Bullying Is Taught
I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts when I heard it.
It’s a phrase that makes me cringe.
It’s a phrase that breaks my heart.
This phrase makes me roll my eyes and scowl in anger while also breaking my heart.
When the podcast host said it, they were trying to be compassionate. When they said it, they were well-meaning.
What they said wasn’t exactly wrong; it just doesn’t adequately describe the whole story.
Are you ready?
They said, “Kids are so mean to one another.”
It was a phrase that was said when the podcast guest was talking about their childhood. They were bullied, and they were made fun of, and they carried that pain and shame with them for a long time. To be bullied is a terrible thing. To face daily ridicule and criticism from your peers, at any age, is awful. Still, it’s especially horrific in your childhood years and those middle school moments that everyone would rather forget.
Bullying is terrible.
Bullying is awful.
“Kids are so mean to another” is not an entirely untrue phrase, especially in one’s formative years.
What’s missing from that phrase, and what we fail to remember, is that kids aren’t born with a bullying chip. They do not come out of the womb knowing how to hurl insults at one another, and lean into another person’s insecurities, and pick apart someone’s soul.
They learn how to do that from the adults in their lives.
They learn how to do that from what they see, what they hear, what they read, and what they watch and observe from the screens and the humans that surround them.
We teach kids how to be mean to one another when we’re mean ourselves.
We teach kids how to be mean to one another when we respond to things with anger.
We teach kids how to be mean to one another when we don’t give others the space to change, or when we don’t forgive, or when we shun people that are different from us. We teach kids how to be mean when we condemn other people who do not share our same values and when they do not hold our same fears.
We teach kids how to be mean to one another with each word we choose.
We teach kids how to be mean to one another with every character of our tweet.
We teach kids how to be bullies when we’re bullies ourselves.
Middle school can be an awful time. It can be a time of exclusion, and ridicule, and the awkwardness that comes from puberty. Is it always a horrible experience for kids? No. But for many, it can be. Because for many, their peers are mean.
But maybe those awkward years would be a little kinder if kids were taught to be kind. Possibly those awkward years would be a bit more gentle if we, as adults, were a bit more gentle with our own hearts, and one another. Maybe our childhood and middle school and high school years would be a bit brighter if children saw the adults around them held to the same standards of decency and respect and honor that we demand from them.