Should we teach our kids to be tough or kind?

Should we be teaching our kids to be kind or to be tough? Do we need to focus on stopping our kids being nasty, or do we focus on building up their resilience, knowing there will always be those ready to pounce? Is it any different now to days gone by?

The digital world has opened up a new plethora of ‘meanies’. Those people who for whatever reason seem to think its OK to be as brutal and as vicious as they can, with little thought to the consequences of their actions.

I have dealt with children who have been bullied. Kids who are subjected to others who are lethal in their vitriol, abuse and slander. One in 4 kids report to being subjected to it in Australia. Some deal with it ok, others struggle to overcome.

I have spoken to bloggers who have trolls. Those people who actively seek to be nasty. Sometimes they are anonymous and just want to unleash on someone, sometimes they put a name. I read of a blogger this week who has found it difficult to write again after some nasty comments by anonymous readers stopped her in her tracks. She does not know them, she should not care, but when you are already vulnerable, their words can be paralysing. Some deal with it ok, others struggle to overcome.

I have myself come across professional people who differ in opinion, but have an inability to be constructive or to listen to opposing points of view. Instead there is a need to make judgements and criticism with no respect for difference of circumstance or situation. Just abuse. Some deal with it ok, others struggle to overcome.

So do we need to make our kids tougher? To be more resilient to the haters? To be better at filtering the constant stream of information that will continually flood through their worlds? Should we be giving them the skills to know when to shut down the device, turn off the comments or simply ignore the noise? I’d like to think we could all ignore and move on. But sometimes when you are vulnerable, anxious or in any other slightly fragile state….then the abuse can threaten to bring you down.

So maybe we all just need to be a little kinder.

When thinking about the future for our children I believe that kindness is an integral part of both their real life and their online existance. Last weekend I had a glimpse in to what the future holds for our kids. The technology that will all but eliminate the word ‘privacy’. If we are going to have our children grow up in a world that is going to be transparent, open and exposed, then surely being kind is going to be even more of a requirement than it is today. Not only to prevent the ‘unkindness’ in the first place, but to be a positive bystander to those we witness experiencing the torment.

But what of all these people who are being so nasty. Why do they feel this need?

Is it jealousy?

Is it lack of attention?

Is it ‘tall poppy syndrome’?

Is it just arrogance?

Is it boredom?

Is it a cry for help?

Is it bad role models?

I imagine for many it is a combination. It is more than likely an outpouring of an inner turmoil.  If you are happy, content, confident and have fulfilling personal connections, then you would not have this need to unleash vitriol. But if you havn’t grown up where the importance of kindness has been emphasized, you may even be oblivious to the neglect.

There may always be mean kids that have been bought up by mean parents. There may always be kids whose own struggles manifest and are played out by bullying others. But I would love kindness to be a real focus. A real conscious teaching to our children. Every now and then asking our kids “What did you do today that was kind?”

Yes we need to develop resilience in our kids to let these abuses go unheeded.

But we need a lot more kindness too.




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This Post Has 14 Comments

  1. Mirella (@ Education Equals)

    As a teacher I’m very much interested in how we can teach our kids to be more resilient. It seems as though kids are less and less resilient at a time when fast social changes mean they need to be more so.

    I absolutely agree, a focus on kindness, on empathy and understanding, are the ways to build real communities of people, and thus avoid the opportunity for people to hide behind their computer screens.

    My brother, who works in IT at a school, recently had to trace a Year 6 student who had hacked into another student’s account and used it to bully other students. The question in my mind is “Why?”.

    When you have the answer let me know 🙂

    1. Martine

      Oh Mirella, yes that magical answer as to why a child would feel the need to do that..which as I said is probably a combination of many factors. And certainly it seems the ones doing the bullying are probably in need of the most kindness too. As for why our kids seem less resilient..that is whole other post….and again probably not a definitive answer. But I agree working on kindness, empathy and understanding are a good start.

  2. Lisa Barton-Collins

    I have 2 children that have been bullied, and I think the key is resilience. Of course, kindness (to yourself as well as others) is absolutely important; but there are always going to be bullies that haven’t learnt kindness – at school, at work, everywhere, and you need a strong suit of resilience armor to survive that.

