Why Kids Are Mean
Actually, the title of this blog post should have been "Why People Are Mean" because the reason is the same regardless of age.
There is only one reason why a person is mean to another person (or animal). It has nothing to do with the victim of the meanness. The only reason a person is mean is because he is feeling bad about himself.
Let's test this theory with a few examples.
1. Bob gets laid off from his job. He comes home and the kids have made a mess in the livingroom. Bob yells at the kids. Was Bob yelling because the livingroom was a mess? No, that was the excuse his body used to release all of the bad feelings he had inside from being laid off.
2. Lacey calls a classmate four eyes because she is wearing glasses. Why would she do that? Another student wearing glasses does not affect Lacey in the slightest. Perhaps Lacey believes that people who wear glasses are smart. Maybe she further believes that she isn't smart. As a rsult, she sees anyone who wears glasses as a threat because seeing a person with glasses (especially at school) makes her feel dumb. So, Lacey attacks a person with glasses to protect herself from feeling bad.
3. Monica is in high school. Everyday when she comes home from school she gives her mother attitude. She rolls her eyes and sometimes yells, "I hate you!" Does Monica hate her mother? Of course not. In fact, Monica loves her mother the most of anyone in the world. She knows that her mother is a safe person. That is why Monica feels comfortable dumping all the bad feelings that built up through the day on her mother. Her body doesn't like the bad feelings inside, so it needs to get rid of them.
None of these people are acting consciously. They aren't thinking about bad feelings or protecting themselves. Someone is making them "mad," and they are responding.
If you think about why you are mean, it is possible to change your behavior. If Bob had taken time to think about how being laid off made him feel, he would have been able to come up with strategies to help himself feel better before going home. For example, if he was feeling scared because he didn't know how he would pay the bills, he could have made a list of places to apply for work the next day. That would have helped him feel more in control of the situation. As a result, when he came home to the mess in the livingroom, he would have been able to react more calmly and asked the kids to clean it up. He might have also been willing to help them.
If Lacey thought about why seeing a person with glasses made her upset, she would have realized that she didn't feel smart. She could have asked for help from her teacher or parents. They could have pointed out all the ways she is brilliant and found help for the subjects that she was worried about.
Monica could have found a better way to release all of the negative feelings that built up throughout the day. Excercise is a great way to do this. She could also talk to her mom about her day. This lets out negativity without hurting someone else.
It is important to remember that anger is always a secondary emotion. Our anger is caused by feeling frustrated, worried, attacked, sad, etc... If we can get to the reason for our anger, we can solve the problem and feel better.
When we act out of anger, we put our bad feelings on someone else, and the chain of hurt continues.
Are you still reading? Here is how you can use these ideas in your classroom. First, share this information with kids. This is a regular discussion topic at my own house. I have a kindergartner who participates in these discussions, so even young elementary age students can benefit from this information.
Second, whenever you are reading a book or otherwise studying people in class, ask the question, "Why is this person acting this way?" Students will get practice thinking about the motivation behind mean behavior. This would be especially helpful in an older classroom studying history.
Finally, when one student hurts another student, take the time to discuss this idea with both students. You will want to make sure the victim understands the attack (I mean a verbal attack here, but the same principles apply to a physical attack) had nothing to do with him or her. In fact, most people attack others they are jealous of. Once you know the victim has recovered, spend some time with the agressor. Talk about why the attack happened and dig deep. The behavior won't change until the agressor knows why he or she is acting this way and can deal with the underlying issues.
I don't know about you, but I find this way of looking at behavior empowering. If someone is mean to me, I feel bad for them. Of course, for a minute my feelings might be hurt, but I can quickly move past it because I know the behavior has nothing to do with me. I also pay attention to my own feelings. If I am feeling bad about something, I try to avoid others until I can recover. Of course, I slip up and spread bad feelings sometimes, but when I do, I am quick to apologize and explain that it was me, not you.
Do you agree with my assessment of why kids are mean? Share your ideas in the comments! I am very curious about your thoughts!