This school year was one for the books. If you’ve been following me a while then you know that I am a fourth grade teacher.
Other than the huge learning gap created by COVID, I noticed something else that was trending amongst my students-mean behavior.
I had several instances this year where students were just plain mean to one another. Sometimes they can be outright ruthless!
I tried to combat this with teaching them about bullying, being kind, having heart to heart conversations about the effects that rude and mean behavior has on other people, but as the year progressed, I began to feel and sound like a broken record on repeat.
One thing for certain that I and my colleagues could agree upon is that we are dealing with an evolved form of childhood. Conversations that I had with some of my students’ parents all sounded the same, “I’m having the same issues at home,” or “Can you refer my child to a counselor?”
I believe that before we can solve a problem we have to truly dissect it first. We have to look at the factors that are contributing to the issue, then come up with a proactive plan to help solve it.
Lack of Social Emotional Skills
I believe wholeheartedly the first issue contributing to the “mean epidemic” is children’s lack of social-emotional skills.
According to Pathways.org social emotional skills include but are not limited to the following:
- Being able to recognize if someone is sad and asking them if they are ok.
- Being able to express yourself differently in a friend setting compared to an adult centered setting.
- Understanding your thoughts and feelings and being able to express yourself to other people.
The key to social-emotional skills is that they can only be developed when children are social. COVID put some students in isolated environments for almost 2 years!
This is a very long time for someone to be alone. Another factor contributing to lack of social-emotional skills is the increased use of technology.
Texting someone does not give you a sense of the person’s feelings on the other side of the screen.
Often when students use technology as the sole form of communicating with their peers they can become passive aggressive. Adolescents often say things behind a screen that they would never say in person.
Children can also lose the ability to determine how someone else is feeling by not being aware of other’s body language.
Children who depend on technology to communicate often do not develop the communication skills needed to handle difficult situations.
Doug Fodeman (2020) states that parents can often overlook how much technology can interfere with a child’s communication skills.
Another factor contributing to this new wave of unkindness is peer pressure. This is nothing new as we have all dealt with this growing up.
However, peer pressure has evolved significantly. Again technology is one major contributor to this issue.
Peer pressure can be intensified due the fear of being publicly humiliated. Prior to technology, peer pressure was between you and someone else or maybe a group of your peers.
The only way to spread a rumor was by word of mouth. Now students are often give into peer pressure even more because they have a fear of being publicly humiliated via text messages and social media.
Also due to the lack of social-emotional development as mentioned before, students often do not know how to respond in difficult face-to-face interactions.
They do not know how to communicate to their friends or peers that they are not ok with something, and they often give into the pressures due to lack of practice with that particular social skill.
Social Media Influences
A major player in this topic is social media influence. I cannot tell you how social media platforms like TikTok have negatively influenced children of all ages.
For example, there were a few TikTok “challenges” that went viral this year on the social media outlet. Such as the “Slap Your Teacher” challenge and there was even a challenge to “Shoot up Your School.”
One particular challenge that affected our school was the “hit and lick challenge” that dared students to either steal from their school or to destroy school property.
There were several videos on TikTok of students vandalizing school bathrooms, emergency exit signs, and destroying classrooms.
I teach at a K-8 school and social media influence such as TikTok was a major issue this year. Students were breaking the soap dispensers and destroying the school bathrooms.
Social Media can be intoxicating to students and can cause them to make stupid decisions all in the name of popularity and views.
Knowing the problem has allowed me to come up with several simple solutions but it is going to take the collaboration of parents, teachers, administrations and even students to combat the issue.
How to Fix It
Provide Opportunities For Social Interaction
Social interactions is the only way for your child to be able to handle different social situations.
Invite other children over to your home, and encourage them to interact with each other.
If you happen to notice the children only relying on their cell phones and other technology to interact with each other then provide activities for the children to engage in.
Here are some indoor activities that are great opportunities for social interaction:
- Baking something
- Cooking a meal
- Making slime
- Board Games
- Movie Marathons (they may not talk so much during the movie, but after they can have a ton to discuss)
- Paint Night
If you do not feel comfortable inviting children over, then you can always take your children or teenagers to places where they can interact with each other.
Here are some places to take your child/teenager to socialize:
- Outdoor Parks
- Trampoline Parks
- Skating Rinks
- Sporting Events
- Amusement Parks
Teach Your Kids How to Vocalize
Some parents can have the tendency to always speak for their children.
This is necessary when your child is non verbal, but once your child is able to communicate on their own, parents must learn how to step back and let their children speak for themselves.
Here are some simple ways that we can teach our children to speak up for themselves:
- When your child is upset, ask them what’s wrong. If they cannot express themselves then vocalize what the issue may be. If they say that is the problem, have them repeat the problem to you out loud. This helps them practice stating the issue out loud.
- Have your child order their own meals at restaurants. This is a simple way to teach your children how to vocalize their needs.
- If your child is in an uncomfortable situation with another child do not intervene right away. Give your child the opportunity to handle the situation on their own. If they come to you for help, give them the words to say, but do not do it for them. Ex. “I would like my toy back.” or “I don’t like when you….”
- Teach your child to say no to things that they do not want to do. This sounds simple but often we force our kids to do things that they are not comfortable with. Then when they are in similar situations in school they do not have the verbal skills to say no.
Talk to Your Kids About Social Media
Having a conversation with your children about social media is necessary.
Explain to them that social media is meant to be entertaining, but that not everyone on social media does not have their best interests at heart.
Explain to your kids what your expectations are on social media. You will need to teach your child how to tell if something is inappropriate or not.
Sometimes content that looks like it is for children is not kid appropriate. Get to know some of the YouTubers that your children/teens watch. This will help you understand if that person is appropriate or not for your child to watch.
If you find your child is viewing inappropriate content, then you will need to discuss your expectations with them. Talk to them about why you don’t approve of the videos.
Following your children on social media can help you keep up with what they are doing, and it can make them more conscious of what they are posting.
Using apps like “Google Family” can help you limit online usage and assist in monitoring your children online. Your child must be monitored online!
Parents have to start looking at social media as a large group of strangers. You wouldn’t put your kid in a group of strangers without an adult present, so why do we not monitor them online?
It’s literally the same thing, but worse because your child has access to all sorts of people and those same people now have access to your kid once they are on social media.
Believe it or not our children are not supposed to be carbon copies of us. Our children are individuals and we should respect and praise their individuality.
Just because you were a star high school athlete doesn’t mean your kids will be. We have to start teaching our kids that it’s ok to be different.
Often what I’ve noticed is that children do not understand individuality, and because they do not understand it they often shun it.
When we teach our children that it is ok to be different, and they come across other children that are unique, they will not be so quick to push that child into a “weird” category.
Some ways to praise individuality is to give your child the opportunity to interact with all different types of people. Again this comes from socialization.
We often gravitate to others who are similar to us, but we do not often immerse ourselves into different environments with people who are not like us.
Modeling this behavior is a powerful tool to help learn how to welcome a diverse group of people. One way to do this is to speak to people in different social groups.
For example, let’s say you are at the pool with your kids, try striking up a conversation with some of the other adults at the pool.
By doing this you are teaching your child that it is ok to interact with other people who do not look, or speak like them.
It also teaches your child that you can have something in common with different kinds of people.
This world is forever changing and so are our children. We have to be proactive and not reactive when it comes to our kids. Every behavior has to be taught, including teaching our children how to treat others.
We can not be negligent, we must be mindful and intentional. Our kids are depending on us to teach them.
~Peace and Love
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