should the players on the winning team have intentionally played poorly to make it a more even game?
(*Research into this story reveals that Aledo High School’s coach benched his starters after only 21 plays. There were no reports of penalties for anything that would imply they were playing dirty or mean. They were just playing good football.)
What we came to as a family is this: Bullying is always unacceptable. Having your feelings hurt or being disappointed is unavoidable. It’s part of life. There will always be someone who is better than you at something. Losing a game, being rejected, not getting the grade you thought you deserved, being passed over for a promotion, or having someone break up with you doesn’t mean you’ve been bullied. It just means that in one way or another, you didn’t quite cut it. It’s not the end of the world.
We discussed that no one should ever do less than their best simply because someone else will have hurt feelings for not being as good. There is no value in a student intentionally answering questions on a test incorrectly so someone else doesn’t feel badly for having a lower score. Being less productive on the job so you don’t outshine another employee only puts you at risk of losing your job or not being compensated as much as you deserve. It doesn’t actively make anyone else feel better.
Suggesting a second or third string player on a football team should do anything other than play his best doesn’t help anyone. If any of those kids has aspirations to be a first string player, he had an opportunity to showcase his skills during that game. Why should he compromise that chance just because they’re winning the game?
I would never expect anyone to tell their kid to shine less brightly so mine doesn’t have hurt feelings in the same way I wouldn’t encourage my kids to give anything other than their best effort. Colleges and employers aren’t looking for the most mediocre applicants. They want people who will make their mark and do well for them.
We need to teach our kids to cope with setbacks. It’s not our job as parents to buffer every emotional scrape. We’re not supposed to fix everything. Our kids should get to learn how to cope with disappointments–like losing a football game 91-0. The fact of the matter is that one team was far superior to the other. Coaching, hard work, practice, experience, team work … all of those factors likely contributed to one group of young men out-playing another. Not bullying.
I watched one of those “real life” courtroom shows yesterday. The plaintiff was a mother who was suing her son’s youth football coach for not giving her son enough plays. This woman spent money and time–and the coach’s money and time–to complain in a court of law that it wasn’t fair her kid didn’t see enough action on the field.
She had filled a table with her son’s trophies, ribbons and tae kwon do belts as “evidence” with the likely intent to show that he’s an athletic boy. She believed that proved he was also a good football player … which meant he deserved more time on the field.
One of the problems with that logic is so often now kids get ribbons and trophies for just participating. You don’t have to exhibit any kind of skill or prowess, you only need to be physically in attendance and conscious. In reality, many of today’s Participation Awards are nothing more than recognition that a parent drove their kid to some function.
We’re not doing our kids any favors here. Life is full of disappointments. We need to help our kids develop coping skills, not fan the flames of a temper tantrum for not getting what they want every time they’re denied their heart’s desire.
I am absolutely, positively against bullying. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect, but let’s not confuse the issue. Being disheartened doesn’t make you a victim of bullying, it simply makes you a participant in life.
As parents, one way we can be kind to our children is to NOT handle them with kid gloves. Send the message we believe in them and their ability to get through a difficult position. Tell them we know they have it within to put one foot in front of the other and come out the other side of a disappointing situation better for having gone through it. We have to stop coddling and babying our kids so that they can survive in this world.
*Bullying is a very serious problem. There are people being emotionally and physically abused by others every day. They’re living in pain and fear, struggling to cope with life on a daily basis. We cannot minimize the damage being done to them and the atrocities that victims of true bullying suffer by crying “Bully!” when things don’t go our way. To truly stop bullying we need to treat it like the very serious issue it is.