Every week, it seems, a tragic story filters through the media involving child bullying. Cyber bullying, child suicides, and school violence are becoming such common stories that I believe we will soon become desensitized to them (if we are not already).
Here’s the thing. I grew up believing that child bullies turned into mean adults. Prisons, I decided in earnest, were filled with yesterday’s kids who never learned to be nice. Communication, in my mind, was the missing ingredient. If parents would simply talk to their children about being kind, kids would grow up to be better adults.
And then I became an adult.
And I learned to drive.
And I experienced presidential elections and holiday shopping.
And I attended parent/teacher conferences (as the teacher).
And I realized that the majority of bullies aren’t 18 and under. And with what fiction writers like to call a “snap of clarity,” I turned my conviction that child bullies become mean adults on its heels.
See, I believe it’s the other way around. I think bullies create mean children.
Children are powerfully intuitive. Go ahead. Say, “Be nice” all day long, but note that they listen with their eyes.
Children watch their parents react to being cut off in traffic. They observe the infighting known in this country as “election season.” They see the madness on Black Friday. They witness their parents shred school teachers over grades that were (most often) earned. They note the way adults talk about skin color and religious conviction and body image and financial status. And what do these children do? They wreak havoc on their peers. And why not? They have a big, fat permission slip signed by their folks.
Children may not need to be taught unkindness, but someone must teach bullies that unkindness is acceptable. And I suspect it starts at home.
So on behalf of the children who will experience taunting, shoving, spitting, and worse this week, I implore you as one adult to another—
Please be kind.