JULY 30, 1938
HYDE PARK, Friday —Going over my accumulated mail, the other night, I found one letter which put a question extremely difficult to answer. My correspondent, a worried mother, said: "Should a mother teach a child retaliation for any attacks which are suffered at the hands of an older or bigger boy, thereby risking injury to life or limb, or should she teach him to refrain from putting his hands up in self-defense, to walk away and be called 'coward' and risk ostracism from his clique of young fellows?"
There is a precedent, of course, for turning the other cheek if you are attacked unfairly. But my experience, which is of course limited, is that the bully who attacks younger and weaker children without justification is usually disliked by the other boys. If it is clear that the one jumped upon has done nothing to bring it about, he will usually be helped out by his comrades.
I do not think mothers have to teach their boys to defend themselves. Every boy worth his salt, if he feels that he is being unfairly treated, retaliates even though it looks as if the odds were against him. I think, however, that mothers should teach their children not to make nuisances of themselves to their playmates. There is a tyranny which younger, weaker children sometimes exert over those who are older and bigger.
I remember very well a period when one of my young boys was just enough smaller than his next older brother for everyone to say to the older one: "You mustn't hit your little brother. It's unkind and not sportsmanlike." As a result, the younger one would tease and take advantage of the older one and make himself so objectionable that it was all I could do to keep my hands off him.
It was good discipline for the older one, undoubtedly, but extremely bad for the younger one. I finally put boxing gloves on both and told the older one to give him a lesson. I think it is rather a good thing for all boys to learn to use boxing gloves. They cannot hurt each other very much, it is good exercise and, on the whole, fairly safe.
I always loved Kipling's story in "The Brushwood Boy" of the young lieutenant who took the troublesome battalions of men, who after all were only grown-up boys, out to a camp in India and returned them after a few weeks in which he taught them all to box. Every man was in excellent physical condition, under good discipline and none was under arrest.
It is true that children often have a streak of cruelty in them. On the other hand, they generally are fair. They admire courage and they do not like bullying. They usually know more than the grown-ups the real underlying reasons for what goes on among themselves.
We had a very pleasant drive yesterday and returned this morning in time for lunch with my grandchildren. I am off this afternoon for a visit with a friend of mine on Long Island.