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Mean Kids

Mean Kids

Teaching our children that cruelty and unkindness will not be tolerated.


The voice on the line was insistent. Though we had never met, she asked that I tell her story.

“I was sitting in synagogue on Yom Kippur, and behind me was sitting two little girls, around eight years old. I caught some snippets of their conversation and finally couldn’t hold myself back.

“Do you know Sarah?”

“Her? Ugh, I hate her!”

“I hate her too!”

On and on they went, tearing this little girl apart.

I turned around and said to them, “Girls, you are talking lashon harah and gossiping about somebody, hurting her, in synagogue! Don’t you feel badly?”

The girls didn’t even pause to think.

“No,” they laughed. “It’s fun”.

And then one girl’s mother turned toward me and glared, as if to say, how dare you start up with my daughter!

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, we stand trembling before God, asking for forgiveness and a chance to start again. How can our children sit there and miss the message? Where did we go wrong?

I cannot begin to describe to you the calls and emails I have received through the years from parents in tears, as they describe the meanness that their children faced. From the five-year-old who had to change schools because she could not get one other child to join her for a play date, to the 13-year-old who cried himself to sleep because no one wanted to room with him on the eighth grade graduation trip.

For a holiday gift, her daughter asked if she could find her a friend.

A mother emailed me and told me that for a holiday gift, her daughter asked if she could find her a friend. It seems that her classmates decided that she was a ‘loser’ and when she sat down at the lunch table the girls who were sitting there got up and left, even those who had once been her closest friends. Both mother and daughter are broken hearted.

Causes of Destruction

“Why was the First Temple destroyed? Because during its period there were three sins: idolatry, immorality, and bloodshed...But the Second Temple-we know that they studied Torah, performed the commandments, and did kind deeds-why was it destroyed? Because there was purposeless hatred among them.” (Tamlud, Yoma 9b)

During the time of the First Temple in Jerusalem, holiness and prophecy were found everywhere. You could actually see miracles manifested before your eyes. During the Second Temple there was no prophecy and no Holy Ark in the Temple, but the strength of our people was seen in our unity. We cared for each other. We cried for one another. It was when we reached the new low of petty bickering, humiliating and eventually even hating one another that we forfeited our Divine grace. Our oneness was lost and our magnificent Temple was destroyed.

Our Sages teach us that by loving one another again we have the power bring redemption and see the Temple rebuilt in our times. Until then, we have faced persecution, inquisition, Holocaust, and deep anti-Semitism as we’ve been exiled throughout the four corners of the earth. Perhaps being subject to the hatred of others would inspire us to once again be kind and compassionate toward each other. Maybe we would finally learn to cherish our brothers and sisters.

“Sometimes I ask myself if Hitler wasn’t right when he wanted to finish with that race, through the famous holocaust, because if there are people that are harmful to this country, they are Jews, the Israelites”
David Romero Ellner, Executive Director, Radio Globo, Honduras, Sept. 25, 2009.

This is not an ugly quote from years ago; this anti-Semitic rant is from this past September. Mr. Ellner has joined Hugo Chavez and deposed president Manuel Zelaya in targeting the Jews. Mr. Chavez has allied himself with Iran’s dictator, Ahmadinejad, as he hosts Hezbollah terrorists and seeks Iranian help in becoming a nuclear power. As we face venomous hatred and threats from leaders in Iran, news comes of brutal anti-Semitic attacks throughout Europe.

Why hate each other when we meet with so much hatred in the world? What a great tragedy!

Create Compassionate Kids

It is time for us to teach our children that cruelty and unkindness will not be tolerated. Even if a child is not your friend, or ‘not your type,’ and “no one else is inviting her/him, anyway,” YOU must be kind. We are one people. There is no room for meanness in our lives.

We are one people. There is no room for meanness in our lives.

It is vital for parents to pay attention to our children’s character traits and ask ourselves these questions:

*How does my child play and interact with other kids?
*Does my child use hurtful words and sarcastic put downs easily?
*Does my child know how to apologize if (s)he hurt others?
*Does my child react compassionately if someone is hurt?
*Is my child often involved in bickering and conflicts?

Recognizing our children’s character flaws is the first step toward creating compassionate children. If we are able to pinpoint the areas of weakness, we can then work on strengthening and building.

