Have you noticed the sudden surge in anti-bullying laws and campaigns? Are bullies suddenly taking over the world, or is the media just looking for another cause? We all know that shark attacks are extremely rare everywhere except in movies and news stories. I suspect this current epidemic of bullying is largely the product of media hype as well.
There’s no doubt that little tormentors can be found in many classrooms and corridors. I knew a kid like that when I was in the first grade. He wasn’t that big, but he was angry and unpleasant. He taught my classmates and me to stick together. By the third grade, he had mellowed out and we had learned a basic problem solving skill. We didn’t require parental intervention, much less state laws and TV advertisements.
Some parents see themselves a cruise directors: fill every day with fun! They imagine their primary job is to entertain their children, ensure they are prepared for placement exams, and transport them to sports team practices. Wise parents realize their primary challenge is to prepare their kids for life. Even the most successful lives are periodically jolted by uncertainty, frustration, delay, setbacks, unexpected jolts, and- yes- unpleasant people! Adults succeed over the long haul when they are equipped to take all of those challenges in stride and keep on moving ahead in the right direction.
Talking to your child about a bully at school is one of life’s great teaching moments. Is the class terrorist literally a threat or is he just annoying and unpleasant? Can you guess what his motives might be; what he gets from being a jerk? What are some rational ways a little guy might learn to act (alone or with the help of others) rather than simply complain and be mistreated? The lessons a child learns in the first grade today may translate well into college, career and maybe even marriage.
Today’s doting moms and dads want every childhood experience to be magical, fully formed and completely satisfying: every party, every special occasion, every trip. When a week of camping must be cut short because a next door neighbor has died, worried parents agonize over the challenge of sharing this unpleasant news without scarring disappointed youngsters. Hey Dad, this is not a crisis: this is a teaching opportunity. Use the interruption in the trip to talk to your son and daughter about dealing with their emotions; offering a helping hand to others; and putting the best face on a difficult moment. You can rest assured there will be other difficult days and painful changes in plans when your children are grown.
It’s a basic fact of life that you cannot make your children happy. You can buy presents, plan parties, and fund educational experiences, but boys and girls have to choose whether to be happy, dissatisfied or uncooperative. As often happens, some of the most satisfying memories in life are often associated with how we survived days of turmoil. Our job as parents is to keep kids healthy and prepare them to thrive with the most basic elements of life: faith, marriage and career.
So we can lighten up and relax: every challenge is not a crisis. Most problems are teachable moments. Enjoy being a parent while the opportunity is still yours; and remember that you are dealing with children, but you are raising up adults. Grow them strong and durable.
Lift up the Cross!