    1. Martine

      So true Lisa. I think we are often telling kids to just ignore and move on , but I believe that sometimes that is a lot easier for some kids than it is for others. Which yes, probably comes back to their resilience. It would be nice to think we could all learn ‘kindness’ but as you said, human nature probably indicates that this cant always be the case.

  3. Cath

    I wonder if resilience IS kindness dressed up as a lesson in empathy… Resilience is not the same as being tough. It may be about staying positive and not letting things get to you, but perhaps that would be easier if our kids understood a little more about those motivations that turn people nasty. My guess is that those nasty kids need kindness and understanding more than anyone, and who better than their peers to give it to them – it would sure surprise the hell out them!!!

    1. Martine

      I think resilience is even more than that. It is really focused more on the ability to ‘bounce back’ after challenges and some people certainly have more of this than others. I think when referring to bullies, many kids are told to ‘toughen up’ and ‘ignore’ when I believe it really requires much more than that. And yes you are right, the kids doing the bullying are usually the ones needing the kindness.

  4. Carli

    Great post Martine. What’s been a revelation for me since having children, is that sometimes it’s not necessarily mean parents who have mean children. I really wonder if we’re sometimes too quick to put negative labels on kids too – I’ve heard preschool parents use the word bully and surely at the age of three, that’s a bit hyperbolic. I think you’re spot on about resilience – it’s a fluctuating beast affected by all sorts of things and empathy for those who aren’t coping or why people act they way they do would hopefully instill some more kindness.

    1. Martine

      Thanks Carli. Absolutely sometimes great parents have their kids do not so great things. We have probably all been surprised by the actions of our kids at some point or other. I guess I was referring to the way I have heard some parents talk recently, and their prejudices that are so ingrained, I would find it impossible that their kids would not take on some of the same attitudes. Teaching empathy certainly seems to be a priority.

  5. Annie

    The building of resilience is the hard part. How to teach your child to walk away from nasty behaviours and comments, with their head held high? How not to get into slanging matches that lead to more hurt and drama? I try to give my children the tools to use in those situations, but it can be hard enough as an adult to do the same.

    I want them to be “tough” enough to handle what gets thrown at them on a day to day basis, but not lose their sensitivity and kindness in the process. Its a fine balance, and not easy to achieve.

  6. Lizzy - Muddle-Headed Mamma

    This is such a great post, Martine. I am so glad that cyber bullying did not exist when I was at school – I don’t know who I would have coped. And I struggle to think how I would cope now if one of my children was ever subjected to it. I think that resilience is one of the most important lessons we should try to teach our kids. On the same token, it’s something I still struggle with as an adult! I really don’t understand why someone would deliberately make a nasty comment on someone’s blog. Sometimes things can be taken out of context, but to write something obviously mean and anonymously is just gutless isn’t it? I think you’re right though – it’s probably got a lot to do with jealousy, arrogance, boredom, etc. I really like your blog btw and the header design is so creative!

  7. jeanie

    I think resilience comes in a great many shades – the main thing for me is that my girls have self-respect, and it is impossible to have self-respect if you can’t respect other people or your own reaction to other people.

    Walking away, being strong, standing up for others – they are all ideals that we strive for. I am just a mother rather than an educator, but once you let your child into the pool of school you just hope like crazy that the teachers are looking and they make GOOD friends.

  8. Kathy

    Martine it was so nice to meet you at Problogger and I love this post because like you I think it is a combination of kindness and resilience that our kids need. I think resilience sits at the core and then kindness is what we project outwards, and can be a kind of armour against meanness. Or maybe its the other way around? Either way, I think it is a very yin yang thing to have toughness (not meanness) and kindness – well there is probably never enough of that…kathy

  9. Sally@Toddlers on Tour

    My son is only 5, yet bullying is on my mind.
    Sadly we have to teach our children that their are unkind people in the world for whatever reason and to say strong and avoid contact with the “bully.” Whether that be the school yard or on social networks.
    This goes for blogging as well. If you have nasty abusive comments just delete them. It is your blog.

  10. Grace

    Totally agree with you, Martine. And sometimes, it’s not just the blatant trolls that bug me. Sometimes those “passive aggressive”types just rub me up the wrong way. But I try not to give them more than 30 seconds of my attention and move on.
    I guess I don’t want my children to be “tough” as such but definitely resilient to hurtful words from others. And I’m hoping they’ll learn to return it with kindness, instead.

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