Why are kids so mean sometimes? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 51 Old 12-10-2010, 03:42 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I'm not sure if this is the appropriate place for this. It's more of a philosophical question. I'm really curious what other people's take on this is because I just can't figure it out.

 

There is an elementary school bus stop right in front of my house. Several times I have witnessed the children out there being downright cruel to each other. One time I felt compelled to tell the bus driver that I could see one child beating up an another child near the back of the bus through the window. There was another adult at the back of the bus but, apparently, she wasn't aware of the problem, either.

 

Today I heard the kids hollering so I peaked out my window and saw a loose dog running around. I went out to watch the dog while I called animal control. While I was standing on my porch there was an interchange between 3 boys that I could not hear. One of the boys walked away to get away from the other two. He looked a bit scared. One of the other two boys said something to the first boy about being a girl. He was obviously saying that to the boy just to be mean. When the bus pulled up and the kids started to walk toward it to get on, I noticed that the boy who had been picked up had the physical characteristics of Down's Syndrome. Now I wonder if they were picking on him solely because he's different.

 

I just don't get it. Why do kids do that? Is it something we are all born with and have to be taught not to act on or is it learned by what we witness and experience?


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#2 of 51 Old 12-10-2010, 04:20 PM
 
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Power. Plain and simple.

Being mean is how adults have power over them. Making children feel or be powerless, using negativity as a motivator or as compulsion, is extremely common parenting. Just because there's happy moments doesn't mean that that meanness doesn't stick.

 

It's only natural that children who are shown meanness and manipulation through being made to feel bad at home (and usually at school, if they go), by those more powerful than themselves, would turn around and use those tactics on others who they want to control, manipulate, or feel power over.

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#3 of 51 Old 12-10-2010, 05:01 PM - Thread Starter
 
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That's exactly what I was thinking. They must see this behavior at home and are probably treated that way by their parents and older siblings. I also think school is a great place for learning mean behavior. I guess there's a part of me that doesn't want to blame parents and school for all of it, though.

 

I have to deal with this on a daily basis with my 6yo and his best friend. His friend comes home from school and exhibit all the typical mean school kid behavior. My ds picks it up and comes home and treats his 3yo brother that way. If he's not around his friend for an extended period of time, he doesn't do things just to be mean. It makes me not want to let him play with any of the neighbor kids.

 

Today he wouldn't go outside to play with the group of kids at his friend's house next door because there was a girl there who had pinched him. Apparently, she insisted that he hit her so she pinched him back even though he told her over and over that he didn't hit her. I believe him because he's not the type to just hit people and because of his reaction. He was so upset that this girl would hurt him for something he didn't even do and not believe him about it. The kids expect each other to lie about that sort of thing, though. I think they learn that at home when their parents punish them harshly. They learn to lie so they won't get in trouble. Even if my son did hit her, why is it that all she wants to do is retaliate? Doesn't anyone teach these kids that revenge is not the answer? What happened to, "turn the other cheek?"

 

Ugh. I could go on and on. I'm just so disillusioned by the meanness I see.

 


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#4 of 51 Old 12-10-2010, 05:11 PM
 
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You know, my boys regularly attack each other when they get mad. Someone "steals" the other guy's lego creation and...watch out, bro. They have never seen me or their father hit each other. On the contrary, they've seen us argue and then settle things peacefully. They have seen us apologize to each other for being unkind. We don't hit them.

So no, I don't think kids are aggressive only because they have observed this behavior at home. Sometimes, sure. But whacking someone we don't like is a basic human instinct. One most of us as adults have learned not to give in to. Also, I believe some kids are just mean for no particular reason.
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#5 of 51 Old 12-11-2010, 05:03 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Well, I'm not really talking about the aggressiveness that children exhibit when they are overwhelmed with their emotions. I'm talking about deliberate meanness, like when one kid does or says something to another kid just because they know it will be upsetting, bullying. They tease this kid for wearing glasses, that kid because they know he won't fight back. That sort of thing.


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#6 of 51 Old 12-11-2010, 06:27 AM
 
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 They must see this behavior at home and are probably treated that way by their parents and older siblings. I also think school is a great place for learning mean behavior.

