“Are kids getting meaner?” New York Post columnist Mandy Stadtmiller asked me. At first I wondered if it was the case of “school uphill in the snow both ways”—that is, a sense that today things are so much different (easier) but come with a new set of complications and suffering. That all in all, as humans, we suffer about the same, regardless of when we were born, making mean girls then pretty much the same as mean girls today. So are kids really getting meaner, earlier? Or has it always been there? This New York Post article provides some statistics and includes a quote from yours truly.
Abigail and I were discussing her upcoming ice skating birthday party. She asked me who was coming from her class, and we ran down the RSVP list together. We invited everyone in the class, not wanting anyone to feel rejected (yes, at age 3 – I hear them. They actually discuss their birthday parties with each other). When I read the name of one girl, Allysa*, Abigail pulled a scrunched up face, as if the name Allysa were an odor with a faint hint of sulfur. “No, I’m not going to play with Allysa. I don’t like her.”
“Why don’t you like her?”
“Because I don’t.”
No matter how I tried to pull it out of her, Abigail wouldn’t say more, only that she didn’t like her. At first this bothered me. I want my children to love everyone, to be kind, to have no bitterness or contempt. But I see it, coming out in small ways. They still, over a year later, talk about Ewan, a kid from the Ladybug room, who bit Lucas. I want their worlds to be all dotted hearts and unicorns, or at least be a wee Woodstock version of giving peace a chance.
I sat with it and realized, it’s fine not to like her. I mean, there are 31 flavors for a reason, right? I mean, I don’t like everyone. But. But. But. I think she needs to make an effort, to find at least one thing she does like about Allysa. And it might mean they have their own playdate, removed from pre-school cliques. That’s right. Pre-school cliques. As in, “You can’t play dolls with us, you stinky monster head.” This is all “after-thought” on my part. In the moment, I responded with this:
“We don’t have to like everyone, Abigail, but we are nice to everyone and we make them feel included. Would you like it if Allysa had a party and didn’t want to play with you?”
“No,” she says in a quiet uncertainty, as if she were leaning in to pet an unfamiliar dog.
“You’ve invited her to your party, and it’s your job as guest of honor to make everyone feel important.” I realize I’ve gone too far and need to remove at least one piece of jewelry. “You’ll have a dazzling time with everyone, right?”
“Right!” She says in a cheer. “Right, right, right.” We read the RSVP list again, and this time, when she hears Allysa’s name, she interjects a sweet, “Yay!” Then looks to me for praise. I give it with a smile, leaning in, then we rub noses and I call her my button.