Jessica tells Sophie she can’t play dress-up with her and her group of friends because Sophie doesn’t watch Hannah Montana. Three boys form a “gang” at day camp and terrorize the rest of the kids during free time. Pop Quiz: How old are the kids I’m talking about here?
A) Teen-agers or pre-teens
B) Elementary school students
C) Pre-schoolers and kindergartners
If you guessed “C”, you’re right. Bullying has trickled down to the toddler set, if you can believe it. They’re calling this “Barbie Brat Bullying.” (Ugh. I wish they could come up with a better name, but there you have it.) I’ve seen it at my son’s pre-school, where kids are already savvy about the coolest TV shows to watch and know who the hottest singers are–and they exclude other kids who aren’t hip. I’m not anti-entertainment, and believe me, my son watches TV and movies with the best of them. (Case in point–he tells people he can’t wait until he turns “PG13.”) I guess what I object to is the fact that materialism has, in some ways, replaced simple, imaginative play. And kids are adept at turning “things” into something over which to compete. I’m not ready to go back to Little House on the Prairie days, but I do sometimes long for more simplicity in our lives. I just can’t imagine Laura and Mary Ingalls arguing over who was going to play Grand Theft Auto next, you know? Anyway, for better or worse, we’re living in the age of technology and media influences, so we have to learn to find our way–and teach our kids how to be humane– in this strange new world we’ve built.
I don’t have any solutions for young child bullying, but my instincts tell me that the greatest way to combat it is to teach and foster empathy in kids from an early age. Small children get this right away–at heart I think they’re naturally caring. (Maybe not when you’re trying to take a fistful of pinata candy away, but in general, they get what it means to be loving much more quickly than we jaded adults do, in my opinion.) At our house, we try to talk a lot about how other people might feel when they’re excluded. When I catch my son teasing another child, I sit him down then and there to talk about why that feels bad. It’s the only method I can think of that might influence how he treats other people down the road.
How about you? Have any of you seen this kind of bullying firsthand with your young (or not so young) kids? And what do you teach your own children about it? Any thoughts, ideas and suggestions are welcome!