 

I disagree that it is because kids see this behavior at home. I am sure some kids do, but I am also quite sure that kids who have respectful homes practice this kind of behavior as well. It is a way of testing boundaries and power and control.

 

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#7 of 51 Old 12-11-2010, 06:37 AM - Thread Starter
 
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But why do they choose that kind of behavior to test boundaries and control? Aren't there other ways? They must see those behaviors somewhere to think they might work to get them what they want. KWIM? For example, my ds never expressed an opinion about toys and clothes and such in terms of boys and girls until his friend made that distinction. It was only after hearing other boys disparage "girl" stuff that my son started doing that.


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#8 of 51 Old 12-11-2010, 07:46 AM
 
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 They must see this behavior at home and are probably treated that way by their parents and older siblings. I also think school is a great place for learning mean behavior.

 

I disagree that it is because kids see this behavior at home. I am sure some kids do, but I am also quite sure that kids who have respectful homes practice this kind of behavior as well. It is a way of testing boundaries and power and control.

 


The opposite also is true. I grew up in a terrible, violent family, but I don't hit people. I never bullied. I never intentionally hurt someone else's feelings.


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#9 of 51 Old 12-11-2010, 08:43 AM
 
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There are ALWAYS those that do not follow the patterns that are modeled to them, but I would venture to say that 99% of the time, yes, it's modeled at home.  I mean that's one of the mantras here at MDC... model the behaviors you want to see in your children.  If it were not effective, we, as intelligent mommas, would suggest something else.  Of course there will be kids that don't conform to the home environment.  Most do.  When I see kids tormenting and belittling others my very first thought is that they are tormented and belittled at home.  When I see kids being kind to someone else, I think they must have kindness modeled at home.

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#10 of 51 Old 12-11-2010, 09:05 AM
 
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But why do they choose that kind of behavior to test boundaries and control? Aren't there other ways? They must see those behaviors somewhere to think they might work to get them what they want. KWIM? For example, my ds never expressed an opinion about toys and clothes and such in terms of boys and girls until his friend made that distinction. It was only after hearing other boys disparage "girl" stuff that my son started doing that.



I think it's a complex mix of testing out their power + how kids are socialized. Kids can come up with fairly cruel things through trial and error. They may not have a full grasp of the implications of the things that they're saying at a young age, but they can easily observe how others react when they say something mean. Our ds got teased some in 1st and 2nd grade by the neighborhood kids. He's a really sensitive kid, and really reactive. I think a couple of the kids who were doing it noticed how he reacted, and then they had fun getting a rise out of them. It was a power trip pure and simple.

 

I think if kids don't see respectful communication at home, or they have parents who exercise power without respect, they're more likely to try those behaviors out on others. But of the kids who were teasing my son, two came from homes where I noticed a distinct lack of respectful communication, but one didn't. So, it's more than just "they're reflecting what they see at home". All of the parents, by the way, dealt with the issue reasonably when I brought it up to them. The kids were all given to know that this was not acceptable behavior, and we worked with ds on not being so reactive.

 

Socialization also comes out in terms of how the kids demonstrate bullying. Boys in middle class America are more likely to use a combination of verbal taunts and physical aggression. Girls in middle class America are much more likely to use verbal and relationship aggression. This, I have to believe, is a reflection of what they're seeing as acceptable both at home and in their peer groups. There are subcultures in the US where girls are as likely as boys to be involved in physical aggression. There are subcultures where boys are more likely to do relationship violence. But honestly, I see the same kind of exclusionary relationship cr*p going on with some of the adults in their lives too. In fact, I've never seen more than when I became president of the PTA at our school. Holy cow, it was like being back in middle school!

 

But I believe there is some sort of basic human desire for power, and if it's not channeled appropriately and if kids aren't given appropriate tools to deal with these desires, it will come out as bullying.


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#11 of 51 Old 12-11-2010, 09:50 AM
 
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One of the points Gordon Neufeld makes is that kids, when grouped together by age and thus at similar maturity levels, will establish a pecking order.  This is one of his arguments for mixed age groupings - older children and adults providing guidance.


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#12 of 51 Old 12-11-2010, 02:43 PM
 
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Its not just kids.

 

I had a grown women, a nurse no less, grab my daughters white cane from her and shout "Why do you have a blind mans stick, your not blind."

