As a Mental Health professional in the Bay Area, I see children and teens with a wide array of issues, however one disturbing trend is how malicious kids are to each other. Every week, I meet with school age kids being teased, a tween with insomnia because she worries all night about how peers will judge her Instagram feed, and high school students depressed due to seemingly endless bullying on social media. Why do I find this trend so disturbing? Because the problem with hurtful words is that once they are spoken (or posted or tweeted or texted), once the words leave your mouth, there is no taking them back. Even if you apologize sincerely, the damage has been done, the pain has already been felt, the words seared into one’s mind, and unfortunately for many, the thought has been internalized and at least partially believed to be true.
In the Bay Area, these words can have drastic repercussions, reflecting nationwide highs in depression and suicides. I often feel hopeless on how to help these patients and how to encourage kids to stop being mean to each other and be more accepting of one another. I have two young children myself, and I worry about how they too will fit in as they get older. As parents, we can teach our kids to try to ignore these painful messages, to dust themselves off and get back up again, and many kids are resilient enough that a few hateful exchanges won’t set them back. But I’m sure we can all remember at least one painful memory of something awful someone has said to us, which shows that hateful words really can’t be completely undone. Honestly, I notice that it’s not just our children that are struggling to relate to one another; I see it in adults too.
My husband, normally a gentle giant, came home the other night after a stressful week at work describing a harrowing drive home due to some mutual road rage between him and another driver. I find myself frequently caught in the comparison game with other moms- sometimes judging them, often judging myself, but either way the thoughts can be negative and unproductive. At kids’ soccer games, I overhear parents being so rude and condescending to each other, with their children watching intently.
So what can we do? As parents, family, friends, as a community? We can teach our children to be kind. To each other and also to themselves. This doesn’t mean they have to be friends with everyone or even like everyone; this doesn’t mean everyone has to win a trophy or be equally good at everything. But we can teach them to have compassion, and as we all know, the most effective way that our kids learn is by us modeling the behavior ourselves. So my commitment to my family this year is to demonstrate to my kids through my own actions how to appreciate people’s differences, to respectfully disagree with someone while recognizing their virtues, to be a gracious winner and loser, and oh yeah, how to be more gentle towards myself. I challenge you to do the same. This 2016, think twice before you speak harshly or maliciously about someone else, especially in front of your kids. Being kind doesn’t take much. It’s easier than you think, and I bet at the end of the day, you and your family will be happier.