Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

Are kids cruel?

Asked by wundayatta (58349 points ) January 5th, 2012

There are a variety of discussions going on fluther right now where the kinds of cruel things that kids do are being discussed. For example there are kids who use “slut” as a term to deride a member of their cohort. In another question kids use that same term to denigrate a girl because she just started her period. One of the commenters said that “kids are cruel,” which gave rise to this question.

Are kids cruel? Is it human nature to be cruel, particularly at this age? If so, why do you think we are so cruel?

If we are not naturally cruel, then what is going on that causes these kinds of behaviors at this age? What causes bullying? Is it a lack of proper parental supervision? Or are kids just imitating what they see at home?

Watch any stand-up comedian on TV. Watch, especially, the ones on cable TV. Is not a large portion of their humor based on being mean? Calling names?

Don’t people get “cool points” for being the first to take someone else down with a good putdown? Why would we expect our children to be any different? Perhaps we are all cruel, but kids get a bad name because they are so unsophisticated at it?

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27 Answers

downtide's avatar

I don’t know why, but I do think kids can be extremely cruel, and it’s not just a new thing either. Some of the kids I went to school with 30–40 years ago were as bad (in different ways) as kids now. I think bullying today is less physical and more verbal than it used to be, and of course technology like cellphones and facebook are used for bullying, but the cruelty and the effects are the same.

DominicX's avatar

When I read stories about kids ruthlessly bullying other kids until they commit suicide, I can’t help but think that yeah, kids are naturally cruel. Most people seem to just accept bullying as a kid as a “part of life”. I guess people hope that they’ll mature and become less cruel, as if they are unaware of how cruel they are being and it’s a natural instinct to isolate people who are different. But then again, look at war and murder and all that you might just come to the conclusion that humans are naturally cruel in general.

Of course these are all generalizations.

JLeslie's avatar

I think a small few are, and a bunch more follow along or stand by while the cruel kids do their thing. When there is a group of children being mean to a peer, to the child being attacked, I don’t think it matters if only one child is being mean, any child there watching and giggling or going along with the mean child is perceived as a bully also.

I think children who feel pushed around themselves are more likely to push other kids around.

Once when I was very little I joined in with other girls who were teasing a girl who lived in our apartment building. I know I would have never have thought to do that to her on my own. We used to play together sometimes. My mom put an immediate stop to the teasing when she realized what was happening. I never did anything like that again.

My neighbors daughter one day was playing with some girls who were a little older than her, so the play was a little out of her league. At one point she got hit in the face, she began to cry and ran over to her mom and me (we were just 30 feet away) her daughter began to explain that one of the girls hit her by accident. I found it to be the sweetest thing, because she did not want to be angry or blame the other girl for what was an accident. Whereas my neice and nephew loved to blame each other for everything and loved getting each other into to trouble. I never understood exactly why there was such a difference between the atitudes of these children.

rebbel's avatar

(Some of) the parents of ‘cruel kids’ are cruel is what I believe.
I don’t believe that (all) ‘cruel’ children are hard wired to act cruel.
They learn certain (swear- or dirty) words and certain behavior from their care takers.
Kids copy anything.
Kids that see loving parents, well-behaved parents, will make for loving, well-behaved children, I believe.

Mariah's avatar

I think empathy is a complex thought process and as such takes a while to develop. In the meantime, kids are little assholes.

emeraldisles's avatar

Kids are little demons who like to do nothing but annoy and bully. Yeah I would say most kids are a pain in the ass. I have seen so many throw tantrums in the grocery store when ’‘mommy says they are not getting any icecream’’ and just screaming.

Coloma's avatar

Some are, some aren’t, just like adults.
I was never cruel to anyone as a child.
I think I called a boy a name once when I was about 7 years old, that’s all. I never was involved in viciousness of any kind, but I was the victim of a bully or two.
I think, just like adults, some people are just maladjusted and it shows regardless of the age.

Clearly hardcore bullying, and other random acts of cruelty are associated with some of the more severe personality/mental heath issues.

everephebe's avatar

J.M Barrie spoke fondly of the innocence and heartlessness of youth. If I recall correctly, children under a certain age do not retain a proper sense of morality. Something like they simply have yet to form one or something, and for a time are rather sociopathic?

I think there is a certain amount of amorality, rather than immorality present up to a particular age. And alpha behavior, and social dynamics are simply at prehistoric levels for a while, at that young age. And some parents can encourage the worst qualities out of their complete bastard of a child. Yes, kids are cruel but they are also kind and loving creatures.

JLeslie's avatar

@emeraldisles So you think throwing a tantrum is cruel? Is it because you think the kids are purposely being cruel to their parents?

Charles's avatar

It seems kids were nastier when I was in junior high school in the early 1970s. Coincidentally, I asked my 12 year old daughter last night if she felt the kids in her school were bullies or unkind or unwelcoming and she said no. Could be that today’s schools are more proactive against bullying and such.

Bart19's avatar

I believe kids are naturally cruel. Some kids have wonderful parents and turn out to be criminals, others are the scum of the earth and produce the kindest children imaginable. Of course the home situation influences the kids but I think it varies per child what kind of impact it has.

I was one of the kids they tried to bully into suicide. Thankfully I was a tough nut to crack but that doesn’t mean they didn’t give it their best shot. After being told for months on end that you’re not worthy of living and that it’s the best for everyone if you are dead, you end up believing it. It was a total mind fuck. And why? Because I was different and when I killed myself they would get a day off school.

