Boy’s ‘My Little Pony’ backpack banning offers teachable moment about importance of accepting differences
By Christy Pace
School officials told a 9-year-old North Carolina boy not to bring his “My Little Pony” backpack to school, calling it a “trigger for bullying that created a disruption in the classroom,” according to a Huffington Post story.
This latest episode of bullying can be used by school officials and parents alike to explore ways to make kids more accepting of each other’s differences rather than a flashpoint for ridicule and bullying.
Buncombe County Schools officials in North Carolina told 9-year-old Grayson Bruce to leave the backpack home after Grayson reported that other students picked on him and bullied him because the backpack was “girly.” Classmates reportedly punched Grayson, pushed him down and called him names, the Huffington Post story said.
“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” is a Hasbro cartoon of ponies, pegasi and unicorns that spread unity through friendship, love, understanding and cooperation. The show has a massive fan base of young men and teenagers who enjoy the show, commonly known as “bronies.”
Grayson has received an outpouring of support, including a Facebook page with more than 29,000 likes and many supporters sending in videos to promote the cause.
While our first instinct is to punish the bullies, time and experience have shown that it doesn’t work. Adding more restrictions and instituting zero tolerance policies have proven ineffective and in fact drive the bullies “underground,” causing them to use social media and electronic communication to bully.
A better approach to situations of bullying and school violence is to empower kids to celebrate their individuality and uniqueness and not succumb to bullying. By going back to the basics of respect, empathy and human dignity, our school environments can change from climates of negativity to places of positive reinforcement and proactive behavior modification. Kids like Grayson should be an inspiration and role model to others, not punished and silenced.
Here are some ways to turn this into a positive teaching moment:
● Encourage your children to realize that others’ opinions of them are just that – opinions – and other people’s words do not change who they are.
● Celebrate students’ individuality and uniqueness. Schools can take time to discuss the importance of individuality and different opinions. Have kids talk about their unique interests and how that makes them who they are.
● Highlight historic figures and role models and explore how their unique personalities led to great discoveries and moments in history. Have students talk about historic people they admire for their uniqueness an individuality.
● Talk to kids about the importance of having control over themselves and the decisions they make. Sometimes no matter how hard we try, some people still want us to be like them instead of who we really are. Being unique and different from our friends is what makes us and our relationships more interesting.
● Talk to students about steps they can take when they see bullying in the school.
● Parents should use the opportunity to talk to their kids about the issue. Start a conversation with your child to ensure that they are empowered with the tool of assertiveness so that they will be able to say ‘no’ when pressured to participate in bullying and inappropriate behavior. Let them know that they can confide in you and talk to you if something is bothering them.
● As parents, be aware of your own attitudes and behaviors toward others. Kids learn what they live, and if they see their role models exhibiting disrespectful behavior, they will perceive it as acceptable in their peer relationships as well.
● Parents should talk to their child to find out what emotional need is being met by their child’s strong attachment to an object and fill that void some other way. It may seem obvious why children grow attached to items that represent a world of equality, understanding, friendship and love. It is a world different than most school environments.
Susan Barnes and Christy Pace created The COREMatters Project, a nonprofit organization that provides a multidimensional classroom experience to empower kids and teach them how to be more resilient in the face of adversity. It focuses on social-emotional learning, empathy and respect-building instruction through cooperative learning activities, role playing, classroom discussions, individual work and taekwondo. Approximately 1,000 kids have gone through the program since it began in 2011. For more information, visit http://www.coremattersproject.com/.