Returning to our installments on raising tolerant children, I would like to review the points we have covered.
I discussed Emotional Intelligence (EI) and suggested that when children ask “Why?”, parents can empower their children by asking “Why do you think?”
Racism, gender bias, religious intolerance, and homophobia persist through silence. We need to challenge the common ways in which our children use language and make sure that consideration is given to what is meant and what is said.
When we listen to our children, natural opportunities will arise to address gender bias, homophobia, privilege, and inequality.
Praise the Champion, & The Law and When to Break It
There are times when how we have encouraged our children to think and to act will be counter to the expectations society places upon them. In the South, children who are biddable are valued. These children quickly obey their elders and follow the rules given them without question.
My hope is that children raised by pagan-minded co-parents are never considered biddable. They do not acquiesce easily to what society wants or expects from them. They are the leaders of rebellions against expectations that are unreasonable, unjust and unfair.
However, rebel leaders pay a price and must understand the price that has to be paid. The best example I have of this is around discussions regarding fighting. I try to live my life with the greatest and highest good of all in mind. Note this is not the standard “harm none” stance. Justice will often challenge and even harm persons who are on the wrong side of right. Harm is collateral damage required by justice to move our society toward its greatest manifestation.
Tempers run in my family. Okay, I have a really bad temper I have passed on to my son. Connla’s temper is particularly calibrated to injustice. Put very plainly, he hates bullies. Typically, Connla presents as a mild-mannered teen who gets along with most persons regardless of race, class, or intelligence. However, when his patience leaves him and he is moved to violence, it is a scary thing to behold. I knew this when he was in kindergarten after coming upon him attempting to flay another child with flying fists and sharp feet. I spent twenty minutes in a safety hold[i] talking calmly into his ear while he screamed at the injustice that had brought about his anger. The other child had hit a girl.
After this incident, I entered into a parenting mode that explored thoroughly two concepts: the laws in the state of Georgia and the expectations of my Family Coven.
It is easy to see that these two things may not be in harmony. I went online and looked up information about fighting in Georgia. Laws that govern what is a simple assault, aggravated assault, simple battery, and aggravated battery vary state to state. It is important for parents to understand what the laws are in their state.[ii] In Georgia,[iii] it is extremely important who instigates the physical conflict. I began to set down simple rules that I reviewed with Connla anytime he talked about being angry with someone or having the feeling that he wanted to punch someone.
- Always report bullies to teachers or to his co-parents. Connla was clear that if we had no warning that things were building to a physical conflict, the consequences he would suffer would be severe. [Tell the teacher and me (the child’s co-parents)]
- Never throw the first punch or provoke the first punch in word or deed. It is never acceptable to bully a bully into hitting you. Connla was told that when he came to me and told me he had been in a fight, my first question would always be, “Who threw the first punch?” In Georgia liability for damages, fines, and jail time typically relied upon this question. If his answer was anything other than “the other person,” there would be serious consequences. Additionally, our spiritual view is that every person holds part of the Divine within them. If you strike a person, you are in some ways striking Divinity. A child wouldn’t walk up and hit Thor without good reason, so we don’t walk up and randomly hit humans either. [Never hit first, everyone is sacred, just like you.][iv]
- Once engaged in a fight, it must stop the minute the other party is on the ground. Connla cannot take advantage of a person who has been knocked out. He must be in complete control of himself even when he decides violence is necessary. Anger is understandable. Uncontrolled rage is a sign of a man out of control and that is not acceptable. [Only hit until the other child is knocked down.]
- Immediately turn himself in. If he is at school, once his opponent has been neutralized with the least amount of force necessary, then he is to take himself to the nearest teacher and turn himself in to avoid further violence erupting. [If you are in a fight, go straight to the nearest teacher.]
Then Connla was given the guidelines of our Family Coven. According to our Family Coven virtues, respectful objection is paramount. Courage, discernment, patience, tolerance and helpfulness are also part of our Family Coven virtues. We gave him further guidelines for fighting.
- When you notice someone picking on another person, try respectful objection. We role played this with Connla. “Hey – do you have to pick on them? I mean really isn’t there something better to do?” “Seriously, I think you should stop. You are hurting their feelings.” Additionally, this is a great time to warn adults, teachers and co-parents, that there is a problem. [If someone is picking on someone else, try to change the focus of the situation.]
