The Buddy Bench, or One Stop Shopping for Bullies

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On Friday Brenna mentioned the Buddy Bench on the playground at school to me. The Buddy Bench is a bench (obviously) where you go and sit if you don’t have a friend to play with and someone will come sit with you to talk or invite you to play. I asked Brenna if she’d ever used it. She said she’s sat on it before but no one came to play with her and once there were two girls sitting there so she went over but they told her they were already playing together. They were using it in more of a standard bench capacity. One more obstacle for my naive and socially awkward little one to navigate.

Curious if this was unique to the school or something done elsewhere I did a search for Buddy Bench. A socially conscious 2nd grader saw them in Germany and talked to his principal about instituting one in his own elementary school. The young man has even spoken with Matt Lauer about his Buddy Bench initiative. I respect and commend him for thinking of others. He’s in a minority of people who actually expect others to treat them the way they’d like to be treated. Who have grander ideas and an innocence that says all the kids on the playground will play with each other. The Buddy Bench is fantastic in theory but in the cold, harsh world of the school playground?

I think most kids with half their wits and a sense of self preservation would avoid the Buddy Bench at all costs. Except my naive little one who seems to have no concept that other kids can really suck. There’s always a kid on the playground who doesn’t fit in, doesn’t have a friend; that kid may even change from day to day. I’ve been that kid. So what do you do when you find yourself with no one to play with on the playground? You read a book, you draw in the dirt with a stick or you…shudder…try to make friends. You avoid, by any means necessary, making yourself look like the outcast kid and attracting the attention of bullies and mean girls. You DO NOT go sit on a bench that’s purpose is to let others know that you’re alone! This just makes it easy for the kids who don’t get hugged enough to find you. Not only are you alone, but you’re also the one weird kid who didn’t have the same instincts to avoid the thing to begin with. You have made yourself a target. If you must sit down you find a grassy area to rest your rump and appear deep in thought far away from the Bench of Self Ostracism.

I adore the children who are brave or innocent enough to try the Buddy Bench. I love that my little girl’s rose colored glasses allow her to see the Buddy Bench as a tool for friendship and not a Scarlett letter. I’m proud of her for seeing kids there and approaching them. Unfortunately people like her also get hurt. We don’t live in a Utopian world where other people genuinely care about your feelings. Wouldn’t it be nice if there weren’t need for such a bench? That kids were aware enough of one another that they see another kid drawing in the dirt and approach them without that child having to announce their need by sitting on a bench? Wouldn’t it be grand if a child who’s feeling lonely could just go and insert himself in a playground game or find another kid who is also alone and say “hey, let’s hang out” without needing to sit on a bench and expect other people to come fix it for him?

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