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I can’t stop thinking about the post at No Points For Style on bullying. It’s one of the most affecting things I’ve read in a long, long time. Please read it. And you’ll understand why I’m getting serious here today.
I’m going to start with two stories here.
The first happened last summer. An acquaintance went to a town hall meeting held by her Senator. The atmosphere was…contentious? Combative? Aggressive? However you describe it, it was loud. My acquaintance at one point asked the woman next to her to lower her voice so she could hear the Senator. The woman said “I’ve got a permit to carry concealed and I’m packing so talk to my purse”.
Yes. You read that right. A woman responded to a request to be quiet by all but brandishing a gun. Now I have no idea if my acquaintance was polite in asking the woman to be quiet. She might have been snippy. But still. A gun. A. Gun.
The second story made a lot of headlines. In Florida, a girl sent a text message to a boy she didn’t know. The text reportedly made comments about the boys’ recently deceased brother. Which was not ok and if my kid ever did something like that and I found out about it, that phone would have been flushed down the toilet and my kid would find himself in a long course of sensitivity training before he could say “But Mom…” But this girl’s parents never got a chance to ground her because the boy who received the text responded by kicking her in the head with steel-toed boots until she had to be placed in a medically induced coma to save her life.
What are we doing to our kids?
There is a lot of coverage of the break down in civility in public discourse and a lot of coverage of bullying so extreme that it’s leading to suicides. I am going to draw a bright line between these two phenomena right here and right now. Adults who are uncivil raise kids and teens who are uncivil. It’s as simple as that.
It is a parent’s job to model the kind of behavior we want our children to emulate. It’s not an easy task and no one says it is. We all joke about the times we slip up and drop an F-bomb and have to spend the next six weeks correcting our toddler when he says that juicy new word. But how often do we chastise ourselves when we’re chatting on the playground about how Jesse James is a total douchecanoe for cheating on Sandra Bullock and listing the things we’d do to him if he were our husband? We don’t but we should because our kids are listening. And we just told them that calling names is ok and plotting revenge is ok and they don’t know that we are not serious.
I am guilty of all of this. I am especially guilty of it online where I write snarky remarks about all kinds of people because it’s a form of humor to me. But someday my son will be able to read and do I want him to think that I’m saying these things for any reason other than getting a laugh? I do not. I need to watch myself.
The language of hostility has become commonplace in the public square. What was so shocking about the exchange between my acquaintance and the woman at the rally was not that it happened but that it was not unusual. All over America packs of dissatisfied people gather and shout their rage from the rooftops. Which is allowed. It’s Constitutional. It’s patriotic, even. But the names they call public figures and the rhetoric about taking up arms and starting a revolution is being heard by young people. The trash talk on tv talk shows is heard by young people. The insults that fly from the lips of Simon Cowell every week are heard by young people. When Chris Brown lands a blow, young people look at their fists. And wonder if it’s ok to use them.
We all need to pull ourselves up short right this second and look at what kind of example we’re setting for our children. We need to watch our own mouths (even us wisecracking bloggers) and make a point of having conversations with kids, even little kids, that impress upon them what kind of behavior is ok and what is not. We can’t let Simon’s remarks wash over our family and expect the small people in our care to know that he’s an entertainer and the people he insults signed up for it. We have to tell them that explicitly and tell them why that sort of exchange is wrong in real life. Better yet, we should turn Simon the hell off and say to our kids “You know what? Let’s watch something where people are respectful to each other for a little while.”
Because someone’s life may depend on us doing right by our kids.