 

She had never seen my child before in her life ir knew if she was blind or not (which she is or she woudlnt have a cane).

 

And my poor 3.5 year old daughter just smiled up at her and said "Thats my cane." Like she was giving her a compliment.

 

I cried.

 

People suck at times. So it doesnt surprise me that kids do at times too. However, there was this boy who picked on my kids horribly for 5 years with another boy. Now, he stands up formy kids and is the first to tell his former friend what a jerk he is for picking on people.

 

So, kids do change.

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#13 of 51 Old 12-11-2010, 02:46 PM
 
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I can't say that I know how kids acted 50 years ago, but I can tell you, I believe kids are getting meaner and meaner by the day. And the things that they talk about, these 11/12 year olds, are things I never thought about til I was in high school. Our generation is growing up too fast, imo. And the innocence and simplicity of childhood is no longer considered sacred.


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#14 of 51 Old 12-11-2010, 02:50 PM
 
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 Saying that 99% of bullies are repeating what they see at home is too simplistic.

 

That would mean that 99% of the kids I worked with at the womens shelter were bullies. And that is not accurate in the least. SOme were, yes. But most were not. Infact most did what theyt could to be invisable and not draw attention to themselves. They just wanted to get to school and try to be a normal child. It is their safe place and most just try to be as innoculous as possible.

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#15 of 51 Old 12-11-2010, 03:16 PM
 
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 Saying that 99% of bullies are repeating what they see at home is too simplistic.

 

That would mean that 99% of the kids I worked with at the womens shelter were bullies. And that is not accurate in the least. SOme were, yes. But most were not. Infact most did what theyt could to be invisable and not draw attention to themselves. They just wanted to get to school and try to be a normal child. It is their safe place and most just try to be as innoculous as possible.




Actually, I didn't say that people of a particular demographic or sample size fit into the 99%.  It was a generalization.

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#16 of 51 Old 12-11-2010, 03:49 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I know that adults are mean, too, especially toward their own children. I see it all the time. It makes me so sad. I wonder why people like that have children in the first place. But mean adults aren't born that way, are they? They learn that behavior somewhere as well, don't you think? That's what I'm wondering.

 

I can see how children from extremely abusive families would rather be invisible than be bullies. I think it's more the kids from normal, average families that are more likely to be mean and aggressive. This is how people act. A lot of times, it's kids from upper middle class families who are bullies.

 

I really don't buy much into the idea that children are worse now than they ever were. I think maybe society is becoming more aware of these behaviors as harmful. That's part of why this behavior confounds me so much. There seems to be more and more info out there among "experts" about how harmful meanness is but the average parents don't seem to be getting it.

 

IDK. As I write all of this it seems too simplistic. I don't think it comes just from parental modeling. I think it comes from all directions. I don't think kids are born mean, though. I think if kids saw that they could gain power and control through being nice, that's what they would be more inclined to do. The problem is they see too many adults and older kids using aggression and teasing and meanness.


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#17 of 51 Old 12-11-2010, 03:53 PM
 
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Originally Posted by SnowSparrow View Post

Power. Plain and simple.

Being mean is how adults have power over them. Making children feel or be powerless, using negativity as a motivator or as compulsion, is extremely common parenting. Just because there's happy moments doesn't mean that that meanness doesn't stick.

 

It's only natural that children who are shown meanness and manipulation through being made to feel bad at home (and usually at school, if they go), by those more powerful than themselves, would turn around and use those tactics on others who they want to control, manipulate, or feel power over.

 

I was going to say the same thing! 


 

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#18 of 51 Old 12-11-2010, 04:36 PM
 
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The most important lesson we can teach our children (and others) is how to be a good person.  When I happen upon a bullying incident or harsh teasing, I always (gently) intervene.  I tend to have the mindset of "not on my watch".  I don't denigrate or shame the children.  Often I might make a very gentle suggestion, but mostly I just engage the children long enough so that the moment passes.  If I notice that another child has tried to stop the bullying/teasing, I will ALWAYS praise this child in front of the others for his/her maturity and empathy.  Usually, I know the children involved, but there have been occasions when I had never laid eyes on them before (...two little lads brawling in the park, punching each other in the head/face...).  FWIW, I don't think the children are 'bad', nor do I believe they come from dysfunctional homes.  They are just kids... feeling their way around this big, crazy world.  

