This Buddy Bench crap is stripping our kids of creativity and capability.
Oh yes, I can feel the heavy the pushback already. No, I'm not cruel. No, I don't think things are all unicorns and rainbows on our kids' playgrounds. But I am a believer that being a self-starter is a learned skill over years of ups and downs. After all, we are raising kids who need our guidance to learn to function in a world that won't cater to their every whim.
I will raise leaders, kids who can take responsibility and lead themselves—even if it kills me—which is why I was shocked when one of my daughters came home recently and reported that she was on the Buddy Bench during recess. My outgoing, loud kindergartner whose voice is bigger than her body? The girl who can't stop moving and who has always been just as happy playing by herself as she is with friends?!
In case you don't know what a Buddy Bench is, it's a bench on the playground that kids can sit on to signal to others that they need someone to play with or talk to. It's supposed to eliminate loneliness and encourage inclusion. But what is it really doing?
I turned and asked my first-grader, "Have you ever sat on the Buddy Bench?"
"One or two times," she said.
It was like I was punched in the stomach. Who are these children of mine and am I out of touch with who I think they are?!
GET UP. Get out there. No one's going to do it for you, even if the principal tells them to.
I stayed calm. "So, what happened on the bench? Did anyone come and get you to play?"
"No," they both said, each telling me how they just sat there watching others play until the bell rang. I was baffled.
"Did you want someone to play with or were you happy on the bench?" I pursued. "I wanted to play with someone!" my kindergartner said. My first grader reported the same too.
"Then why didn't you get up, get out there and find something or someone to play with?" I got firm. "You two are friendly with a lot of kids and know how to play different things. I don't want you sitting on that Buddy Bench again, do you hear me? Life is about getting up and finding something that works, even if it takes a while to find it. Be brave."
My girls were a bit thrown with my tough talk right there, but it's true: GET UP. Get out there. No one's going to do it for you, even if the principal tells them to. We make fun of millennials and the "everyone gets a trophy" generation and in the meanwhile, we're raising a Buddy Bench generation!
It's our fault if this next wave of children can't find motivation and success from within—because we're the ones sending the message that it's OK to opt-out, sit on a bench on the sidelines and watch others play while feeling bad about yourself. It's conditioning them to give up too soon.
With all of our well-intentioned efforts to promote kindness and vulnerability, we're also missing a very big boat that will journey our kids into success at school, future jobs and beyond. And I, for one, refuse to raise my kids that way.