One of the largest casualties of the Zero Tolerance Bullying and Harassment, Intimidation & Bullying (HIB) policies being enacted over the last 25 years is the average student’s understanding of personal responsibility. These policies provide young, impressionable minds with the maxim that all types of peer pressure are in fact negative. That, in order to live a healthy life in mind and body, one must do so without the negative reinforcement that the reprimands and judgement of others would present. In fact, these policies teach students that there exists only three archetypes – and only three – that any one person could fulfill in reality: “bully”, “victim” or “bystander”. Ask any student which label they would rather wear and they’ll resoundingly claim “bystander” because no one wants to be seen as a bully and no one likes to think they are weak enough to be a victim. Which makes sense when those are the only options offered.
But what if there was a fourth alternative?
The position of the “leader” is a difficult one to fulfill. As far as I can tell, leadership and hierarchy aren’t supposed to exist in the student body today because doing so would legitimize the presence of peer pressure. In this sense, without a designated leader in place and without a hierarchical system to follow, if students do come across a problem of any nature, the first thing they are to do is contact someone who isn’t part of the student body. A faculty member. A teacher. In rare cases, their own parents.
No wonder kids are confused, stressed out, and unsure of how to socialize. Anxiety wreaks havoc on their minds because of the lack of social boundaries that exist in the reality that they are presented with. Interestingly enough, prior to the last 25 years, children used to self-actualize themselves in social groups. They’d gather in the neighborhood, school playground, and just hang out. They would organize themselves. They would solve the social squabbles of adolescence. They would find ways to and from places and still be home in time for dinner. They could think for themselves.
Now, with all the technological leashes we have for each other, we have less, not more autonomy. We have less intense social bonds, not more intense social bonds in our community. Everyone is supposed to get along, yet no one’s supposed to be different. Everyone has to come to the party, without a doubt. And, most of all, nobody can ever fail because everyone must win and receive some sort of trophy just for trying. But if a problem occurs, which it shouldn’t given all the above caveats, how does a child solve the problem that’s not supposed to occur?
When everyone around you thinks the same way and problem-solves the same way, then how are you supposed to solve the “one” problem that you all have? The answer is: get someone who is different than you. Well, then, how does a child learn how to be that person who can think differently than others when the protocol they all abide by is to follow in unison?
When we teach children that they are incapable of solving their own problems, by solving all of our kids’ problems for them, all “children” problems become adult problems. The whole point of being a kid is to experience the slings and arrows of childhood so that they may become strong, competent, and resilient adults.
If children aren’t allowed to experience life without being constantly refereed, then how will they know how and when to do the right thing? If the only time they are doing the right thing is when “someone different” is watching them, then do they really know what the right thing is or are they just afraid of the capricious whims of “someone different”. How do you even become “someone different” in this modern era, since all of the ways that difference is born are deemed as negative forms of peer pressure?
Let kids self-actualize and someone will always end up leading the group. In the end, it won’t always be the same leader, because good leaders know when to follow someone who knows how to do the right thing. And how do you know when someone is a good leader? By first experiencing what it feels like to be lead by a bad one.