“They don’t let our son play. They never include him when they make their birthday parties or have sleepovers. My son wants to be their friend, but they make fun of him. He’s not the best ball player and he does have a learning disability, but does that give them a right to be mean?”

The couple stood before me, broken hearted. I had just finished a parenting lecture and they were visibly anguished.

“How old is your son?” I asked.

“Eight. He is just eight years old and he’s already had a lifetime of pain,” they replied sadly.

What is there to say to these parents?

The papers are filled with stories of bullying. Somehow the meanness seems to begin at a younger age. I receive weekly calls and emails from parents who ache from their children’s distress. And it is not just teens and preteens, anymore.

In a recent article on bullying in the New York Times, a school guidance counselor in Boston said that she “sees first graders pulling their hair out, throwing up before school, and complaining of constant stomach aches. It’s not cool not to have a cell phone anymore or not to wear exactly the right thing. The poor girls who have Strawberry Shortcake shirts on, forget it.” (NYT, 9/10/10)

The article continues to say that preschool and grades school parents are significantly more likely to worry about bullying then parents of teens.

“We realized we need to address this in kindergarten.”

A recent survey of 273 third graders in Massachusetts reported that 47% were bullied at least once; 52% reported being called mean names, being made fun of or teased in a hurtful way; and 51% said that they were left out of things on purpose, excluded, or totally ignored from their group of friends at least once in the past couple of months.

The government has even put together a program called “Stop Bullying Now!” Captain Stephanie Bryn, a military officer who oversees the government’s anti bullying campaign says, “We realized we need to address this in kindergarten.”

Kindergarten?!

What is making these children so mean? Can it be that our children are picking up on the unkindness they see in the world around them? Can they be reflecting these insensitive attitudes in their bad behavior?

Perhaps if we take a moment to observe the world of our children we can gain enough understanding to make a difference and come to raise a kinder generation.

Related Article: Bullies and Nebs

G.O.Y. Kids

No, I did not coin this phrase and I was as surprised as you are when I read the latest acronym branded by parents and educators. G.O.Y. kids are not what you tend to think when you hear the word ‘goy’.

G.O.Y. stands for Growing Older Younger – today our children are seven going on 13. Even the youngest children have techno tools that kids their age have never possessed in the history of time.

Most school aged kids have one or more of the following: cell phones, iPhones, iPods, or their very own laptop. I know a few eight year olds who have been given their own personal blackberries.

Handing over these gadgets to kids without a backward glance is a huge mistake. To me, it’s like handing over the car keys and saying nonchalantly, have a good time!

Think about this: A nine year old girl is lounging at a pool. A classmate takes an embarrassing picture of her caught in an awkward moment. She then sends the photo with a ‘cute’ remark to all her friends. You can imagine what happened next.

Each child forwarded the photo to their friends who had a good laugh as they passed it on. In no time at all the child was the buzz of her entire school…and beyond. She found herself in cyber hell and refused to return to class.

Her parents called me in tears. Do you think this harm could possibly be erased?

Today’s technology allows bullying at the push of a button. Instead of speaking to just one friend, you can reach dozens in an instant. As the pain spreads, so does the torment and there is no stopping its wild course.

What we can do about it

The first thing we need to do is teach our children responsibility. There is no such thing as hurting another and not facing the consequences of our actions. You are responsible for where that mean text or photo ends up. It doesn’t matter that you just sent it to one or two friends. Know the awful impact that your actions caused.

Our children must understand that real harm is done with each push of the send button.

Our children must understand that real harm is done with each push of the send button.

Perhaps it is not seeing the victim’s face that prevents our children from understanding the anguish they’ve caused. Cell phones seem so innocent. But the child whose image is sent or who has the mean text written about him meets with derision and laughter over and over again.

Our children must be made aware. If you use this phone or iPad, you must use it wisely.

Is our world meaner?

Our children definitely watch TV. shows and movies that do not channel kindness. Reality shows, sitcoms and movies make rude behavior seem normal; even funny. They grow desensitized as they are entertained by watching people hurting people.

How can our kids not be affected?

Some feel that parents today are somehow ‘harder’. I hate to think that this is true. I do know that we are stressed and pulled in many directions. There is a world wide financial crisis. Many homes are emotionally squeezed and marriages are strained. Single parent homes have the added burden of juggling roles.

The result can be that we are not tuned in to what’s really going on until trouble hits. We are happy if all seems quiet on the home front and the kids are not bothering us.

If your child was invited to an ‘in’ party along with her group of friends, you’d be thrilled to know that she was included. What would you do if you heard that there was a girl in her circle who was left out and hurting? Would you teach your child to take a stand?

Would you call the girl’s mother and ask her to include the excluded child?

These are difficult questions. Some would say it depends on your child’s age, her social standing and the relationship you have with your child or the other mother.

Whatever our response, we need to realize that our actions speak louder then any speeches we give our children on compassion and kindness. Including those who are hurting can be a life altering lesson. Going on without even a thought while feeling smug that at least our child was included can easily create a child who grows cold hearted and insensitive to the tears of another. And one day that ‘other’ may very well be family.

If we can teach our children to think before they speak, to ponder the effects of their actions before they act, to at least feel when they hear of another’s hurt, imagine the generation we could raise.

It’s in our hands.