Science Says: Kids Are Bullied By Peers And Parents

Some adults seem to think bullying is the natural order of things.
Publish date:
December 27, 2012
bullying, things we already knew

Over at Jez, Lindy West is exhibiting the requisite "Uh, YEAH" reaction to a couple of recent studies that concluded fat kids and sick kids are more common targets of bullying. This hardly seems like news to anyone who has ever been fat (or even fattish) or had some kind of health issue.

It's more news we already knew, right?

Yes, when you are a fat kid, you are bullied by your peers. Yes, when you are a kid with food allergies, those peers often try to make you eat the food you are allergic to.

Peers were the most common perpetrators, with "friends" a fairly close second. P.E. teachers and parents followed closely in the ranks.

I gotta say, this does little but confirm my opinion that childhood and adolescence are the worst. Because, you know, your peers and the adults around you are kind of your entire world. And when they've made you the target of even something so perceived-as-innocuous as "teasing" -- well, is it any wonder kids are killing themselves over this shit?

Sometimes I scan comments even though I know it's a bad idea. Sometimes I make bad decisions, y'all. And there are these people who think teasing is a normal, totally natural thing.

I'm not entirely opposed to that idea -- I'm not suggesting we should all be wrapped up in cotton swaddling. Ed and I tease each other fairly aggressively, in fact. But we're also adults with fairly good self-esteem and positive self-image. And, perhaps most importantly, we recognize what topics are not suitable for teasing. For instance, he knows not to tease me about my deplorable sense of direction. (At least not much.)

It's a sore spot.

That's not how kids tease each other. I don't think this is because children are vicious monsters. I think it's because they're repeating patterns they've witnessed the adults around them play out.

If you think it's acceptable to tease someone -- especially a kid -- about being fat or allergic or asthmatic or whatever (or for wearing pink slippers), you are part of the problem. In fact, you might actually be the biggest part of the problem.

Look, I don't have kids. I might never have any of my own. But I like them. They're awesome people, by and large, and they're just trying to, you know, earn all of the ridic fucking social rules we have in place while developing both bodily and mentally.

That's a tough job. And we all had to do it at some point.

When I was under 10 years of age, I refused to eat black pepper. A family member made me a bowl of grits (not super flavorful on their own) and tried to sneak some pepper, just a tiny bit of pepper, into them. Of course I could totally tell the pepper was there.

I'm not allergic to black pepper. But that sort of thing (perpetrated by a totally loving family member who just wanted me to try something new) is a totally common example of how grown folks don't really take kids seriously.

Our culture is very into forcing kids to do things, you know? For their own good. And while I understand the wisdom in making your kid actually sit still for the important medical treatment, I still kind of think there has to be a better way because, man, we teach kids young that their bodies and identities are not their own.

The most frustrating aspect to this for me, as an adult who is still a target (man, some dudes do not like that I don't care if they want to fuck me), is that we have these totally unsurprising studies and we have kids committing suicide and we have all of this collective trauma -- and there are still grownups who want to front like teasing doesn't hurt anyone. Or like these kids somehow deserve to be made miserable for their own good.

Hell, even though I am surrounded by an adult, I am still "teased" about my weight. And let's not discuss the frequency with which people dismiss my food allergies. (I have a lot; fortunately, only shellfish is currently likely to kill me.) The patterns that are established in childhood often continue through to adulthood. Let's not pretend otherwise.

I knew it in grade school and I know it now; science confirms it: kids who don't conform are bullied. When are we as adults going to learn better? Because until we do, fat kids and sick kids are still going to be targets. And I guess some people are always going to be surprised by that.