Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 08/29/2012
Bullying and the boy who doesn’t like sports
By Janice D'Arcy
We are poised n the start of another school year, and with it comes an increased focus on bullying.
From the White House to Hollywood to a schoolbus in Florida and another one in upstate New York, attention to the issue has only ratcheted up in recent months.
A new book coming out next week looks at the phenomenon specifically from a boy’s perspective, examining bullying as part of a larger cultural problem that disproportionally rewards physical prowess and sports proficiency, leaving boys who aren’t drawn to athletics vulnerable.
The Last Boys Picked: Helping Boys Who Don’t Play Sports Survive Bullies and Boyhood, (Berkeley Books) was written by Janet Sasson Edgette, family psychologist and mother of twin boys, and Beth Margolis Rupp, an educator.
Edgette and I talked about her inspiration for the book, why we all seemed to have just woken up to bullying as a problem and why the “boys will be boys” mentality is dangerous.
Below are excerpts from our Q&A:
JD: Why did you write this book now?
JSE: I actually started writing this book seven years ago. I had nine-year-old twin boys; Austin was a terrific athlete, and Jake was not. For years I’d already been noticing that this difference between them in physical abilities was so much bigger than just a difference in what they liked to do, or in what they were good at. It was a difference that had meaning for a lot of things: how each boy viewed and thought about himself as well as his twin, how well each was included in games and jokes by the kids on the block, whether waiting at the bus stop was easy or an excruciatingly self-conscious experience. In grade school, Austin leveraged his physical talents commendably into an elevated social status, while Jake struggled to find a place of comfort.
There were no books to help me talk to Jake about the things he was experiencing and no doubt thinking about, and no resources available to help me shore up his confidence in a social environment that didn’t value his particular skills, most of which were rooted not in body-kinesthetic but in interpersonal, intrapersonal, and existential sensibilities. And yet I knew that he was far from the only boy experiencing this marginalization from his community of peers — kids who believed that the only boys you really wanted to be seen hanging out with were those who, like yourself, matched up well with the stereotyped image of aggressive, sports-crazed, thrill-seeking, risk-taking males.
So, I figured I’d go ahead and write the book I wished were available to me.
JD: Can you talk about how our cultural dismissal of boys who don’t embrace sports or are “picked last” is related to bullying?
JSE: Whether we like it said or not, our society makes kings out of certain boys who then become our leaders and standard-bearers.
If we’re ever going to be able to quash the bullying, we’re going to need to hold ourselves accountable for society’s role in institutionalizing and sanctioning victimhood for nonathletic boys. We already know that we need to speak up against the abuse of personal power among children whenever and wherever we see it.
What we haven’t realized yet, is how much we need to disabuse our fellow adults of their illusions that all boys love to play sports and other competitive or aggressive games, and that there’s something the matter with the ones who don’t. When the grownups stop their exaltation of the physical, and learn to appreciate and seek out males’ many other sensibilities, the children too will stop.
JD: With the increased focus on bullying in recent years, there’s been some push back, with certain parents saying that many incidents described as “bullying” are really just kids being kids. Where’s the line between bullying and immature behavior?
JSE: Bullying is immature behavior, so there really isn’t any line. But what this question brings forward is our population’s collective suggestion that maybe-- just maybe -- we should lighten up a bit on all this anti-bullying and understand it as an expression of immaturity in kids -- i.e., a normal phase (especially in boys), something they’ll grow out of.
What a slippery slope that is though. There is already too much disguising of downright bad behavior on the part of boys by simply describing it as immature, or a matter of “kids being kids.” In these situations, kids, essentially, are given exemptions from appropriate social behavior based on the assumption that they don’t know better, or are at the mercy of their unmodulated impulses and emotions. They do know better; to wit, they manage to control themselves just fine in all the contexts in which it matters to them how they are perceived.
… By “unpacking” the language surrounding bullying, we can see it for what it is-behavior that intimidates, reduces, humiliates, devalues a person’s sense of self, or induces fear. What becomes apparent is how different it is in intent from other types of immature behavior, some of which may appear goofy, irrational, or ill-timed. Bullying may be all of those things too, but it is also and always mean.
JD: Why do you think we are just waking up to bullying as a problem, has it intensified in recent years or have adults become more sensitive to its repercussions?
JSE: Many things have brought bullying forward and are exposing it in ways never before possible. Not too long ago, bullying was a problem involving two, three, maybe a handful of kids. It happened in places where nobody saw it, or it disappeared quietly with a visit to the principal’s office or a call home.
But now, with the advent of the Internet and cell phones, bullying has a new, higher level of visibility and a higher level of play, with its exploitation of kids’ naivete and need for acceptance, and capitalization of public viewing. It is a runaway train.
… There’s more. Boys and girls are killing themselves after spending years being bullied, and we are reading about it the very day it happens. We see their faces and learn their names. Their stories have empowered other victims to come forward to tell their stories, and they are finding audiences online that are more receptive than ever. People are ready to hear.