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#19 of 51 Old 12-12-2010, 01:43 AM
 
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Well, I'm sure that this won't be a popular opinion, but I believe in original sin. I don't believe children are born pure and perfect, and develop bad behaviors only through the evils of society or bad parenting; I believe they have a natural, inherent desire for control and dominance, a natural selfishness, a natural greed and so on. I don't believe it manifests at birth, mind you - I don't think babies are mentally capable of acting maliciously or manipulatively - but I believe it emerges just like other aspects of humanity (the desire to be loved and liked, to communicate, to do things independently and so on). Sure, society can influence whether the good or bad aspects of a child's nature are rewarded (deliberately or not), but it certainly doesn't surprise me when a small child exhibits viciousness or cruelty.

 

And I think kids tend to bring out the worst in each other. I've noticed toddlers will often spontaneously share with an adult, but not with another toddler. Is it because they know and like the adult (their mother, often) better? Or because they know they'll get lavish praise for sharing, whereas their peer probably won't thank them? Or because they know the adult will promptly return the toy if requested, whereas the other kid might want to keep it? Or simply because the adult has prompted them about sharing in the past, and the other kid hasn't? Who knows. :p But I don't think the sharing reflects the "natural" unspoiled nature of the child, and the not-sharing reflects abusive parenting or the Problem with Capitalism. They're both just what kids do.

 

Plus, I think most people in peer groups act worse when they're alone. Kids act better with an adult around, but I also think a group of adults will tend to act better with a kid around. I notice groups of women are sometimes less catty when there's a man around, and groups of men are sometimes less sexist/ogly when there's a woman in the group. Put an older person in with younger people and they may clean up their language; put a younger person in with older people and they may be more cautious about making nasty comments about Young People Today. And so on and so forth - with any demographic from mums to plumbers to academics. It's harder for a group to judge the petty things they get hung up about when an outsider is present, by her very presence making those things seem trivial or ridiculous by comparison. Even kids tend to feel a bit silly making snarky comments about another kid's sneakers in the presence of an adult.

 

In other words, I plan to homeschool. :p I'm sure my theory isn't all-encompassing, but it does explain why so much bullying is observed with kids very close in age. (For instance, isn't it a general trend for kids to be bullied by other kids in their class, not older or younger kids? Because kids of different ages are less hung up about the intricate social rules of the very specific group - they may not even realise that in Grade 3, growing potatoes instead of tomatoes is really lame, or that in Grade 4 you're not allowed to wear yellow. They have different things to worry about - their own little set of rules.)


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#20 of 51 Old 12-12-2010, 05:33 AM
 
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Developmentally kids are exactly what you say they are. They are self absorbed and they dont really display empathy until they are older. That is all completely appropriate.

 

However, most kids also dont relaize they are seperate entities from thier primary caretaker until about 2. So it is commom for them to share with caregivers b/c they dont exactly see themselves as completely seperate beings at that point.

 

We homeschool also. ButI have learned that bullies are everywhere, not just at school. They are at the YMCA, the mall, the dance centre. It is easier to deal with bullies when they arent faced with it every single recess. But unfortunelay our homeschooled kids are not safe from bullies either.

 

Adults can be bullies to kids as much as other kids can be from expereince.

 

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#21 of 51 Old 12-12-2010, 06:17 AM - Thread Starter
 
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I homeschool, too, and bullying and the way schools as institutions don't deal with it are two reasons.

 

I have to disagree that young children don't display empathy. My almost 7yo has expressed empathy since he was very young. He has always perked up and been affected by a crying baby or child. He wants to make sure the child is ok. He starts discussions about what he perceives as unfairness or injustice or bullying. I think kids who are never treated with empathy won't understand it. A simple example is the very common way that I see most parents deal with their young child's hurts and upsets. They tell their children it's no big deal and to just brush it off. They tell their children they aren't really hurt.

 

I do agree that we are all born with an innate desire to have power over ourselves and our own lives. The instinct to control our own destinies is not the same as the behavior that we use in order to achieve that. I lean more toward the idea that the behavior, to a large extent, is learned.

