Children bully each other because adults do

Posted on November 12, 2018


‘Kids can be so cruel’ is a phrase often uttered by parents who hear of children being ganged up on or isolated by their peers. This may be in the school playgrounds or, as has become more common in recent years, via the internet and social media.

It is of course true that kids tend to lack the maturity to understand the consequence of their behaviour, and that they often see difference as weakness, hence adults who grew up with wearing anything like glasses, hearing aids or dental braces will likely have stories of being teased at school as a result.

Children, however, are not innately prejudiced. My three-year-old daughter does not seem to notice whether other kids are black, white, Chinese or any other race. She barely even seems aware of whether they are boys or girls. She understands that my brother and his husband are a couple in the same way as her own parents and grandparents are, but doesn’t seem to find it unusual or unnatural that they are both men.

Children are not racists, sexists or homophobes. Prejudice and bigotry are largely behaviours that are learned and passed on by adults. There’s a lot of truth in the below (not very child- or work-friendly) clip from a Family Guy episode where a multicultural group of children are getting along fine until Stewie tells them of all the war and injustice committed by and towards people of their race.

According to a new study by the Anti-Bullying Alliance, 41% of kids said they have seen adults bullying each other within the last six months, and almost all (97%) said they think grown-ups should show each other more respect. As adults, it should come as somewhat embarrassing that these obvious basics of manners and common courtesy need to be pointed out to us by infants.

Additionally, much of what we see on television is a form of bullying. Popular programmes like The Jeremy Kyle Show, and even the early stages of the likes of The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, are doing little more than exploiting and making fun of vulnerable people in much the same way as Victorian freak shows did.

Online too, some of the biggest names in social media are bullies, such as Katy Hopkins, whose toxic tweets have led to her becoming famous and almost bankrupt, and Piers Morgan, whose recent Twitter exploits have led him to criticise James Bond actor Daniel Craig for not being masculine enough. If adults can become rich and famous (well, just famous in Hopkins’ case!) by being unpleasant, what message does that send out to kids?

Perhaps the biggest example of a successful bully is US President Donald Trump, who regularly makes remarks that teeter on sexism and xenophobia, and has even appeared to mock a man with a disability.

It’s not surprising that we see so many requests from people wanting help in tackling abuse and bullying from fake Facebook profiles – so many in fact that we created an eBook as a guide to tracing such accounts.

Next time you’re about to say ‘kids can be so cruel’, take a look at your own generation. As Blink-182 once sang, ‘if we’re ****ed up, you’re to blame’. The fact that they were in their late twenties when they sang it doesn’t make it any less true.

Content Team Leader at Engage Web
John works for Engage Web as a Content Team Leader and regularly contributes to the website and programmes of his beloved Chester F.C.
John Murray
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