Saturday, May 9, 2009

Middle School Bans Hugs

We heard the story about the 11-year-old boy who committed suicide due to bullying. We wanted to know why the school didn't do anything despite the numerous times his parent came to them with concerns about all the harassment he was coming home from school with everyday. In light of this tragedy, we demanded that this never happens again, that schools be responsible for every student and work to prevent bullying and all forms of harassment.

This school seemed to take the message and run with it.

All touch, including hugs and horseplay, will now land you a parent conference, detention, suspension, or a request for expulsion if you're student at East Shore Middle School. So if you hug your best friend, you could face suspension. Following from a student needing emergency medical care after suffering a kick to the groin, the school rewrote the original "good touch/bad touch" policy and effectively went "no touch" under the assumption that if all touch is banned, so will all violence. So there we go...bullying problem solved. Right?

Some parents are seeing this for what it is--a vast overreaction done only so that the school administration can easily look accountable by throwing down a simple solution so they don't have to effectively deal with cases of actual bullying or harassment. Bullying is not the issue, if it was they would do the reasonable thing--deal with those cases of obvious, repeated, and unwanted harrassment (all of which were present in the Springfield boy's case), and effectively leave the "hugs and high-fives" to the realm of healthy friendship behaviors.

“As a parent, I just don’t agree with it,” Edward Abbazia, whose son Patrick is a 14-year-old eighth grader told the News-Times. “This is going to happen — they’re going to touch each other. My son’s going to physically touch his friend, you know, shake his hand or pat him on the back, and he’s going to get detention and he knows it, but he’s going to do it anyway…the high fives, the hugging.”
It has prompted Patrick's parents to give him permission to protest the policy. He went to school with his arms taped at his sides at the elbows.

Readers of this blog will remember Lenore Skenazy, the creator of Free-Range Kids, a blog about the increasing irrationality in how parents and schools attempt to protect children. On this issue she very poignantly wrote:

This policy is the latest example of aiming an elephant gun at a flea.

Besides the fact that this policy unfairly targets boys, who often express friendship and comradery through "playful" roughhousing which is often mistaken for violent behavior, now engaging in behavior that is pretty typical for children (hugging) can gain any kid academic consequences. So what used to be positive, pro-social behavior reinforcing friendship, now comes with a negative consequence. Anyone who knows anything about learning theory will recognize what the ultimate result of this new social contingency will be.

Children learn about others and the world through touch. Contact-comfort has been shown to be absolutely essential to their early development, it's no less important for adolescent peer groups: a high-five on the sports team, a pat on the back after a good deed...etc. These are mechanisms that reinforce pro-social behaviors through comforting recognition (ie. a pat on the back) and build social confidence. Now, at this school, all such expression is banned whether positive or negative.

It is more than obvious this is political correctness taken to such an over-zealous extreme that it threatens to cause as much harm on an institutional level as it may or may not prevent in the individual case level. The issue is not going to heal itself with a simple, rubber stamp behavioral policy. Bullying is a real problem schools face, and the kids who endure bullying deserve a real solution.

Why not just ban crotch kicks?

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