The most frustrating case I ever had as a defense attorney was a simple case of forgery. My client, a woman named Robin, had been married to a man who was convicted of running a “chop shop” of stolen cars. Robin was charged with forging her name on three different documents. Robin was in her fifties and had no criminal history. She insisted on her innocence and said her husband knew how to sign her name because she was the treasurer of the business and he often signed her name on checks. The prosecutor, “Dave,” was known for being, well, an asshole. After a three day trial, a jury found her not guilty. Dave, a very sore loser, decided to charge her a few weeks later with forgery on two additional documents. Another jury trial, another not guilty. And so, she was charged again with two more documents. For fun, Dave had her arrested for a bogus traffic violation during the trial the night before she was to testify. After this trial ended in a hung jury, she was exhausted and broke from missing so much work. Dave re-filed the charges and set the case for a fourth trial. Robin decided instead to take a plea to a misdemeanor charge to make it all end. In a rare move, the extremely frustrated Judge ended up filing a complaint to the Arizona State Bar against Dave, for malicious prosecution and erased the misdemeanor from Robin’s record.
During one of the trials, I went into the bathroom and cried. What kind of person gets so much pleasure in harassing people? How can I deal with him? Then I realized: I knew exactly who he was. He was the school bully. I knew how to deal with him because I had dealt with people like him my entire life. I stopped letting his actions get to me, and did what I always did as a kid. I told myself that he was a jerk, laughed at his antics, and decided to let the universe take care of him. (It did: he was fired a few years later for similar antics and escorted out of his office by police officers.)
Bullies are part of life. Assholes are here to stay. The most effective skill we can develop as we are growing up is the one in which we learn how to deal with them. This will be a lifelong skill and it will unfortunately always come in handy.
This week, there were four different children who were punished in school for their behavior. These children were generally well-behaved and most had not seen the inside of a principal’s office. A 4th grade boy did a cartwheel on the way to P.E. and, put in detention, had to call his parents from the principal’s office to apologize; a 6th grade boy touched a girl’s bra strap and he was sent down to the principal for sexual harassment; an 8th grade boy told his friend privately he thought a girl was ugly: a friend of the girl who eavesdropped on the conversation reported him for “inappropriate language.” And a 6th grade girl, upset that a friend left her at lunch to sit with new friends, sent her a text that said she was a “trader” for moving tables. She was called to the office for cyber-bullying.
And so, it appears we have officially stopped bullying in schools. How? We have officially stopped kids from being kids. We will make sure that only “appropriate” language is spoken and that no unkind words are ever spoken. Everyone will be sweet and nice to each other and hands will be kept inside the rides at all times. Yes, we are living in an era in which no one loses or flunks or experiences disappointment of any kind. We will make sure that the babies whose pacifiers never fell to the ground because it was attached to a string and whose tushies never got cold because their wipes were warmed will still never feel confused or upset or cold.
In our future generation of tattletales, the helicopter parents will continue to swirl around so that their grown up sons and daughters will never be in a situation in which they feel sad, angry, frustrated, or disappointed. They will fly around in their helicopters until they can no longer fly. Then, our new generation of adults will have to navigate the world on their own amongst all of the other kids who grew up in a sea of approval and success.
Yes, I know this is a different world than when I grew up. I know there are school shooters and crazy, strange people out there. I get it. But raising a generation of kids who can’t deal with an insult or embarrassment is not what we need. We need strong, resilient fighters who can take down those who do wrong. We need independent thinkers to come up with new ways to stop the violence and the war.
There are bad kids. Really, really bad kids who deserve that trip to the principal’s office. Their parents need to know what they are doing. They are the ringleaders of the bullying, or are violent on the playground. There are ones doing drugs, or, just as bad, selling them.
However, in a world where the kids are supposed to only use nice language , it is ok for the adults around them not to. Insulting and berating kids that throw off the curve is almost the norm these days. The adults around our kids should set a good example as often as they can, and to do this, they have to be as respectful to those imperfect kids as our kids are expected to. I’m just not sure many coaches, teachers and parents are getting the message.
Not that I am a perfect parent, by all means, but I do like what I have recently told my kids: I don’t expect you not to feel pressured to follow a bad kid, and I won’t be shocked if you do. It takes a lot of strength to stand up on your own, especially in middle school. But, what I do expect is you to not BE the bully or the ringleader and to develop the skills to learn to stop following them. Kids will be kids: some are nice and some are mean. To expect that this won’t happen is completely unrealistic. What you need to do is try to not BE the mean kid.
Even though we tend to think that helicopter parenting is new, I have found that it is already rearing it’s head in the workplace. People who run businesses or are employees cannot handle any amount of criticism. Most of the time, if I feel that many in the work force today feel as if they are doing everyone a favor by simply showing up. They can’t take it if they are told that what they are doing is not perfect. I’m not sure what happened to “the customer is always right,” but it doesn’t exist anymore. Very few people are able to say, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” That is a skill that is developed when you are learning how to navigate a world that is not so easily traveled. More and more people seem to have been given one direction down life’s road and that would be: it’s my way or the highway. (I know: it’s a pun inside a pun.)
If I grew up today and had to face “Dave,” what I understand is that I could tattle to my boss that he was being “mean.” I would fill out a report that said he is hurting Robin’s feelings. I would also have my boss call his mom so she was clued in. Dave would come in and miss two hours of the trial to analyze. Robin would miss two additional hours of work and the county would charge the taxpayers for the two hours that everyone sat and discussed this. Dave would agree to be nice and then he would go back to the courtroom and change absolutely nothing. He would still lose three trials and he would still get fired. It’s just we would have wasted two hours talking about it.