Recently, I took my youngest to her first-ever gymnastics class.
She’d been begging for some time to let her go, and once she turned 4, we decided she was old enough to give it a try.
We bought her a cheap leotard on Amazon, and I struggled to put her still-baby fine hair into some semblance of a bun.
My kiddo’s a happy girl, but I’d rarely seen her as excited as she was that morning.
After an hour in the gym (during which she bounced over to the parent viewing area at least five times to make sure I was watching her next move), I deemed the class a success.
But then I learned about some other girls there
I had to reevaluate later that night … when I talked to my sister.
My 7-year-old niece is on a team at the same gym. The two girls’ classes overlapped – which was great for them, as they got to wave and blow kisses across the room.
But my niece came home from her 3-hour practice shaken and upset. The other girls in her class had apparently repeatedly made fun of my daughter while she was on the floor.
First, they ridiculed her for having “poor form.” What is that, anyway? Then they laughed at her when she rolled sideways off a ramp while trying to do a somersault. (Which I caught on video and thought was adorable.) They ridiculed her again when her little legs awkwardly tried to do a split jump.
These are 7- and 8-year-old girls, mind you.
My niece told her cohorts to “not be mean.” She told them that was her cousin, that it was her first class and asked them to stop making fun of her.
My daughter, thank goodness, was blissfully oblivious to the entire episode and is otherwise unscarred by the entire experience.
But that’s not the point.
Sadly, ‘mean girl’ behavior is learned
Where does a CHILD learn that it’s OK to tease, tear down or otherwise mock someone else? Particularly someone younger than them?
I am trying not to blame those girls. And I’d like to think that if their parents were there and knew what was happening, they would have put a stop to it.
But I fear I am being naïve.
This is a learned behavior.
These days, we are too often defined by what divides us. We disrespect each other on social media and we insult – without a thought – others whose only crime is having an opinion that differs from our own.
We call conservatives who support President Donald Trump racists or fascists, and liberals “libtards” or “snowflakes.”
Don’t believe me? Check out the trolling comments posted on virtually any article anywhere. The media publishes a story we don’t like, and we decry it as “fake news.”
All too often I see moms make assumptions (usually completely unfounded) about other parents who work or those who stay at home, or how they would have done xx differently (and usually) better.
How many of you had parents or grandparents who used to say, ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.’? That seems like particularly sage advice in these times.
But instead, we hide behind the anonymity that our digital worlds provide. And sadly, we are losing all sense of civility and enlightened discourse.
And our children are following in our footsteps.
We have to teach kids to stand up, build each other up
At a time of such vitriol, we should be teaching our sons and daughters how to build each other up. How to cheer on those who try and fail a dozen times before they succeed. How to embrace each others’ quirks and differences.
We must teach our children to have the courage of my niece: to stand tall to malice and nastiness in whatever form it presents itself. I am so proud of her for defending her cousin.
Let me be clear: This is not a call to give every kid a participation ribbon.
But I fear that, through our careless words and actions, we are setting a very poor example for the next generation.
So, this is a plea to focus and nourish our children’s character, to emphasize the importance of kindness and instill in them a sense of empathy toward others.