Call me jaded or cynical if you’d like, but I’m not so sure about this here “buddy bench” idea.
It’s a simple concept. You put a bench on your school’s playground, call it a buddy bench and explain to the kids that if they’re lonely, they can sit on it and that will signal the other kids that they’re supposed to ask if you’d like to play. Yes, schools still have playgrounds, apparently.
All of this seems like a nice idea. Give the loner kids some hope, and teach the others a little bit about sharing, caring and finding friends where they wouldn’t expect them. All good lessons, and certainly ones that ought to be taught somehow, somewhere.
But let’s be honest. As untainted by adult biases, stereotypes and other such horseshit as children can be, they’re also little assholes. I was one when I was young, and so were you. You might not have meant to be and you may not have realized it at the time, but at some point, you were a little asshole to somebody. You said something or did something to a classmate that was mean, hurtful…whatever negative adjective suits your fancy. You did it and you know it. Some of us did it more than others and some of us pretty quickly realized we weren’t proud of it, but there were, unfortunately, those kids who did it with bad intent. They did it because they liked it. They knew what they were doing and knew who they should do it to. And their targets, I hate to say it, were the very people that were going to be the ones most likely to find themselves in need of a buddy bench had such a thing existed back then.
Without meaning to, proponents of the buddy bench are making targets out of anyone who sits on it. Whether somebody makes fun of the “bench dorks” once or sets out on a full on asshole onslaught, it’s going to happen and it’s going to suck for those kids. All the best intentions and educational messages in the world aren’t going to stop that buddy bench from becoming a bully bench. Human nature says so, and I say that in spite of my belief that most human beings are, at heart, good.
And there’s another problem here. Let’s assume that I’m completely wrong and not a single person who dares sit on the bench is pestered or bullied and everyone finds a playmate for recess. Great, right? Well…no, actually. Once the 20 minutes of recess are over, what happens then? Not everyone is going to get along, because no matter the age some people just aren’t going to like each other. And I can tell you from firsthand blind kid experience that there aren’t many ways shittier of forging long lasting friendships than having a teacher or parent force somebody to play with you. If you ever want to have an awful day, spend it with somebody who totally doesn’t want to be around you and can’t wait to go home. I’ve been on both sides of that and it sucks either way. I’ve never been sentenced to community service, but I imagine that’s sort of what it feels like. You fulfill your obligations because the authorities are watching and then get the fuck out of there at the first opportunity, hopefully never to return or even speak of it again.
I have little doubt that these benches are somewhat successful, but you can’t tell me that in no way will they ever make existing problems worse. And even if somewhat successful is the goal which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it kind of defeats the purpose if that success comes at a heavy price for someone else.