People love to hate Orson Scott Card for *reasons* – which I am not going to go into here, and would appreciate readers to stay away from too. But there is one reason he gets my attention, and that is Ender’s Game. The man is, quite simply, an expert on child psychology.
I tried to read Ender’s Game as a teen and bailed after a page or two. Couldn’t get into it. For some reason it was on my TBR pile a couple of years back and managed to be picked up. I was fascinated from the off, not least because the book focuses on gifted children – a concept I’d first heard of and learned about in the months before I read the book.
More to the point, the book is about adults exploiting the potential violence a child may engage in when bullied – particularly if the child feels they’re alone and that they have no recourse to adult assistance, and so resorts to violence.
**END SPOILER ALERT**
While in reality many bullied children don’t resort to violence – most just go silent and internalise the bullying, hiding who they really are and suffering the psychological consequences for decades, if not a lifetime – some may actually express violent desires, if not actually act. To hear my five year old say, “X is taking my life away, and I must now take X’s life away” (translation: my five year old felt they had no choice, and wanted to make things such that the other child had no choices) sure made me sit up – as it reminded me far too clearly of Ender.
As a Christian, that reaction is untenable, and not what I counselled my child to do. In the Bible, from Jesus Himself, we are told to turn the other cheek, to do to others as we would have them do to us. Not easy for a child to swallow, I’ll be honest, when they FEEL cornered and without choices. But what I did teach her is that she has four things she can do – in order, where possible.
1. Say “No”, “leave me alone” and “I don’t want to play with you”. At worst, she can shout these things – thus drawing the attention of a nearby adult.
2. Walk away. Remove oneself from the situation whenever possible.
3. Speak to a nearby adult/teacher. Not easy in a busy school environment when there is little time – or when you’re dealing with a very young child who forgets to speak up because of said busyness.
4. Speak to parents. Parents can then speak to teachers on behalf of the child.
But, that all said, step 1 is futile if children are not taught to listen. When a child says “no”, “leave me alone”, “I do not want to do that”, is it not right that we teach our children to respect that? It may just be that the child saying “no” is actually trying to protect the other children from a violent (whether verbal or physical) retaliation. This is especially true of autistic children who have much lower limits of tolerance than normal, or neurotypical, children and who can react unpredictably when pushed too far. Which is by no means their fault – it is the responsibility of all of us – adults and children alike – to understand and support boundaries and accommodate those who are different to us – which is every person around us.
It’s high time ALL children are taught to protect themselves and their peers, but also to respect the boundaries their peers put in place. It is not enough that we just let our children loose into the school environment without explaining the rules of engagement.