I read an interesting mainstream article the other day (and which mainstream magazine it was in, I cannot remember), but the article was talking about the massive rise in incidents of bullying across the United States and possible reasons for this increase.
One thing that was mentioned in the article that I found very interesting from both a Waldorf perspective and a homeschooling perspective is that researchers believe a contributing factor to bullying is that children no longer spend their free time playing in groups. Instead, children have nearly all of their free time scheduled in team sports, classes. Recess has been all but eliminated at many schools. In essence, there are no chances for children to get together and play and learn how to interact acceptably within mixed aged groups in creative, free play.
I have been privileged to work with thousands of families over the years and observe children in a variety of situations surrounding school, places of worship, groups in hospitals, homeschooling groups. Have you ever watched a truly mixed-age group of children play? If you have the wonderful and unique opportunity to observe a group of children of vastly different ages all playing, you can see how the younger children are on the outskirts and fringes of play mainly just watching, how the range of older children help organize the play, and how the children all work together to solve conflict. Unfortunately, there is not too much of this going on these days. In this day and age, it tends to be all children of one age playing together.
However, in this day and age there is another skill and piece of this group/free play to consider. Children these days really get very little constructive practice with conflict resolution at the family level. They are busy running around with activities and lessons and carpools. Many children no longer have large families with multiple siblings or huge extended families with many cousins to take these first steps toward group play and conflict resolution.
So, it is my opinion that naturally small children under the age of 7 do not know how to “work it out” unless this has been modeling and demonstrated over time for them and that in the past there is no way a group of small children would be playing without the older children of the family or village involved. There is no way these tiny children would be so responsible for their own play! And now, these tiny children grow up and become older, larger, bigger children who still have no idea how to interact socially without things being dictated by a coach or someone else. They missed the beginning foundation!
So, these play dates where mothers are huddled in a corner talking and the children are running wild and free often do not work out well. Parents need to be around to show how to take turns, how to show compassion, and how to solve conflict. I have talked about this frequently on this blog; you can use the search engine to search back posts.
The other piece is that if children are constantly rushing around, there is no time for the parent to demonstrate how to look carefully at an animal or insect close-up, there is no time to help the neighbor down the street who needs it, there is no time to drive the four hours to grandma after she fell and help take care of her house (since grandma does not live in town near her children in our society anymore). These are the experiences that build compassion and understanding for the growing child.
I think there is another that the mainstream article did not mention that is contributing to the rise of bullying: the rise of children who have sensory processing problems and challenges such as ADD/ADHD. These children may be bullied simply because they cannot read another child’s social behavior. You can see the US Government Fact Sheet regarding bullying and children with special needs here: http://stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/adults/tip-sheets/tip-sheet-24.aspx
One thing this fact sheet points out is that children with ADD/ADHD are not only more likely to be bullied themselves, but that they are slightly more likely to bully their peers. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has a fact sheet here: http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/bullying If your child is a bully, professional help is needed. Children who identify themselves as a bully in the middle school years are four times more likely to have a criminal conviction by age 24, according to a study cited in this article here: http://www.education.com/magazine/article/what-to-do-if-your-child-is-a-bully/
Two other factors that also seem to me contributing causes for bullying include lack of rites of passages and the inability of children these days to have flexibility and resiliency. Kim John Payne has tied lack of cultural rites of passage to bullying for older children in this interesting article here: http://kimjohnpayne.com/files/SocialInclusionArticleCalgary I talked about the importance of rites of passage when I reviewed this book: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/06/30/rite-of-passage-parenting-four-essential-experiences-to-equip-your-kids-for-life-heading-up-to-the-nine-year-change-and-beyond/
Kim John Payne also talks about the importance of slowing down, reducing clutter in the environment and other ways to help children lay good foundations for health but to increase resiliency. You can refer to his book “Simplicity Parenting” for more information as to how to build resiliency in children. You can see my review of Kim John Payne’s book here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/12/26/favorite-waldorf-resource-2-simplicity-parenting-using-the-extraordinary-power-of-less-to-raise-calmer-happier-and-more-secure-kids-by-kim-john-payne-and-lisa-ross/
Some parents believe that homeschooling will eliminate bullying from their children’s lives. I do not think this is the case. Bullying can occur even in homeschool groups! Homeschooling children are not immune, and parents still must be vigilant and involved. Homeschooling involves being with your children 24/7 and sometimes parents really want to take a break at a homeschooling event – but this may not be the place! Your children still need your help! Parents must show their children how to slow down and have compassion for other people and animals. Parents have a big job.
I would love to hear your experiences regarding bullying, social inclusion and issues related to this – leave me a comment in the box! This post has many links, and a lot to think about, so I am going to leave this post up for a few days. Thank you all!