Why We Should Stop Telling Kids "They're Mean Because They're Jealous"

4 Mins read

If your child has ever been bullied, or maybe even the target of a mean kid, you are aware how much it hurts. Nothing's more unpleasant than looking into the eyes of the child whose heart continues to be broken by a friend or classmate. Being a parent, it inspires the deepest pain and even anger. It’s just so unfair.

These days, anyone can tell you that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can't ever harm me” is false. We don’t tell our youngsters to tough it out, man up, or keep these things just ignore bullying anymore. We all know better.

But there is one common myth that lots of well-intentioned parents still burden their children with: “She’s just jealous.” (Or, of course, “he’s just jealous.”)

Sure, maybe a bully or mean kid is jealous. But let’s understand this straight: Jealousy is NOT the reason kids are cruel. And while our intentions might be good when we tell this to the kids, it’s actually a pretty dangerous myth to spread.

Here are five explanations why we need to stop telling our child being bullied the “she’s just jealous” lie:

1. Blaming jealousy places the blame squarely on the bullied kid.

I know you don’t mean it such as this, but when you tell a bullied kid that somebody treated them unkindly because they were jealous, you’re letting them know that, in some way, they deserve the unkindness.

Think of it this way, “Chris wouldn’t be so mean for you if you weren’t so good at basketball” or “Liz wouldn’t phone you names behind your back if you weren’t so great at math.” You would never say it like that, but it’s exactly the same implied message.

Telling kids that their success or attributes are the reason someone else is unkind is simply too much of a burden for them to bear. You don’t have to add guilt to everything else they’re feeling.

2. “He’s just jealous” removes responsibility in the child doing the harm.

Here’s the truth: We all get jealous. Me, you, your child, my kid, the teachers, the main, George Clooney, and the Queen of England. We just know that jealousy is no reason to become cruel.

That doesn’t mean the bully is really a bad kid who is consciously choosing to cause harm. They’re kids, they're sometimes thoughtless and unkind. But it’s our responsibility, as parents, to make clear that being unkind is really a choice we can make, just like kindness can be.

You may need to look at bigger issues, like whether you have the full story surrounding the event under consideration and whether the teachers might be encouraging (or at least not discouraging it enough) the behaviour, but in the end, we all make our very own choices.

That knowledge, in the end, can be quite empowering for all the children involved.

3. Blaming jealousy teaches your child to handle her feelings in an unkind way in the future.

When we tell our youngsters that bullying happens because someone is jealous, we send a subtle message the natural way to handle jealousy is to be unkind. You don’t have to say that directly for that message to be internalized.

You know that saying “hurt people hurt (other) people”? It’s true for kids, too. At least until you help them learn how to handle their hurts better.

4. Connecting admiration with cruelty sets your child up for unhealthy relationships later on.

When we normalize an unhealthy relationship dynamic like this, we run the risk of our kids becoming too used to the behaviors involved.

Your son may hear that another kid is envious of him, and for that reason is unkind, and he may find that kind of bad treatment flattering as a result. There is, after all, a positive undercurrent to telling our kids someone is mean because they’re jealous: We are, in essence, explaining how bad things follow success or perhaps admiration.

So how is he designed to make good relationship and friendship choices in the future with that sort of confusing emotional connection in the mind?

Even worse, when we tell young girls that boys are mean simply because they like them (or because they are pretty), we set our daughters up for a dangerous and abusive relationship dynamic that equates love and attraction with cruelty.

5. “She’s just jealous” feeds an unhealthy part of our kids’ egos.

Sure, the bully might be jealous. But in reality, your kid probably isn’t everything exceptional.

I’m not trying to be mean! I’m a mom, and i believe my children are exceptional and wonderful, too. But do I think they are SO much much better than other kids that other kids envy them?

Not really. My kids are kids. So are your children. Generally, every kid your son or daughter knows is pretty great and also has some bad moments. But how is your child supposed to keep her ego in check with you telling her how jealous other people are?

Instead of blaming jealousy, take a seat with your child and do the following:

1. Acknowledge how much it hurts to possess a friend be so unkind, and let your child talk through their feelings and define their experience for themselves.

2. Ask your child why they think the other kid is being mean.

3. Explain that none of us ever have to be mean to some friend or classmate, and that when children are mean, it’s because they designed a choice. But in the same measure, help your child understand that everyone makes mistakes. A friend may have been unkind without realizing it, or been having a bad day, or be feeling a lot of confusing feelings.

4. Ask your son or daughter what they would like for you to do to help solve the problem.

5. If necessary, involve the parents of the other kids and/or administrators and teachers at school. Sometimes all it takes is a one-on-one playdate between friends or perhaps a conversation facilitated by both childrens’ parent(s) about kindness to fix fences and heal hurt feelings.

In other cases that become serious, police might need to be involved and/or emotional support in the form of a mental health professional or school counselor to assist them to get through the tough time.

Remind kids that there's no shame in seeking help! Remind your son or daughter that they are safe, loved, and looked after at home – no matter what. You can't get through childhood without some hurt feelings. That is just how life is. But the way we teach our children to handle hard times and big feelings might help them in work, friendships, and relationships for the rest of their lives.

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