Tweens are steeped in the world of slights and hurt feelings. Wear the wrong head band to school, and your day could be ruined by one small comment. Someone says they hate you, but the next day they’re all chummy again. And as our kids get older, and more connected online, there’s the cyber-bullying to worry about.
Forget about whether the comments are true or not, or whether the next day everything will be all hunky-dory. In these moments, things hurt and our kids come face to face with the reality that people can be mean for no good reason. As parents, we spend a lot of time talking with our children about navigating their way through this time, not to mention the class hours spent on community building exercises that are supposed to teach our kids to be kind in an attempt to combat what has become a bully culture.
But maybe we’re going about this the wrong way.
A handful of tweens have had to navigate not only what we’d call “normal” social issues at that time of their lives, but they’ve also had to manage the rough and tumble world of national politics — the ones who grow up in the White House. What passes for political debate could really be viewed as Bullying 2.0, a whole separate level of mean behavior that kids in the White House see firsthand. So I was fascinated with the advice that First Lady Michelle Obama has given her girls about dealing with the ugliness in the world of campaigns and politics – “Get tough.”
That’s what Michelle Obama said during interviews to promote her new book about her White House vegetable gardenand healthy eating. And that made me wonder — maybe we should all we be telling our children to get tough. Would a thicker skin be more helpful when managing the cruelties the world has to offer them, rather than being focused on the touchy-feely aspects of tween and teen anxieties? Maybe the next child-rearing manual should feature a chapter where we tell our kids to man up and get a stiff upper lip.
I know there’s a fine line to be walked on issues of teaching our children how to manage the social cruelties that we all endured as kids, and there are certainly instances of bullying that should never be tolerated. But there actually have been times in my family when we’ve told our daughter that it’s important to learn that there are times when she will just have to suck it up, turn the other cheek and be tough, because at a certain point there’s only so much anyone can do to counter the things other people will say, not matter how old you are.
I’m all for the lessons we teach our kids about being good community citizens and being considerate. But it’s also true that there will be times when there won’t be a damn thing that can be done about the words or actions of someone else, so maybe it’s a good lesson to share with our kids sooner rather than later.
Perhaps that will be the First Lady’s mission if her husband is elected to a second term. She can follow “Let’s Move!” with “Get Tough.”
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