As for my girl, I instructed her that she was going to invest some time and energy getting to know Bethany. I assigned her to come home from school the next day and report three cool things she found out about Bethany, that she didn’t previously know. My strong-willed child dug in. I’m sure it was her worst nightmare to step out of her comfort zone and talk to someone her and her friends previously deemed unworthy. She did not want to do that. I dug in deeper. I refused to drive her to school the next morning, until she agreed. It seemed that, at least until now, I had the car keys and the power. Her resistance gave us time to have the Social Darwinism conversation. I walked her through my “ATM Machine Analogy.” I explained to her that she had social bank to spare. She could easily make a withdrawal on behalf of this little girl, risking very little.
“Let’s invest!” I enthused and encouraged.
She got dressed reluctantly and I drove her to school. She had a good day—what was left of it. But, she was still buggy with me when I picked her up, telling me that her friends’ mothers “stay out of such matters” and let their daughters “choose their own friends!” (Such wise women.) And then she told me three cool things about Bethany that she didn’t previously know.
I checked back in with Bethany’s mother by phone two weeks later. It’s called follow through. (I don’t think enough of us are doing that. We “helicopter” over our kids’ wardrobes, nutrition, sleep schedules, hygiene, science fair projects and then pride ourselves on how “hands off” we are on social issues. If I had a dollar for every time I wanted to say, “Seriously? You micro-manage the literal crap out of every thing your child does from his gluten intake to his soccer cleats, but THIS you stay out of?” No wonder there’s zero accountability and a bullying culture!) Bethany’s mother assured me that she had been welcomed into the fold of friendship and was doing well.
Bethany’s family moved to another state a few years later. My daughter cried when they parted ways. They still keep in touch through all their social media channels. She was and is a really cool girl, with a lot to offer her peers. But the real value was to my daughter, obviously. She gained so much through that experience. She is now a 20-year-old college sophomore, with a widely diverse group of friends. She is kind, inclusive and open to all types of people. My worst nightmare was no longer a concern. When she was malleable, impressionable and mine to guide:
—She learned her initial instinct about people isn’t always correctly motivated.
—She learned you can be friends with the least likely people; the best friendships aren’t people that are your “type!” In the world of friendship, contrast is a plus.
—She learned that there are times, within a given social framework, that you are in a position to make a withdrawal on behalf of someone else. Be generous, invest! It pays dividends.
But, most importantly, she learned that, while I may not be overly-interested in what she gets on her Science Fair project, couldn’t care less if she’s Lactose Intolerant or whether her long blonde hair is snarled, she’s going to damn well treat people right.
Parents—your kids are going to eventually develop the good sense to wear a jacket and eat vegetables, invest your energy in how they interact within society. If we insist on being the hovering Helicopter Parent Generation, let’s at least hover over the right areas so that our worst nightmare of raising bullies doesn’t come true.