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Robert Catlin: Help children learn to be resilient

To the editor:

The way we address bullying in our schools is not helping. We have uncritically adopted a philosophy that says to students, in effect, “You have no responsibility for the way people treat you” and “Grown-ups will solve your problems for you.”

We have corrupted the wisdom of an old saying into this: “Sticks and stones will break my bones ... and words will really, really hurt me.”

We tell our children that we will create a utopia in school, where no one is ever mean to you, by not tolerating meanness. We label kids “bully” and “victim” and punish kids for excluding or saying mean things to others. We have made teachers and administrators into the biggest bullies, and expect things to improve.

Is it any wonder things are getting worse?

Dominance behavior shows up in early childhood, and plays out in all stages of life, especially in adolescence. It is a frequent theme in families, schools, workplaces and in our government. It is a part of human nature. We are doing our children a great disservice by not giving them the simple tools to cope with and be resilient from social aggression.

Every system of morality, philosophy or religion teaches some form of the Golden Rule, or what psychologists call “reciprocity” — you get back what you give. When you treat another with respect and kindness, they are programmed to treat you the same way.

This simple ancient wisdom, along with Freedom of Speech, or true tolerance (“…I will defend to the death your right to say it”) are the keys to happy relations with others. If we would embrace and teach this wisdom, and move away from the legalistic model of guilt or innocence, we would be better addressing the developmental needs of children, preparing them for life, and preventing their needless suffering.

Robert Catlin


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