Last weekend, I had an experience that I was so happy to witness.
But before I recount it, let me give a little history:
I've been reading an extraordinary new book by Caltha Crowe, called How to Bullyproof Your Classroom. Not only is it a wonderful resource for teachers about the definition of bullying behaviors (and gateway behaviors), but it also provides proactive strategies for use in setting up one's classroom community, as well as lessons (with wonderful children's literature) to use with K-2nd grade students, and 3rd-5th grade students.
Her book is well researched and one of the points that really stood out for me was that much of the anti-bullying work that's been done up until now was teaching the person experiencing bullying behavior how to stand up for oneself, but that that is not always possible -- or even safe -- for someone to do. Instead, it focuses on the bystanders, on building community where children use empathy, on what people can do when they witness bullying behavior.
I've already used one of the lessons with my first graders, and we're really investigating and discussing what it means to be kind: what it feels like, what it sounds like, what it looks like.
It is very much on my mind these days.
Last weekend, I was at Target with my daughter (trying very hard not to buy every adorable onesie that I saw) and saw some teenaged boys hanging out, talking, and laughing across the way from us in the sporting goods aisle.
One of the boys called another's name, then tossed a basketball pretty hard toward him. It missed him completely and almost hit a woman in a wheelchair who was passing by. The teenager who threw the ball saw what happened and took off.
The woman called out to him angrily, wondering why he would leave and not apologize.
But one of the boy's friends called him back, "You apologize, you idiot!"
It took several long seconds, but the teenager did come back, went to the woman, and apologized. She accepted his apology and went on, and he went back to his friends.
He was laughing nervously and explaining to his friends that it surprised him and that's why he ran.
But one of his friends said, "Dude. You're a dick. You don't do something like that and take off."
The others echoed that: "You are a dick."
I stood there, happy beyond words. I was so glad that his friends had called him on that incident. It very easily could have become a situation that escalated, or his friends could have laughed along with him and taken off, but at least one of them didn't. He recognized the situation for what it was, and called him back. (also, I apologize for the language used, but it's authentic, and I think it really illustrates the power that friends and bystanders have)
As I stood there, I thought: "this is what I want for my daughter. As she gets older I want her to be able to recognize behavior that is not okay, and say something about it to her friends. Similarly, I want her friends to do the same for her if her behavior is not okay."
More than anything, I wanted to go talk to those boys. I wanted to tell them that I noticed. That I appreciated it. That that is the kind of behavior I think we need more of in the world. But I couldn't think of how to approach them in a way that wouldn't seem corny, or trite, but instead would really just reinforce what they'd already done. By the time I said, "just get over yourself and go say something!" they'd already moved on and I didn't see them anywhere.
When I see something like that, probably the most important thing is that I do say something, even if it's not as eloquent as I might like it to be.
And to any teenagers out there reading... if that was you? I think what you did was pretty awesome. Keep it up.