...we all seemed to have just woken up to bullying as a problem
Not too long ago, bullying was a problem involving two, three, maybe a handful of kids.
need to hold ourselves accountable for society’s role in institutionalizing and sanctioning victimhood for nonathletic boys
It happened in places where nobody saw it, or it disappeared quietly with a visit to the principal’s office or a call home.
The topic is serious
The Sports Wound and Bullying
by Dr. William Van Ornum May 12, 2010 8:19am
Many of the public and well as the mental health professions have never heard of the phrase "sports wound." This refers to males who do not display athletic prowess or good eye-hand coordination. As much as we may want to deny this, boys who lack sports ability often are teased and bullied through their growing up years.
Yes, many coaches and physical education teachers are sensitive to this and intervene. But even if the teasing and bullying stops, the boy has received a message that he can't handle himself like the other boys in this situation.
Wise parents and teachers guide the youngster into pursuits where they have strengths or talents and can attain success. Judo, karate, scouts, non-competive sports, carpentry, archery, and many other venues offer boys with the "sports wound" a chance to succeed.
Historically boys with the "sports wound" have been teased as being homosexual. Whatever his sexual orientation, it is cruelty to be on the receiving end of such comments. And these hurtful words continue to be spoken on athletic fields and phys ed classes around the world.
Our society rewards athletes. When even the President of the United States, a man attuned to racism and prejudice, taunts retarded children by saying is low score in bowling was "like someone in the Olympics", we realize the strong and continuing presence of factors leading to the sports wounds.
We may tell children aout how many great high school athletes burn out right after high school and end up in menial jobs. But smart youngsters will also note the many highly successful men whose success is in heavy measure supported by the self-esteem and drive that comes from success in the athletic arena.
I wonder if this same sports wound phenomenon is happening to girls, now that there are so many girls sports. Intriguing. we need to watch for this, listen to the children, and obtain some data.
The "sports wound" shows us some of the sadnesses and paradoxes of a lack of athletic talent, and how many times thiis is associated with bullying and teasing which are strongly supported by attitudes putting athletic skills up on the pedastal.
The appeal of the book is limited to the parents of boys who have no interest in sports
We may tell children aout how many great high school athletes burn out right after high school and end up in menial jobs.
But smart youngsters will also note the many highly successful men whose success is in heavy measure supported by the self-esteem and drive that comes from success in the athletic arena.
Quote:We may tell children aout how many great high school athletes burn out right after high school and end up in menial jobs.[/about]
I think this is a TERRIBLE mindset -- teaching your kid that the only way they can "win" is if other people "fail". I see this everywhere and it really pisses me off. Why don't we just teach our kids that there is room enough in the world for all of us?
Good grief. Dr. Van Ornum was speaking only hypothetically at this particular point in his post. He wasn't actually advocating that attitude. He then refutes that view in his very next sentence, as you've just indicated.
boomerang wrote:This is one area where I think athletics really help kids. Your team lost? Big deal. Dust yourself off and practice some more. Athletes experience more failure than non-athletes and they take it in stride.
I've read a LOT of research over the last couple of years that point out that kids who are afraid of failing often don't even try.
If you're on a team at least you try.
Maybe confidence is confused with being a bully. Maybe it's just easier to say that bigger, faster, stronger kid is a bully. I don't know.
Perhaps I'm wrong here, but you and Joe Nation seem to be expressing the oft-held view that sports are essential to a child's development (especially boys) and that those children who simply have no interest in them have something wrong with them and will end up being deficient or even inferior. I beg to differ with that view. The problem is not that nonathletic boys don't try; the problem is they're simply not interested in sports. I reject the idea of compulsory sports.
If a boy will feel better about himself if he participates in a sport, then he must do so. But as I've tried to point out, boys aren't all the same. Personal preferences should be respected (but aren't).
As far as the book is concerned, I'm sure the authors present some sort of program for building self-esteem -- which, of course, is done by working to achieve something. I don't think they're into blaming others. By the way, as far as "blaming" is concerned, that is usually done by those who condone bullying. "It's the victim's fault. He brought it on himself." Sounds like the rape culture that blames the victims of rape for the crime. "She brought it on herself."
This will be my last post in this topic. Continuing to post would be in vain when people already have their minds made up and are unwilling to consider another point of view. There have been hundreds, probably thousands of books published over the years about coaching youth sports and books written for the parents of athletic kids. But the publication of one, just one book directed to the parents of nonathletic boys, a book that simply presents another view instead of the predominant culture of school sports -- this book elicits controversy. How dare anyone write such a book! The views I've presented in this topic regarding young boys who have no interest in sports have been compassionate and tolerant, but the predominant sports culture views such a book (or any expression of the nonathletic point of view) as a provocative affront.
I think she's taken her own family and their experience and extrapolated it to the population at large.
Most schools don't even have PE anymore and if they do offer it it's an elective. (We can thank budget cuts and NCLB (and Race to the Top) for that.) My son's elementary school raised their own funds to hire a PE teacher and NONE of what they did in class was competitive. His middle school doesn't offer PE at all.