Add in an unsupportive school and neglectant parents and you have a dangerous mix. It was sheer determination that got me through it in the end: after all I couldn’t let them win, now could I?

And that was done by 12/13 year olds. I would say that the beginning teen years are the hardest and most confusing. Most kids start high school at that point and they desperately try to belong, are trying to cope with their sexuality, different urges and growing up. My bullies had one who was the aplha and the others crowded around him. Nobody dared to defend me because it meant opposing the alpha and that could make life hell.

But then most of them didn’t grow out of it. They never really seemed to understand empathy yet lead perfectly normal and sometimes succesful lives. If they see me they still make degrading comments and blame me for contacting the police ages ago. No inkling of their wrong doings and the anguish they put me through. So far only one of my old classmates (That were all involved) apologized to me, out of a class of 32.

It saddens me.

Sunny2's avatar

I wouldn’t hurt an animal on purpose, but I have a memory of when I was 4 or 5 years old. A girl friend and I were gleefully swinging a cat around by its tail. I had no sense that we were hurting the poor cat. Its terrified scream meant nothing to us. I’m appalled at it now, but at that age I had no sense of empathy for the cat. I have no idea when that sense develops. Was I being cruel? To an observer, I’m sure I was. If some one scolded me and pointed it out, I would have been ashamed. I think we did this twice. The cat was smart enough to avoid us after that. It still bothers me.

TheIntern55's avatar

Yes, and they get it from their parents, in my experiences.
I had a friend in 2nd grade, when I was the new girl who had just come from a big city to this small town. This girl ,we’ll call her Jane, was so nice to me. SHe helped me and introduced me to everyone aand everything. That was the only year she was there. Later, I found out she had moved to the town next door after her father had been blamed for killing a man. The person who framed him was Puerto Rican. Jane’s father was let go, but he lost his job and his credibility. The family stayed in the other town.

Later, in 5th grade, when all the kids in the district went to the middle school, I met Jane again. And all of a sudden, she hated me, simply because I was Puerto Rican and one bad Puerto RIcan had ruined her life and she was told to hate my race. It was terrible.

To this day, Jane still hates me and makes rascist remarks to me. Luckily, one of my teachers has seen this first hand and she has gotten in trouble for it. But all throughout middle school, she bullied me relentlessly and people joined her for awhile. Now, it’s just her and a few of her friends, which makes it a little more bearable.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Kids are no more cruel than adults, they’s just more brazen about it.

IMHO, all these problems with kids being cruel to other kids, bulling, “mobbing,” etc., all have their genesis in the homes where adults have abdicated their responsibilities.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think it may be an old instinct, the fight for domination. I remember times in my life, elementary school and younger, when I was cruel…but didn’t realize it until my parents checked me on it. I think it is something that needs to be worked out of children. However, if the parents are asshats, the kids never get it worked out of them and that’s pathetic.

AnonymousWoman's avatar

Children can be cruel, but adults can be cruel as well. Children are not always cruel and neither are adults. It depends on the person and the specific situation, not his or her age.

babybadger's avatar

I don’t understand. A few of you guys are saying that kids are naturally cruel – that is definately not true. I don’t think I’m cruel – I think I’m a nice person, and I’m sure you guys weren’t all bullies. I believe it is just how some people are wired and how some people were raised. It is partly influenced in genetics and partially by their environment – namely, influences. I also don’t think people are necessarily born “cruel,” rather they feel a need for attention and or are weak-minded.

AshLeigh's avatar

Not all children are cruel. It starts with one. One child is raised wrong, and the other children follow their example. The one who decides so go a different direction gets picked on so much that they get angry. Then they’re cruel too.
Not my cup of tea. No sir. Lets go play in a different sandbox.

tinyfaery's avatar

Yes. They have no sense of morals. They are cruel little animals until they can gain a sense of right and wrong and learn empathy. I’m not sure many people ever do that, really. That’s why we are all cruel I suppose.

Sunny2's avatar

I taught at a junior high in a well-to-do community. Some kids were picked up in front of school at the end of the day. A pick-up truck pulled up to get one of the students. I heard a snide little voice of a girl say, ” Oh, I like your cah-ar.” I never felt so much like hitting a kid. Cruel? Not all, but some definitely are.

Blackberry's avatar

Some people are cruel and stupid, some aren’t. Stupid cruel people have kids, and that sucks.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@babybadger I don’t know about anyone else but I’m think of elementary age children and younger, not “kids” who are old enough to be on a social networking site.

babybadger's avatar

Even when we were younger everything I said I believe still applies @Dutchess_III

linguaphile's avatar

It’s paradoxical that many kids who seem to get everything they want, have all the looks, have all the money, have all the ‘friends,’ and basically seem to have everything given to them without any effort are the most cruel of all.

That’s been the case in my teaching experience—the kids who struggle the most are the ones who tend to be, not always though, but tend to be the kindest.

linguaphile's avatar

@Dutchess_III I just buried one of the best students I’ve ever had in 9 years of teaching yesterday. He had very little going for him but still he persevered, excelled and there wasn’t a cruel bone in his body. In the same room, the kids who create cruelty everyday were able to walk around and hug each other. Life’s not fair.

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