“Children are cruel”

That little gem comes from a psychologist, but you can find it all over the web. Just google it. It’s not that I disagree; I was once a child and remember it well. It’s just I don’t like what’s implicit in that statement.

You see, the reason that people often cite this truism is to explain schoolyard “teasing”. And based on this incontrovertible fact of life, this is what we tell children to do when “teased”:

Ignore it.

In this list, it’s the #2 solution, and while the others seem like reasonable solutions, they’re really not that helpful, as I’m sure many of you could attest if you think back to your own school days. This list, specifically on how to deal with teasing, bullying and insults relating to being heavier than average also tells children to ignore it – If you act as if it doesn’t affect you, they may leave you alone – but then tells them to aid other people when they are being bullied. Talk about mixed messages.

Now, what is curious is that when you consult sites about dealing with discrimination as an adult – because, let’s face it, insults such as “four-eyes” and “fatty” are as discriminatory as “chink” or “sambo” – no longer is anyone telling you to ignore it.

Compare this site with the children’s one for dealing with weight discrimination. Compare this article to the first one I cited above.

Strange, eh? As far as children are concerned, it’s a jungle out there, you have no rights, and the best you can do is ignore it. But when we get to adulthood, all of a sudden we’re protected and we should appeal to third parties to help us.

That sounds just a tad, as they say where I come from, “arse over tit”.

Come on people! Get a grip! As parents, we have a duty to protect our children, and to make sure our children are getting the protection they need. Don’t tell them to ignore it. Don’t say, “be proud of yourself”. Don’t practise snappy comebacks with them.

Be the role models you are. Take it up with the school and get their commitment to do something about it – prevention teaching, dealing appropriately with incidents both with the perpetrator and the object of the discrimination, and do the same yourself for incidents outside of school.

Victims are made. They encounter bad treatment and they learn to suffer in silence. Show your children that they can play an active part in dealing with discrimination and they will no longer be victims. They’ll be proud of themselves and able to think of their own snappy comebacks.

13 thoughts on ““Children are cruel”

  1. I’m working through this very stuff with my eldest right now. I have gone to the teachers when I was made aware of racist teasing and it was not pretty until I got out of the private system and into more diverse public schools where there is a no-tolerance rule in place that is enforced regularly. And then? The racism goes underground and becomes even more difficult to sort out.

    It takes a huge commitment from both parents AND the school to deal with teasing and its damages. One can’t do it without the other. If we were in a school where we couldn’t get support, we would have to move the kids. Not everyone has the option of moving though.

    Three things that I know don’t work are ignoring, snappy comebacks and physical fighting. I am still working on what does work when the kids don’t have adults present to witness and control a dynamic. Any ideas?

  2. You know, i never realized the difference before. It doesn’t make sense. My dad used to advise me to ignore bullies. i remember wanting to kill myself it was so bad. i’d get stress headaches and horrible stomach cramps every morning. My mom would go to the school and it would get worse. The parent of my tormentor said i needed to suck it up because the world didn’t care about my “feelings”. Things that her daughter said to me day after day are still with me even now.

    Wow. i’m drama.

    When my daughter was having a problem with a boy harrassing her in class, i called the school and asked for a meeting with his parents. The school was very cooperative and so were his parents. It was taken care of in a civil manner, the boy apologized, as did the parents, and the school monitored the situation until it was no longer a situation.

    i believe that for such action to be effective, all parties involved must work together- the parents, the school, the teacher. If one of the parties is not sincere or willing to do what is necessary, things can become worse for the teased child.

    My daughter is good with the comebacks though. i will and do speak up, but often the best thing to say- and by best i mean succinct, honest and constructive- comes to me when it’s too late.

  3. I remember going through this in school (although largely non-racial harrassment) and I dread the thought of this happening to my kids. I like the idea of a zero tolerance policy at the very least. I’m hoping that by staying in the city we can minimize the risk of race related harrassment.

  4. Another thought: there are (at least) two levels of coping with discrimination: individual response and seeking out systemic support, the latter hopefully being more effective than the former. You make a good point when you say kids shouldn’t have to be on their own with this when adults are not. Kids definitely deserve as much advocacy as adults do.

    And yet we adults know that systemic justice is no more effective than management is at enforcing and complying, so we often default to individualized advice to one another. For instance, Carmen Van Kerckove’s post on dealing with racist joking was far more helpful to me as an individual dealing with racist commentary in the workplace than HR would have been, despite their supposed anti-discrimination policies. I’m trying to think if there is any wisdom in her article for kids….

  5. I think the intent of racial teasing is to make the child feel like they have a lesser value and the attack is against the entire
    ancestry, so I don’t believe all teasing is the same.
    One problem is that when racial teasing is confronted, not only is there a lot of denial,
    (such as no one saw it or it didn’t really happen that way) but the child may be the object of more subtle punishment, more difficult to pin down.
    I think changing schools can help, but I also believe in preparing kids by talking about this stuff, especially when an incident arises. I have heard stereotyping and teasing from various groups, no matter where you go, and zero tolerance only works if there are policies to enforce the zero.
    Getting active in programs in school can be helpful, especially in the younger grades, but it still begins with parents preparing children, because, as history shows, this shit’s not going away anytime soon.

  6. I’m glad to see c’s comment, especially how the situation was resolved. Having suffered from bullying and teasing for all of grade school and high school, I can also say that some of that stuff is still with me to this day.

  7. What Kathy says makes me realise that I wasn’t clear enough on the paragraph about being a role model.

    If you meet a rude person, say in line for the cash desk, the way you behave is a model for your child. If you ignore it, I guarantee you will feel uncomfortable. And your child will see that and “learn to suffer in silence”.

    So yes, prepare your kids; yes, advocate for them. But also, start modelling non-victim behaviour.

    Be warned. You’ll be opening yourself up to accusations of having a (bigger?) chip on your shoulder…

  8. Thanks Sinoangle,
    Your comment makes the paragraph much clearer for me. It’s so true that kids model our behavior and can learn so much by how we handle ourselves. Great post!

  9. Sinoangle (and everybody else), I wonder if you’d comment about why you think this perceived difference exists (between the advice given to children and advice given to adults).

  10. i think adults believe children are more resilient to emotional damage, heal faster. i also think adults under-estimate the understanding children possess.

    We tend to think “kids will be kids” but that adults can be ‘reasoned’ with. i mean, this is all that i could come up with because i cannot think of any other reasons for it. Maybe, though i can’t see how, some adults are not aware of the resources and options available to them?

  11. I think it’s because children have less power. That’s kind of my ugly view of the world….you have less power, you get sh*t on more. It’s harder to defend yourself when you are so small and vulnerable.

  12. Y’know, I really don’t know. I wrote this post because I went online to see what advice was actually given about teasing in order to fuel a discussion I was having somewhere else about “teaching kids to be victims” by confronting racism… I was really shocked to find that ignoring was advocated, and I really don’t know why anyone would give this advice in this day and age.

    I think that there is something to be said for the power argument. The advice aimed at adults stresses “rights” and getting the system to work for you. I think that despite charters and youth protection laws, children have far less rights than adults.

    I also think that adults are so bad at expressing their feelings (weren’t brought up that way) that they tend to oversimplify possible reactions in this type of situation: ignore or retaliate violently. I’m hoping the children in my life will grow into a different type of adult.

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