 

John Lennon was in entertainment news a few days ago. I guess it was his birthday. I'm not really sure because I'm not what you'd call a fan (I don't worship any other person) and I didn't pay that much attention to the news. I did catch a few snippets here and there. One thing that stuck in my head was a quote from him. I'm not going to get it exactly right. It was something like, "If everyone would demand peace instead of a bigger TV, there would be peace." Beyond basic necessities, we learn that having more is better.


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#22 of 51 Old 12-12-2010, 06:42 AM
 
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While I think that bullying can be learned, it isn't always.  For example, my ds is in a very small daycare center, there are 4children under the age of 2.  My ds is the oldest and is 23mo, 2 of them are a week apart in age and are 18mo, and the youngest is 15mo.

 

One of the 18mo's went through a period of hitting, biting, and kicking the other children - none of the others have ever exhibited this behavior at daycare. He would do it out of the blue sometimes (when the teachers thought he was giving hugs, kisses whatever), other times when he was angry, other times when he was frustrated.

 

I don't think anyone on here would label him a bully - he's too young right? But where did he get that behavior? Not at home, I'm good friends with his mom, and she has never done CIO, she's very gentle in her discipline (far more gentle than I am), and she does address the behavior (unlike some who use GD who just don't do anything). She's a great mom!

 

I don't thin the behavior itself is "learned" - but I do think it needs to "unlearned" with the guidance of adults. I think when parents notice, or are told, about their child displaying bullying behaviors they need to act on it. But saying, "Oh, we are a GD household so my son doesn't know how to bully" certainly isn't doing anyone any favors. I'm sure its true that some children will not engage in bullying, but as parents we need to have our eyes wide open and watch for it so that we can address it if it comes up.

 

I also disagree that young children don't display empathy - just the other day my 23mo gave me a hug and kiss when I was crying (I stubbed my toe and it hurt so bad!), and he and his friends at daycare hug each other when one of them is crying.

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#23 of 51 Old 12-12-2010, 06:53 AM
 
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John Lennon was in entertainment news a few days ago. I guess it was his birthday. I'm not really sure because I'm not what you'd call a fan (I don't worship any other person) and I didn't pay that much attention to the news. I did catch a few snippets here and there. One thing that stuck in my head was a quote from him. I'm not going to get it exactly right. It was something like, "If everyone would demand peace instead of a bigger TV, there would be peace." Beyond basic necessities, we learn that having more is better.


John Lennon "Peace" waffle was rather ridiculously simplistic. Does "peace" take precedence over justice? Who gets to define both the peace and the justice? Can anyone over the age of 12 honestly go believe that all we have to do is "give peace a chance" as though that is all it takes?
 

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#24 of 51 Old 12-12-2010, 07:36 AM
 
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John Lennon was in entertainment news a few days ago. I guess it was his birthday. I'm not really sure because I'm not what you'd call a fan (I don't worship any other person) and I didn't pay that much attention to the news.


He was in the news because it was the 30th anniversary of his death.


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#25 of 51 Old 12-12-2010, 08:40 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Again, I'm not talking about the natural aggressive defensiveness of toddlers. I'm talking about school-aged children whom you would think would have been taught there are other ways to deal with problems. I'm also not talking about when children become overwhelmed or overstimulated and lose control. I'm talking about deliberate bullying just for the sake of making someone else feel bad. I don't think that is natural or normal or instinctive.

 

It seems to me that somewhere along the way children who are bullies learn that they can get whatever it is that they want that way. Where that is learned is what I'm wondering about, I guess. Is it learned from parents who bully their kids? Is it learned from watching other children bullying and being bullied? Is it learned from watching other people in IRL and media who behave badly? Most likely, a combination of all of that coupled with parents and other influential older people who don't attempt to show children that there are other ways.

 

I have to actively seek out parents who are respectful toward their children. If I just randomly associate with people from my neighborhood or my dh's work, I am surrounded by parents who belittle, berate and hit their children. They use intimidation and punishment to address their child's perceived "bad" behavior but do nothing to model or foster "good" behavior. Examples, spanking a young child for hitting another child. Punishing their children for interrupting, not listening or otherwise being rude while the parents don't ever listen to anything the children have to say. That makes no sense but I see it all the time.

