Michelle Obama Tells Her Girls to “Get Tough.” Should We Tell Our Kids the Same?

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.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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9 Responses to “Michelle Obama Tells Her Girls to “Get Tough.” Should We Tell Our Kids the Same?”

  1. Gina Says:

    Every generation has faced challenges where it’s been important to “be tough” and my children will certainly come across many of their own. While I hope that they have thick skin in those situations, I also hope they have an empathetic heart. Part of being tough is standing up for ourselves, and others in need.

    Important lessons for all of us.

  2. Chrysula Says:

    “Toughen up” has become part of the arsenal against these sorts of experiences in our family too. We do all we can to ensure our kids felt heard and safe and that the proper boundaries are established. But you have to have a full scale of responses and getting tough is definitely one of them.

  3. veronica Says:

    I had to essentially tell one of my soccer players to get tough. We had an episode of players nagging on one player for not playing “hard enough.” I told her that I spoke to the others about supporting each other with positive comments, but also that she needed to be tougher than comments. I think they all adjusted and met in the middle.

    So yes, our kids need to toughen up. It’s a tough world and we can’t and shouldn’t shield them from it. Tell them it’s tough, teach them coping skills and hopefully that will keep them from being bowled over. Of course I’m not saying we can’t help them, but not to do the fighting for them either.

    Also, I prefer to “woman up.” ;)

  4. Debbie Owensby Moore Says:

    I don’t know, I’ll have to think on this one. Just “get tough” seems a calloused response to a highly sensitive, introverted child.

  5. Becky Says:

    I agree with Debbie. It depends on the child. Some are “tough.” Some are not. And those who are not won’t get tough just by my saying so. Besides, just because the First Lady does something, does that mean I do it? Mmm … no.

  6. Jen G Says:

    “Get tough” is an incredibly important lesson to learn, especially for the extra sensitive kids. I have one – it does not make her life easy, especially in junior high. She was the one that kids picked on. (Yes we met with teachers and administrators, that is not the point).

    The point is that there are always going to be mean people in the world. People we have to associate with whether we like them or not. People that are in our classes at school, people at work or even people that live in your neighborhood.

    The key is helping them to recognize that while they need to be strong and not take everything personally, they also need to learn how to express themselves. They need to know the difference between an abrasive person just being themselves and someone who is truly offensive and should be reprimanded (by HR or school administrators, etc.) It is a delicate balance, but one that we need to prepare them for.


  7. PunditMom Says:

    It is a hard decision to make, and it obviously depends on each child. But I think there is something to be said for helping our children understand that when they become adults, there will be situations where they have to “get tough,” as well, so it’s not such a bad lesson to be learned earlier rather than later.

    The flip side of this coin is getting schools and teachers to actually acknowledge when there are real issues that do need to be addressed. So often, teachers and administrators don’t see or hear the behavior that is aggressive in some fashion or bullying. They only see the kids in a classroom setting where kids are on their best behavior and there can be a collective denial about important issues. None of are kids is perfect and, as parents, we know that there are times when even our own kids are the perpetrators. But being open to seeing the possibility is a good start.

  8. Sandra Says:

    I agree PunditMom – a lot goes down in those 15 minutes of recess that it out of the eyes and ears of teachers on the playground. So that is part of it.

    And being the mom of a six year old girl who wears her heart on her sleeve? Well, she IS getting tougher but will always be more sensitive. She’s found some great strategies to handle it though – takes it way less personally and also stands up for herself. I suppose both are being “tougher”.

    We were at karate last week and there’s this little boy who is always in her face trying to intimidate her when the Sensei’s back is turned. The girl pointed her finger at him and said in a firm voice, “you are a bully, stop it”. And he’s stopped.

    She just needed to set that boundary and all is well.

  9. PunditMom Says:

    Sandra, I love that story. It is true, that if a child is bold enough to call it explicitly, that can help. Boundary setting is important and probably is different at each age.

    What do you all think about going the route of ignoring the behavior?

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