There is no denying the bonds and the experiences of elementary school change the way we view the world and ourselves. The introduction of other family constructs and such concepts of responsibility, self-help and teamwork help us form some identity characteristics we carry into adulthood. Not all of those experiences are truly positive.
The Darker Side
A single rotten apple in the barrel can poison our opinion of school, our families and the world in general. Despite many good influences, why would one person hold the power to wreck our extended perspective?
The Playground Bully
This is the relentless child. Bully uses words, intimidation and physical force to dominate peers and those in authority. The simplest of bullies hits other children. To the bully’s mind, showing physical strength to inflict harm exhibits power over others. More often than not, this behavior is a repeat screening of what Bully has seen in another setting.
Once the rule Keep your hands to yourself. is established as an outer delimiter, the frequency of physical attacks will decrease, but the propensity to inflict harm will not. Rumors and teasing are as hurtful as slaps and kicks. Arguably, words hurt worse.
(We will not discuss cyber bullying until we reach the upper school phase of this series.)
Teachers, principals and staff who are over-critical or domineering are no better influences than bullies because, in fact, they are bullies. Authority must be established and expected to be respected; however, the use of verbal or physical abuse to coerce children is not authority because it is an abuse of power.
Unlike peer pressure, which influences a child to do something better or different than is expected, peers exert power over other children. This form of peer power is different than bullying, as these power plays are by children who are in the same or different, competitive social circles. Often, they are friends.
One child will assume a more dominant role over the other. The peer pressure applied is not corrupt, but is not edifying. The powerful child will use subtle, and in some cases overt, coercion and exploitation to get the submissive child to perform. Even the schoolyard taunt of Chicken! is enough to move the submissive child into action which can ultimately be dangerous.
When the children are in direct competition, rumors are the most effective tool in the powerful child’s arsenal. This negative influence is always an attempt to gain social standing or cause the loss of another child’s social standing.
By establishing guidelines for acceptance, power peers form the boundaries of the social circles. Children are willing to do many things outside their nature to be accepted by their peers and those who are in a perceived place of power.
All of the lessons learned from the negative influences seem to be the lessons which will be applied in later life. Before dismissing them to the fundamental unfairness in life, consider how these negative influences impact a child’s identity.
The common theme in all three examples of negative influences is the loss of protection.
Bullies are a result of those in authority, the school and the bully’s parents, failing to recognize and control the unwanted behavior. To the bullied child, this is a failure of those into whose care children are charged to protect them from the bully.
Authority figures are in place to be the surrogate parents while the children are at school. Children look to teachers, principals and faculty as protectors. Parents tell their children to go to one of them in the event something is wrong. When those in authority abuse power and trust, they have a similar impact on the children as abusive parents.
Power peers are harder to pinpoint as a negative influence because they rarely entice a child to misbehave in ways which will be noticed by authority figures. The child likely recognizes the pressure being applied, but may not grasp its impact. When the pressure is realized, the child will often feel as though those who could prevent it, both adults and peers, have failed to protect.
What does it mean?
When children are trying to establish their identities in a school setting, they are willing to change instinctual behavior and reactionary behavior they have learned at home in order to fit in with their peers and please those who are in a position of authority. This adaptation occurs under the force of expectations to perform academically and to behave orderly to avoid disciplinary action at school.
Tonight, let’s focus on the three examples. We are limiting the scope of tonight’s discussion to elementary school children (up to age nine). If you would like to cover a specific topic relating to older children, please use the inbox. Here is your chance to Talk Back. Let’s get Talk Tuesday underway. The floor is yours.
- What is the negative impact of the influences above?
- What identity traits are seeded or reinforced when children are exposed to these negative influences?
- What counteracts these negative influences?
- How do you help forge identity traits which will not be sacrificed in the schoolyard for acceptance?
Based on audience request, tonight’s post will go live at 1900 EDT (GMT-5) so it can be read in advance of our discussion. If you cannot stay until 2000, feel free to leave your contribution in the comments. We will be discussing this in real time from 2000 until we are finished!
(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
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