When your child has a birthday party or Bar/Bat Mitzvah, do not allow the ‘kids who no one likes’ to be left out. That’s mean. When your child is invited to a party of an unpopular classmate, be sure that he attends. I know children who were crushed, waiting hours anxiously by the door, as their parties were ignored.

We have come to measure our children through their success on and off the field, their popularity, and their grades. If they do well then we believe that we are raising successful children.

We are wrong.

Children who are mean and unkind are not being raised successfully no matter how popular they are; or how incredible their straight A report card seems.

We can demand more from our children. We need to stop making excuses, stop blaming those who tell us that they have been hurt by our child.

Our children are capable of great kindness. Let’s take a stand together and teach our children that through caring about one another we can rebuild our Temple brick by brick, one kindness at a time, and eventually we can change the world.

October 18, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 39

(34) Cheryl, June 5, 2017 4:43 AM

This article is so true! The children that are not accepted by their peers, that are not invited to their birthday parties, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, will always feel that they are on the outside looking in. Maybe it's part of being a social animal that makes us want to form cliques and choose who we want to let into them, but we still need to be more aware of what it's like to be the ones who are left out.

(33) Anonymous, January 31, 2017 5:55 PM

So sad, and then the bickering and hatred continues....

All I have is pity....for the bullies and the parents of them. We can't judge people, but Hashem has a plan. What our job is, in this world, is to help our sons and daughters deal with it, not by sueing, and not with law suits, not with further bickering or loshon hora, but with empathy and inner-strength. Our great Avos were outliers and remained aloof from social interactions. It shows inner strength and courage to stand up to a crowd. Moshe Rabbeinu had a speech impediment, and he didn't look like a model from the movies either. He was a leader because of his sterling middos and empathy for klal Yisrael. If we want our children to continue in this world we should give them the tools to becoming exceptional people with sterling middos, inner strength to stand-up to whatever life throws at them, to be empathetic to people who are less-fortunate than themselves - materially, emotionally or spiritually. They will then become stellar examples of what it means to be a holy, special Jew.

(32) Anonymous, January 31, 2017 3:39 PM

How do we encourage siblings to be kind to one another?

Anonymous, February 2, 2017 7:40 AM

Model the behavior

Children learn more from the environment they're in, than what they're told. Children learn heaps more from what is modelled behavior, than to be told what to do. Kids copy their parents, their teachers and their peers. If you treat your spouse with love and respect and don't raise your voice at him/her ever! Even behind closed doors, even if you're upset, angry and hurt, and you do the same consistently to them, and to your children, they will model that behavior. It could take as much as 3-5 years to unlearn previous modelled behavior. This is a slow process. Children are forgetful. They can't help it, because they're learning and remembering requires effort, time and thinking, often children need to learn these skills which also takes time. So when the modelled behavior is not being done correctly, they need to be reminded. Sometimes simply asking them to repeat what you said or to be mindful of what they're doing is enough. Sometimes, giving them positive re-inforcement is needed, either verbally or with incentives that they're interested in - like sweets. Also to include aspects of consequences for actions - like if you do this, this will happen. However, you have to follow through. Do as you say - consistency that is what they want. The more consistency in your approach - punishing them when you say you would (regardless of what they say, do or want - screaming, trantrums or their changed behavior, or whatever), is a boundary, and the next time they will never cross that boundary (although not always, in which case rinse and repeat - do the same thing - same punishment same consequences, and same follow through) They will get it eventually. Aside from that make sure to show your love and appreciation for all the little good and cute and wonderful things they say and do (all the time), and give ample attention and love and hugs and kisses etc. Also to give each sibling their own attention and respect and encouragement and their own time with you.

(31) Anonymous, October 9, 2013 8:22 PM


I a child I was picked on because we were poor and I wore hand-me-downs. As an adult I raised a "popular" daughter but I never forgot the hurt and scars I endured as a child. I taught my daughter at 6 yrs of age if she befriends the poorest little girl in her class...that no one wants to talk to or invite to parties and she defends this little girl, then I told my daughter that this little girl would never forget her and they would remain dear friends their entire life. My daughter is almost 30 years old BUT to this day,though the two girls live in different states, they REMAIN best friends!

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