Thursday, October 25, 2007

Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture

Bullies in schools has long been a topic that can get me riled, but today it put me over the top. A recent study by the University of Michigan points to lack of sleep as a possible cause of bullying. I think that is a just another excuse to avoid the real issue. When schools think about bullies and say that they have a zero tolerance policy toward bullying, they are ignoring the real problem. Yes, there are some kids in schools who are larger than their peers, come from broken homes, and have little parental influence who may be bullies. These are the sort that schools target. They put them in in-school suspension; they expel them and make them an example in order to make themselves feel good about dealing with bullies. But any unpopular kid in school can tell you that these are not the kids who make them lose sleep at night and fake stomachaches to avoid school. The real bullies are the popular kids. Teachers' kids, school board members' kids, prominent community members' kids, good athletes, pretty girls, etc. And they get away with it because teachers and principals don't want to believe that these golden children are capable of such mean-spiritedness. When Doogie was in middle school, he had regular trouble with several kids in school: slamming his locker shut, knocking his books to the floor, "bumping" into him in the halls. It reached the point where I couldn't sit home doing nothing anymore, so I approached the principal. He couldn't believe those kids would act in that manner; one was the class brain, another was a Boy Scout. What was done? Nothing, except a small talk from the principal which only inflamed the boys' activities and sent them undercover. Doogie never allowed me to say anything to an authority again, and he's now, as a junior, acquired a veneer of "Go ahead, I don't care what you think of me" that unfortunately bleeds into how he acts at home. Molly went through some troubles last year, but in high school, she has risen in popularity to the point where I remind her on occasion that it's important to treat others the way we want to be treated. Mia is blessedly too young to face bullying yet. What made me boil over today is this: I talked to my mom on the phone today, and she's struggling to deal with the bullying my little brother Jake faces at school. He is a gawky 11 year-old who wants so much to fit in and have friends, but he is rebuffed at every turn. Yesterday at recess, no matter how he tried, the kids would not allow him to play football with them. The teachers saw his disgrace and did nothing to interfere. He came home angry and hurt, and it's becoming an every day occurrence. If my mother was a teacher or active in the community, you can bet that someone would have stepped up to include him in the game. It's easier when bullies are kids who look scary and whose parents won't fight for them. If someone tattles on them, the teachers can have a feeling of accomplishment in the punishment; a bully has been stopped and no one else's feelings have been hurt. When a bully is a popular kid who does well in school and sports, it's harder to stop them. No one wants to upset a parent who is well known in the community or disrupt the status quo. But while the first set of bullies may inflict physical damage, it's the second set that does long term mental damage from which kids may never recover. Especially when they see that the adults they should be able to turn to for help turn their backs and refuse to acknowledge the abuse.

Authentic Parenting in a Postmodern Culture by Mary DeMuth tackles the tough issue of how to parent in our changing world. How do we teach our children about truth and God in this pluralistic world? DeMuth gives lots of wonderful advice on how to bring our family back home where it belongs and support each other. She discusses different ways to worship and show your children not only to find God on their own but also to encourage others in their path. Postmodernism is such a difficult subject to define, but she handles it with grace and intelligence. She encourages parents to become more active in their children's lives and to bring thought to how we interact with them, God, and the world. DeMuth and her husband moved their three children to France, and she shares their struggles to fit in an atheistic society. She shows their efforts, warts and all, to illustrate how we and our children can thrive in this new world. It's a great, solid parenting resource.

No school today or tomorrow: state-wide teacher conference. But Doogie's going to Dad's to work in the garage and fixing up his car. Molly is shopping with a friend today and having a sleep-over this weekend. Thank goodness for 4-year-olds who don't have active social lives.