- Patience is important, because sometimes time will cause a bully’s attention to be drawn elsewhere, or respectful objection may cause the bully to stop. [Sometimes a bully will get bored if you don’t respond and stop if you give it time.]
- Tolerance is required to help Connla understand that children who bully often do so for reasons that are easily recognized or understood. Maybe at home the child is bullied and bullying at school is the only release for his/her anger. Maybe at home the child is ignored; bullying others gets him/her in trouble and this gets her/him attention from the parents. [Bullies can be in a lot of pain inside and that makes them mean.]
- Helpfulness in the form of caring for the person being bullied goes a long way. Talking to the victim of bullying and trying to give them hope that not everyone is a bully can help undo some of the trauma bullying creates. [When someone has been bullied, you should try to be extra nice to them.]
- Respectful objection, patience, tolerance and helpfulness all require courage. Note this isn’t the same thing as facing down a bullet; it can be infinitely harder. Justice requires courage. [You have to be really brave to tell a teacher, understand that a bully is in pain, be extra nice to someone who has been bullied, or to take bullying and not respond.]
- Discernment may lead you to throw the first punch. It may lead you to come help someone who is in desperate need of it. It may cause you to act in a violent manner before you can do anything discussed. What you must be sure of is that you have properly discerned that the action you are about to take is necessary. You must understand that even if you know you have done the just and right thing, the laws of the school, state and federal government are not always just and you must be ready to pay whatever consequence our legal system sees fit to give you. [Sometimes you can do all these things and you may end up in a fight anyway. You know you will still get punished by the school, and I can’t save you from that.]
For parents reading this whose children are younger than tweens, these concepts may seem lofty, given the ability of a child’s comprehension. This doesn’t mean that they cannot be broken down into simple rules. Above I have used [ ] to indicate simpler explanations for younger children. As children grow in their ability comprehend, so can the explanations given to the rules. NOTE: the rules do not change, just the level of explanation given to the rules.When you child takes any of the aforementioned appropriate actions, as a co-parent you must exalt your child. The child will remember the incident and all the things they did correctly because you, as co-parent, enforced that.
Through the years Connla has been involved in two major physical altercations at school. In both cases, I warned the school prior to the physical incidences by telling them that Connla had warned me a child was bullying himself or other students and his patience was coming to an end. In middle school, Connla’s math teacher called me after the incident.
“Connla told me he was going to be in big trouble because he threw the first punch. I also know that you tried to warn the school about this problem several times. I wanted to ask that you go easy on Connla. The other child has been completely unruly and even though I shouldn’t say this, that kid got what he deserved. Connla also said he was worried that he only hit the kid enough to stop him but the kid wouldn’t fall down. I want you to know that Connla didn’t hurt the other kid badly, just wounded his pride. If Connla was my son, I’d take him for ice cream.”
Connla didn’t get ice cream. We talked a lot about how he could have been financially responsible for paying for dental work or nose jobs if this was in a bar and not middle school. I did however praise him vigorously for discerning that the child in question had been a menace to all the children in his class and he had taken an entire school year before he did anything. It was really courageous of him to put up with that level of bullying and watch that level of bullying for the whole school year. I was pleased to hear that he was very concerned that he didn’t use too much violence. He had to take his in-school suspension because that was the rules of the school. I had to suspend his privileges for video games and the computer for one week because he did throw the first punch. However, as far as we were concerned, he did everything we expected him to do. He was our warrior hero, and accepting his consequences is part of the honor required of a hero.
Connla will have consequences when he is an adult no matter how just his cause may be. By punishing him based upon our clear boundaries, Connla will grow up knowing he may have consequences, but that doesn’t repudiate the just manner in which he acted. In fact, if he must act justly and suffer consequences, it is better to make that choice with full disclosure.
His physical altercation in high school was a bit more traumatic. Connla began acting strangely. He was depressed and moody. Finally he came and told me about a child he was about to fight at school. He repeated over and over that this child deserved the beating Connla was going to put upon him. Concerned, I pressed and pressed. Finally, Connla admitted he was being cyberbullied. I will not give the graphic details here, but suffice to say, even I was temporarily moved to wanting to do physical damage.
