“The New York Times” reports on new research which shows that enemies can help children grow emotionally.
“Friendships provide a context in which children develop, but of course so do negative peer relations,” Maurissa Abecassis, a psychologist at Colby-Sawyer College in New Hampshire told The Times. “We should expect that both types of relationships, as different as they are, present opportunities for growth.”
But when is an enemy not an “opportunity for growth” but a nasty bully? Schools are increasingly vigilant against bullying after two teenage girls who were bullied committed suicide earlier this year. Is the theoretical upside of an antagonistic relationship worth the potential risks?
The New York Times cites studies which found that 15 to 40 percent of elementary schoolchildren have been involved in an “antagonistic relationship.” By middle school — when the social stakes are even higher — the percentage ranges from 48 to 70 percent.
I already see “mean girl” cliques forming in my daughter’s second grade class. Are these sorts of relationships helping her to grow or just teaching her that children can be cruel? That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, according to Nietzsche. Do I want to teach my 2nd grader Nietzsche? I thought that could wait ’til high school, at least.
As psychologists point out, most adults experienced some degree of teasing and taunting as kids and they have generally come through okay. But what about the folks who commit suicide before they get a chance to reach adulthood? Or the adults who never fully recovered from the bullying they endured as a kid?
“A truly devious enemy can prepare a young person to sniff out and avoid false or unreliable allies in adult life, when betrayals can be much more dangerous,” suggests the Times.
Sure, having an enemy may toughen your kid up for later in the life, but that’s little comfort to a sobbing child who is being tormented by his peers.
Regardless of what the research shows, I’d say bullying isn’t worth the potential for personal growth. But that’s just me. What do you think? Is coping with bullies and enemies good for building character?