Mean Kids Have Mean Parents

CULTURAL-articleInline A couple of weeks ago, Steve and I went to Back to School Night at the middle school. Following Jonah's schedule, we went to his first period class where a teacher wagged her finger at us about homework and lateness policies for about ten minutes, then the bell  rang, and we went to the another class where we heard another talk about homework and lateness policy.

We spilled out into the hallway and tried to decipher Jonah's handwriting to figure out where the next class was. In the hallway, we saw the same parents over and over. Some said "hi" awkwardly for the tenth time. Others ignored us, but did loud screeching greetings with air kisses to fellow football kid parents. I actually go out of my way to talk to the parents who are trying to ignore me. It's lovely to not be in middle school anymore.

Back to school night was very useful, because it gave me enough information to ask Jonah better questions. I know who's in his art class and I can ask him who talks to. He'll tell me who is nice and who isn't. For the most part, the nice kids have nice parents, and the kids who won't talk to him have parents who won't talk to us.

The New York Times talks about the increase of meanness among younger girls and the causes. Hyper-competitive parents are to blame.

“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.” And so the nastiness begins.


14 thoughts on “Mean Kids Have Mean Parents

  1. my girls are 4. 4! and I see the bullies and their parents everywhere. Dance class is the worst. Their precious is nasty and then turns out the parents are exactly the same. I keep telling my husband bullies beget bullies. I honestly believe bullies/mean kids are raised to be that way. And the training needs to be done on a parent level, not just a kids level.

  2. I still think there’s some degree of mysteriousness involved in how kids gain a moral and social personality–some apples fall far from their trees, some don’t. But I have to admit that recently we’ve seen some of the same kinds of things as our kid rockets towards middle school. There’s one mother that we see at sporting events where the daughter’s aggressive bullying and meanness is nearly an exact mirror of what the mother says to the daughter (and about other children). This isn’t surprising in any way, but it does have me scratching my head about why the mother does it (right, I know, her mother did it to her) and why she doesn’t know how it looks or sounds (or if she does, if she thinks that’s the right way to be, which is more depressing).

  3. In’t it people scheming for advantage and social power, and encouraging their children to do the same?
    I feel like we’re creating confusion by calling this the same word as the one used for physical bullying. They may overlap in mechanism and motivation (and solutions), but there might also be significant differences.
    For example, for physical bullying, I still believe that a significant enforcer should be monitoring and consequences. But, I don’t think monitoring and consequences will work to stop relational/social aggression (in the form, for example, of social exclusion, or psychological manipulation).

  4. I do think there are parents who are mean and teach their children to be mean because they don’t see anything wrong with it. Final clubs, eating clubs, secret societies sororities, fraternities, . . . . They’re all about exclusion aren’t they? And, to the extent that we think they’re about inclusion (inclusion in a brotherhood, family, etc.), they have a flip side of exclusion.
    My solution is the opposite of Laura’s — to ignore anyone who ignores me. Or to flip Groucho Marx around, I don’t want to belong to any club that doesn’t want me. For this solution to be effective, outsiders have to mass power. It’s the “Sidney White” solution (Oh, and, in order to prevent the outsiders from being exclusionary, you have to include the ignorers if they stop being ignorers).

  5. There’s an 8-year-old across the street who is a larval queen bee. Sample quote (to my daughter at birthday party): “You’re lucky you were invited to my birthday party.”
    Her mom and grandma are perfectly lovely people and are obviously trying hard to sand down her rough spots, but it’s a work in progress.

  6. I had a lot of rough edges as a school child (and still do, of course), but looking back, I think my mom was working pretty hard on me and not making a lot of progress. Temple Grandin’s mom was working pretty hard, too. Would it have been fair to Mrs. Grandin to blame her for the fact that little Temple slugged anybody who teased her?

  7. BJ, I don’t want to be friends with boring women who ignore us. I like to make them uncomfortable, as they try to figure out how to get out of a conversation with me. It’s good sport.

  8. I like to make them uncomfortable
    The easiest way to do that is to say, “I saw those at Kohl’s” while pointing at the most obviously expensive article of apparel.

  9. “BJ, I don’t want to be friends with boring women who ignore us. I like to make them uncomfortable, as they try to figure out how to get out of a conversation with me. It’s good sport. ”
    Yes, yes. I got that. I didn’t think you were being a mean mom groupie.
    I just see that there are different things “lacking” in people who get ignored by the mean moms (and, this is true for the mean kids, too). It could be lack of money; it could be kids who aren’t athletic or achievers or difficult; it could be lack of social ease; it could be lack of personal attractiveness; it could be being new. I think all those folks grouping up together can suck power from the folks who could be mean moms.
    And, part of my principle is that we focus too much energy on changing hearts, and not behavior. Some people are going to be mean. Some people will be kind. It’d be nice if we could turn the mean people into kind people, and certainly it’s worth trying (especially when they’re children). But, at some point, we just need to try to make sure that the positive behaviors get reinforced and the negative ones disrupted.
    PS: If this sounds like I’m in a cut-throat school environment — I’m not. In fact, my kids’ classes seem to be filled with parents who share my values. But, I think that’s taken active management on the part of some, to avoid letting group behavior be dominated by status seeking.

  10. Yes, Amy. Thanks for the reminder that everything isn’t the moms’ fault. It just is sometimes — not all the time. I also think the blame on reinforcement strategies (that’s what we really mean, when we say the mean moms breed mean girls) is more correct as the kids get older. Bossy, mean 4 year olds might just be bossy (just like they occasionally bite and scratch). Parenting may play a bigger role with mean 14 year olds.

  11. I too am surprised at the pettiness of some of the parents at my daughter’s school. Not all, not most, but some.
    Right now I am a SAHM and it seems like the worst of the “high school” bully-type moms are also SAHM’s. The ones who are doing paid work do not seem to have the time to try to be queen bees and create some drama.

  12. I recently told Annette Lareau that even though I think Unequal Childhoods is fantastic and I recommend it to everyone, I often wish I’d never read it. It provides an explanation of what I see around me that, if I’d never read it, I probably wouldn’t have felt my way toward until at least two of my kids were through childhood. That’s a preface to offering an amendment to Laura’s thesis. People who are perfectly nice in their dealings with other adults, and sometimes with other children, who have committed their lives to doing (sometimes dangerous, often underpaid) things that we’d all recognise as tremendously valuable contributions to humankind, can be moral cretins when it comes to their competitiveness on behalf of their children.
    Sandra — read Little Children (or watch the movie, though its creepier and less funny than the book) for a funny take on SAHMs en masse. When I was a semi-SAHD, by contrast, the SAHM’s I half-hung out with were entirely pleasant (though not very welcoming to a foreign and strange SAHD, despite my next door neighbor SAHM’s attempts to integrate me, but I completely understood that, unlike my next door neighbour who found it quite frustrating).

  13. Harry b, I would guess that perhaps as a SAHD, you might have been their “pet”!
    I will check out Little Children.
    And along the lines of the apple not falling far from the tree, the only “real” parent bully in my daughter’s school is herself the daughter of a bully mom. Apparently back in the day (late 70’s, early 80’s) this mom was so nasty to another mom that the family actually moved neighbourhoods to escape.

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