I logged onto Facebook and printed out the evidence of the cyber bullying, graphic and demeaning memes that made me physically sick. I then downloaded Connla’s cell phone records and printed out Connla’s texts from this child. I could do all this because Connla was certain he couldn’t beat someone up without giving his co-parents a heads up.
I then called the school and spoke to the principal. I gave the principal the child’s name, the number of hang ups Connla’s phone had received, the number of text messages, and some of what those text messages had said, and I alluded to the memes I had printed. I urged the principle to intervene and was told Connla had to come in and place a formal complaint. I hung up disgusted.
I was checking out at a store when the principal called to say that Connla had started a fight at school. I lost it. I named the child he assaulted before the principle could say another word and then asked, “Didn’t I warn you about this?” After agreeing to come and get my son, I informed the principle I would be bringing the proof of cyberbulling to him when I picked him up. I asked why the principal hadn’t called the ‘victim’ in and told him, “I know you’re cyberbullying Connla, and his mother is worried he is going to start a fight with you. You might want to lay off.” The principal was completely silent and then said, “That would have been a good idea. I owe you and Connla an apology.”
I hung up the phone, and the clerk asked me if I would get my son in trouble. Disgusted, I said, “Well, he threw the first punch, so I have to get him in trouble; that’s our family rules.” The clerk pulled out ten dollars and said, “I’m not his mother. Go buy that boy something from Starbucks, and tell him I said good for him for putting that bully in his place.”
At the school, I spoke privately with the principal who told me it was the strangest fight he had ever seen. Through the school’s closed circuit cameras, Connla and his tormentor came out of the same classroom. Connla threw down his bookbag and turned to the bully. He threw two punches to the face, and the bully fell to the ground. Connla straightened his clothes, picked up his bag, and walked to the nearest teacher. Later, the teacher reported Connla said, “I just got into a fight, and I have to go to the principal’s office and call my mom.”
I left the principal with the memes and other poof of cyberbullying and took Connla home. He enjoyed his Frappuccino and muffin on the way. Later that afternoon, the principal called to tell me that the bully’s mother wanted Connla arrested for assault and battery. Connla had broken the boy’s nose. The principal said that before he would call the police, he wanted the mother to read the memes and text messages her son had sent to Connla. After a long silence, the mother asked the principal to leave her and her son alone. Thirty minutes later, the boy came out crying with his phone in his mother’s hand.
“If you hear of this activity happening again, please notify me at once. We won’t be needing the police today. And please tell the other mother that I am so sorry. I will need copies of all this to show my husband.”
Parenting to tolerance is more than raising children who docilely follow the crowd or behave in ways that society finds acceptable. Tolerance requires warriors of justice who confront the unjust and change lives. This is the ultimate goal of parenting to tolerance.
[i] This hold has the adult hold the child around the torso with arms pinned to the child’s side while capturing the child’s legs between the adult’s. The hold should be gentle and firm enough to keep the child from hurting him/herself and others. Typically this hold is administered while adult and child are on the ground. The child’s back should be to the adult’s front to ensure that the child’s air way is completely unimpeded and smothering is not a danger. While administering the hold, the adult should calmingly speak into the child’s ear, saying loving things like, “I am going to hold you so you don’t hurt yourself or someone else. When you are calm I will let you go. I love you. I can’t imagine how upset you are right now. So we are just going to lay together until you are calm again. I will let you go when you are. I just don’t want you to hurt yourself or someone else.” This is considered restraint and should be used in extraordinary circumstances only. These include if a child is harming him/herself or another child or adult. Further information about this can be found at http://www.education.com/reference/article/extreme-behavior-intervention-methods/. I would point out that this type of restraint of children is highly controversial, and I utilized this restraint with my son one time. I was trained for this technique during college. This is not a go-to parenting method. Children who may require this type of intervention on a regular basis should be evaluated by a psychiatrist.
[iii] NOTE: This is for Georgia and Georgia only, and will not apply if you live in another state. It is important you understand the laws for the state you reside in or are traveling in.
[iv] I would note here that I also gave Connla the mandate to never hit a girl under any circumstances. In the South the laws around equal battery haven’t quite caught up with the rest of the nation, and even if a woman hits Connla first, he is legally better off leaving the situation than hitting back. As I view this as a regional issue, I have not included it in the general text. It is worth noting that if you have sons, looking into laws around “equal battery” is something the sons should be educated about.