 

And, yes, I think that if most people in the world demanded peace and started acting in accordance with peace, there would be mostly peace. Will there always be people who will use intimidation and violence to get what they want? Yes. But if the majority of people in the world would not do that, there would be a lot less pain and suffering. There is overt violence and there is subtle violence. I think most people fall into the trap of using subtle violence as a defense mechanism because they perceive so much violence and threat around them.

 

Whether or not I think it's possible for the majority of people in the world to get that and start doing it is another question. Sadly, I think that most people are too concerned with surviving (albeit, maybe a warped sense of survival) to contemplate life beyond that.


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#26 of 51 Old 12-12-2010, 09:07 AM
 
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Again, I'm not talking about the natural aggressive defensiveness of toddlers. I'm talking about school-aged children whom you would think would have been taught there are other ways to deal with problems. I'm also not talking about when children become overwhelmed or overstimulated and lose control. I'm talking about deliberate bullying just for the sake of making someone else feel bad. I don't think that is natural or normal or instinctive.



I don't think its only toddlers that exhibit natural aggressiveness though.  Children go through many developmental stages where aggression in some form is exhibited, toddlerhood is not the only one.  I also think that teaching children to use other methods of problem solving is a continuing process.  Yes, parents should teach their children to use other methods, but then we have to stay on top of it b/c our children grow and change, are exposed to outside influences - we can't assume that we've done our job of teaching alternate problem solving by the time they are school age.

 

I agree that bullying can be a learned behavior, but it certainly isn't always.  Kids also learn it from each other.  There are parents who practice GD that say, "Oh, I know my child would never lie to me, the other kid must be lying." - but thats putting a child on a pedestal which isn't any way to teach them how to act.  I've seen posters on MDC say that their children would never do the things they are being accused of, sometimes I'm sure its true, other times I read the posts and think, well that makes no sense at all.  No one wants to believe that their children would do such things, but I really don't think it necessarily has anything to do with parenting.  I'm sure there are some parents on MDC who have children who have become bullies - that doesn't mean the parents stink, it just means they have more work to do teaching their child. 

 

It's sad that you live somewhere that parents bullying their children is the norm, but I would wager a guess that not all those children are bully's.

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#27 of 51 Old 12-12-2010, 09:56 AM
 
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I can't say that I know how kids acted 50 years ago, but I can tell you, I believe kids are getting meaner and meaner by the day. And the things that they talk about, these 11/12 year olds, are things I never thought about til I was in high school. Our generation is growing up too fast, imo. And the innocence and simplicity of childhood is no longer considered sacred.



Early philosophers made this argument. It's a staple of every generation in Western culture.


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#28 of 51 Old 12-12-2010, 11:07 AM
 
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VisionaryMom is right.  Also, childhood as we know it has only been around for a 150 years.  Prior to this, children were considered little adults.  The idea of protecting 'childhood innocence' is a very new one.  I believe that we often tend to romanticize childhood... not that this is wrong.  It's just helpful to realize that this is a newer philosophy.  Otherwise, we become susceptible to chasing an old world kinder dream.  

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#29 of 51 Old 12-12-2010, 11:55 AM
 
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Originally Posted by Super~Single~Mama View Post

I agree that bullying can be a learned behavior, but it certainly isn't always.  Kids also learn it from each other. 

 

It's sad that you live somewhere that parents bullying their children is the norm, but I would wager a guess that not all those children are bully's.

 


The part I bolded:  It's still a learned behavior even if they learn it from each other.  It doesn't really matter who they learn it from.  It has to come from somewhere.  You have one kid who has a stable, loving home life and another who is bullied at home... the one who is bullied at home teaches the other how to bully.  I just disagree that kids are natural bullies. 

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#30 of 51 Old 12-12-2010, 12:25 PM
 
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I don't think its only toddlers that exhibit natural aggressiveness though.  Children go through many developmental stages where aggression in some form is exhibited, toddlerhood is not the only one.

True. Heck, adults have "natural aggressiveness". Men get a testosterone surge every hour! Aggressiveness is a tried-and-true method of getting things from a weaker party (not necessarily physically weaker, but psychologically weaker - it can include adults). It doesn't seem "unnatural" that kids would notice that and use it to their advantage.


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