When I was a kid from four to seven years old, my sister (she is 5 years older) and I used to go to the park across the street from our house and play with no parental supervision. This was the norm for everyone at that time. We would play for hours, doing a lot of random stuff like playing tag, playing tennis, riding bikes, and having sled races in the snow. There were no adults around, except for the occasional park creep.
Sometimes fights broke out between the neighborhood kids and it was not pretty. I once witnessed my sister bloody someone’s nose at the park; the girl insisted on fighting my sister over a boy. One time we were on our bikes riding along a trail in another neighborhood and were confronted by some racist bullies, that called us racial slurs and told us to leave their area or they were going to beat us up. We left the area quickly, and I really didn’t understand what was all the fuss until I as much older. Basically, we were the wrong color in the wrong neighborhood.
I was timid as a kid and quite frankly, I would have appreciated my parents being with me at the park and on bike rides through the neighborhood to prevent the harassment from neighborhood and playground bullies. I think it’s absurd that back then young kids where left to fend for themselves, while the parents just chilled at home, watching TV, or cooking. Kids had to figure it out or go home to stay out of trouble. Most of the time if trouble started at the park or anywhere else, I chose to go home or my older sister made us go home. My father was all about self-defense and if someone hit you, you better hit them back. He would send you back outside if he found out you let someone hit you and didn’t hit them back. He wasn’t tolerating you not defending yourself.
I was and have always been a peaceful person. I’ve walked away from a fight on more than one occasion and went in the house without saying a word to my parents. I wasn’t a fighter and forcing me to defend myself by physically attacking another person, just wasn’t who I was. Don’t get me wrong, I did kick some butt on occasion due to kids not leaving me alone, but this wasn’t my preferred method of conflict resolution. I’m sure my dad thought in his mind that I needed to toughen up and defending myself was the best thing for me. My dad grew up in a rough neighborhood, so I’m sure the weak were pummeled on the regular.
I think kids need to be taught different ways to resolve conflicts and they should walk away or run away from a fight if necessary. It’s important to be taught at a young age how to resolve situations peacefully, even if that means walking away from a fight. Being alive and avoiding a bunch of negative energy is more important than being tough. I am teaching my son to speak up when people are treating him badly and tell kids to leave him alone when they are doing things he doesn’t like. I also put my son in karate classes as well, because I want him to gain personal confidence and be able to defend himself physically if necessary. I teach my son to respect other people and their space, because I don’t want him to be a bully either.
When I was at the park recently, a few boys were building a dam with sand at the playground where they have a little water feature for kids. My son was interested, he went over and started to play in the water. He grabbed a stick to join in the fun. The kids playing were probably somewhere between 7 and 10 years old, about double the age of my preschooler. They began yelling at my son to stop, because they didn’t want him playing in the sand by their dam. Keep in mind he was not destroying their dam, he was barely touching the sand near the dam. My son thought he was playing with them. I was initially seated a few feet away, but got up and came over after I heard the yelling. After the boys continued to yell at my son, I stepped in and told them not to yell at him and that he can play just as they were playing.
One of the boys continued to yell at my son as he was playing, so I told him to stop yelling at him and I told him at the park kids share. The boy continued to be disrespectful, so I asked him where were his parents. At that point, his father showed up. I told him I was very upset that his kid was yelling at my son. He immediately told his son he had to leave the play area and told him it’s not acceptable to yell at other kids at the park. He then called the other two boys there that were the boy’s brothers and told them they had to go home.
The whole exchange between that boy and I really had me upset. We go to the park a lot, and many times my son joins in playing with other kids; he is almost always welcomed. Additionally, there have been times where other kids came to play in an area where my son was playing and I had to explain to him that we were at a park and that he needs to share the space with everyone. What bothered me the most was that the boy clearly had no respect, even though I told him not to talk to my child that way. He could careless that an adult told him his behavior was unacceptable. When I was a kid, if someone’s parent told you to stop doing something, you did it and you were respectful.
For some reason, I feel like many parents have completely dropped the ball as far as teaching children respect for each other and for adults. Many of these kids just do and say anything. It’s as if compassion and empathy are missing from the equation. I’m glad the parent of that boy took immediate action and chose to correct his child. I don’t think he desired for his son to behave that way, in fact he appeared rather embarrassed. I want my son to be able to play at the park without being bullied by other kids. He should be able to play freely and nicely without being harassed and bothered for being a kid.
Having been bullied myself many times as a kid, there is something about it that dampens your spirit when kids bully you. Every kid is not aggressive and not spunky, many kids are quiet, cool and relaxed and they should not have to defend themselves against kids that are unruly. Some people may not like that I watch my son playing closely and intervene when necessary, but I’m his mom and it’s my responsibility as an adult to protect him and teach him right from wrong. I also want him to know that it’s safe to talk to me about people hurting him and that I will defend him and keep people from hurting him.
Kids are being bullied at school as well, so it is important that parents stay active and aware of what is going on in their child’s life. I saw recently that a child killed himself after being bullied and beaten up by a group of kids. The school didn’t tell the parent what was happening to her child. The mom found out after her child killed himself. I also remember a story of a girl that died after being jumped by a group of kids at school. We have to figure out a way to empower and protect our children, bullying isn’t innocent, children are dying.
I’m sure there are people in the world who will say, well the world is full of bad, unruly people. The fact is, that as adults we make choices to stay away from people that make us uncomfortable or treat us badly. Our kids need to be taught how to defend themselves and stay safe. We need to guide them and show them how to appropriately respond to situations and not leave them out there alone to be abused.
Yes, I survived being bullied as a kid, but I had a to read a lot of self-help books as an adult to build myself back up from those experiences. My role as a parent is to be a teacher and a guide. I hope to guide my kid to adulthood in a way that allows my him to make healthy choices for himself and for those around him that don’t know any better.
As my Dad now says, “When one person acts a fool and you respond in kind, now you have two fools.” He also says fighting isn’t what it used to be.
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