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Archive for Saturday, June 26, 2004

Adults must respond to cruelty among children

June 26, 2004

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As an elementary school teacher, I am bothered by what I see my students doing to each other every day. They can be brutal -- especially to the child who is a little different. I'm not sure what my role should be. I feel I should step in to defend the underdog, but other teachers say kids should learn to work out their own problems. What do you think?

As a former teacher, I am very familiar with the cruelty of which you speak. Every classroom has a few boys and girls at the bottom of the social hierarchy who are subjected to frequent ridicule. Their ranks include those who are physically unattractive, intellectually challenged, uncoordinated, boys who are very small or effeminate, girls who are taller than all the boys, the foreign child, the stutterer, etc. Anyone who is different is an easy mark for the wolf pack. What is most disturbing is that adults often feel no obligation to come to the aid of these vulnerable children.

I've heard the argument that says, "Kids will be kids -- adults should stay out of the conflict and let the children settle it themselves." I disagree emphatically. It is almost criminal for an adult to stand by passively while a defenseless boy or girl is shredded by peers. The damage inflicted in those moments can reverberate for a lifetime.

Some years ago a woman told me about her experience as a room mother for her daughter's fourth-grade class. She visited the classroom on Valentine's Day to assist the teacher with the traditional party on that holiday. Valentine's Day can be the most painful day of the year for an unpopular child. Every student counts the number of valentines he or she is given, which becomes a direct measure of social worth.

This mother said the teacher then announced that the class was going to play a game which required the formation of boy-girl teams. That was her first mistake, since fourth-graders have not yet experienced the happy hormones that draw the sexes together. The moment the teacher instructed the students to select a partner, all the boys immediately laughed and pointed at the homeliest and least-respected girl in the room. She was overweight, had protruding teeth, and was too withdrawn even to look anyone in the eye.

"Don't put us with Nancy," they all said in mock terror. "Anybody but Nancy! She'll give us a disease! Ugh! Spare us from Nasty Nancy." The mother waited for the teacher (a strong disciplinarian) to rush to the aid of the beleaguered little girl. But nothing was said to the insulting boys. Instead, the teacher left Nancy to cope with that painful situation in solitude.

Ridicule by one's own sex is distressing, but rejection by the opposite sex is like taking a hatchet to one's self-concept. What could this devastated child say in reply? How does an overweight fourth-grade girl defend herself against nine aggressive boys? What response could she make but to blush in mortification and slide foolishly into her chair? This child will never forget that moment (or the teacher who abandoned her in this time of need).

I say again to teachers: Defend the most defenseless child in your classroom. We can do no less.

Is it harder for a man or a woman to recover from a spouse's affair?

I have not observed any appreciable difference between the sexes at the time of disclosure. Both husbands and wives suffer incalculable anguish when a mate is unfaithful. Men do seem to have a cultural advantage after the crisis is over, however. Their work is often a better diversion and their economic consequences are less severe. They also find it easier to find someone new, as a rule. But no one wins in illicit affairs of the heart.

- James Dobson is chairman of the board for Focus on the Family, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of the home.

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