Young bullies: Mean moms, mean girls

Growing up, I enjoyed classic television shows like Leave It to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, The Cosby Show, The Lone Ranger, Superman, and The Brady Bunch. They taught decency while also entertaining. My impression of 21st Century television for older children — even ignoring the atrocious ads — is that it’s full of violence, materialism, competition, sex, and kids acting like (violent, greedy, status-seeking, hyper-sexualized) adults. If that’s what kids watch every day, it’s no wonder they’re acting that way at younger and younger ages.

(I completely control what my kids watch. I’ve found many wonderful shows for young children, like Little Bear, Curious George, Toot & Puddle, The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot About That, Team Umizoomi, Dinosaur Train, Thomas & Friends, Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, etc. And we own some great shows, like Pororo and Peppa Pig that we watch in Chinese. But I fear there are few such quality shows for older kids and that my kids will feel pressured into watching “cool” shows that are entirely inappropriate.)

It’s even worse than just television because our culture has also become more violent, greedy, status-conscious and hyper-sexualized, and many parents reflect this reality. When kids see their parents acting aggressively toward others, they naturally do the same.

Consequently, bullying has become a huge problem in our schools, sometimes even starting in kindergarten! It’s possible we’re just more aware of the problem now, but those on the front lines believe it has trickled-down from the coarsening of our television shows and adult culture.

What especially angers me is not the lax parental supervision or the poor examples many parents set. It’s that many parents are worse-than-ignorant of their child’s bullying; they’re willfully complicit! Experts say the worst bullying is done by children whose parents (esp. moms) encourage the bullying!

A kindergarten teacher at one of New York City’s top private all-girls schools observed, “The mean girls are often from mean moms.” She was thrown back by the “venom” among 5-year-olds. They’ll say, “You only read ‘Biscuit,’ and we’re all reading chapter books.” Or, “Why don’t you brush your hair? You don’t look nice today.” And they’re not afraid of getting into trouble with a teacher. “Perhaps they can act that way at home without repercussions,” she said. “It’s untypical of this age group because they’re usually adult-pleasers.”

In certain cases, the parents themselves seem to be pleased. When her daughter Julia was in first grade last year, said Lea Pfau, a mother of two in Sherman Oaks, Calif., one girl threatened that, unless Julia did as she ordered, “I’m going to tell my mommy, and she’ll set up a meeting with your mommy, and you’ll get in trouble.” The girl then orchestrated a series of exclusive clubs in which girls could be kicked out for various infractions. “I was surprised by the fierceness,” Ms. Pfau said. “But I was more surprised at the other parents. Rather than nip it in the bud, they encouraged it.”

Eileen O’Connor, a lawyer and mother of five girls in the Georgetown section of Washington, has also witnessed trickle-down meanness in her daughters’ classrooms. “To be honest with you, the parents not only enabled it, they engaged in it,” she said. “The parents of mean girls often think, Great, our daughter is so popular!”

Across town, in southeast Washington, Rosalyn Rice, the associate principal of a public elementary school until last year, continually held mediations among young grade-school girls. “They were reporting deeply held grudges from the first grade,” she recalled. One first grader was shunned because she didn’t have the “in” classroom supplies — sparkly glue and a Powerpuff Girls carrying case. She stopped going to school because her parents couldn’t afford them. “The other girls kept accusing her of stealing theirs, which wasn’t true,” Ms. Rice said. Children who didn’t have their uniforms regularly laundered or had to borrow one from the school office were mocked mercilessly. Even at the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum, “Girls were judging how much people cared about them based on what they owned.”

…“The girls who are the victims tend to be raised by parents who encourage them to be more age appropriate,” Ms. Rosenman said. “The mean girls are 8 but want to be 14, and their parents play along. They all want to be top dog.”

Posted by James on Monday, October 11, 2010