When my daughter was 4 years old, a slightly older girl marched up to her in the local park and loudly proclaimed, “Your parents don’t love you.”
Not long after that, again at the park, a group of older elementary aged girls surrounded my daughter and called her an “ugly toad” and “jerk face.”
When my son was in 2nd grade, he brought a thermos full of chicken rice soup, which he really likes, for his school lunch. A kid across the table looked at it and said, “Your lunch looks like baby food.” After that, he only wanted sandwiches.
And it was just last year, during a Boy Scout camping trip, when my now 16-year-old son and a friend were having an animated discussion about the classic novel To Kill A Mockingbird, that another boy walked over to interrupt them with the comment, “You guys sound like a couple of girls talking about a stupid book.”
So, my kids have had their fair share of experiences with mean kids.
Mean kids are everywhere it seems. And it’s not like they’re born that way. No, mean kids are easily made by parents who don’t even realize they’re doing it.
I’m not talking about parents who bully or abuse their children. I’m talking about the everyday comments and actions of moms and dads who forget that their kids are constantly watching, and learning.
Parents, you really need to stop teaching your kids to be mean. And here are three ways you can do that.
1. Stop gossiping.
Gossiping about your friends and neighbors inevitably turns to the dark side. It just can’t be helped. You may start out talking up the news of someone’s good fortune, but it won’t be long before the, “Yes, but have you heard,” comes out, and then all the unpleasant rumors and innuendo gush forth.
And you know your kids are listening. They hear you dishing the dirt and they grow to think it’s okay to talk about people that way.
It’s really not. Gossip hurts. It’s mean and spiteful and never ends well. So stop doing it.
2. Stop nitpicking.
Criticizing, in a positive way, is fine in certain situations. We all need to work on ourselves. But nitpicking is criticizing just for the sake of finding fault with someone.
And that’s mean. It seems like we can’t stand to think that someone has their life properly put together, so we look closer and closer until we find something we think isn’t quite perfect. I guess it makes us feel better about our own inadequacies.
Well, newsflash, nobody’s perfect. Not you, not them, not anyone. If you are feeling down and unsure about some part of yourself, it’s not going to be fixed by finding some small fault with others.
So, stop teaching your kids to solve their problems by bringing down those around them. Instead, teach them to raise themselves up, to become better friends, better siblings, better students.
3. Stop categorizing.
How easy is it to point out all the differences between us? It is that way simply because there aren’t that many to choose from. As human beings, whether you are a nomadic sheep herder from Mongolia or a social media manager from Manhattan, the similarities between us far outnumber the differences.
But, rather than point out how we are all the same, it seems like we automatically look to lump people into categories in order to understand them better. We usually do this instantly without really knowing all that much about the person we’re categorizing.
“Oh, he’s fat,” and “Look at the way she’s dressed, must be poor,” and “That dad must be unemployed if he’s at the park with his kids in the middle of the day.”
These assumptive efforts at labeling and separating people ultimately has a negative effect on the way we view the world around us. Like I said, instead of focusing on our similarities, we now start to see only differences.
Then you find yourself building walls of intolerance and bigotry. And isolating your kids inside there with you.
Stop doing these things. Stop teaching your kids to be mean! Whether you realize it or not, that’s exactly what you’re doing when you gossip, nitpick, and categorize.
You can do better. As a parent, you have to.