Kids will be kids?  Enough is enough!

by Thomas Ray, Senior Director of Educational Programming

We’ve all heard it, and maybe even said it: “Kids will be kids” along with a shrug as if there is nothing to be done about inappropriate behavior.  Unfortunately, inappropriate behavior that goes without correction has a tendency to continue.  If we were talking about stealing or drug abuse, responsible adults would intervene, seek help, and work toward correcting the behavior.  For some reason, many adults still do not intervene when it comes to bullying. I’m not sure how we’ve gotten to the place where we excuse poor behavior with the response “Kids will be kids” or “boys will be boys”.  That may be a partial explanation for why the poor behavior occurred – once.  However, it’s no excuse for the lack of appropriate response and discipline on the part of the adults.

I won’t hypothesize in this blog as to why some behaviors get addressed and others do not, but I’ve actually had a teacher say to me (referring to a child who had been bullying another child), “He’s such a good kid.  Everybody likes him.”  I believe this response may reveal one of the underlying problems in dealing with bullying in our society – many children who bully others are otherwise good (speaking in relative terms) or well-liked kids.  The call to adult to take action is not to call into question whether or not a child is good, but rather to address and correct inappropriate behavior when we observe it towards an end of stopping the behavior.  In other words, the role of the adult is to instruct, correct, and guide the child.

bullyingBut won’t they just grow out of it?  No.  The research is in, and it’s clear.  For the target of the bullying, those accumulated adverse experiences when left unaddressed will have an impact on their mental, social, emotional, and even financial future.  That’s not an individual cost, it’s a societal cost.  Recent research conducted by William Copeland, others from Duke University, and Dieter Wolke from the University of Warwick indicates that “involvement with bullying in any role was predictive of negative health, financial, behavioral, and social outcomes in adulthood. Once we adjusted for family hardship and childhood psychiatric disorders, risk of impaired health, wealth, and social relationships in adulthood continued to be elevated in victims and bully-victims. The greatest impairment across multiple areas of adult functioning was found for bully-victims” (2013, p. 1967).  Furthermore, although the negative effects for those in the bully-only role were accounted by adjusting for family hardship and child psychiatric factors, “perpetration of bullying in childhood may be a marker of present and later psychopathology” (Wolke et. al, 2013, p. 1967). In other words, by ignoring bullying behavior in our children, we may be ignoring significant warning signs that our children need mental health care; while again, left untreated, will have long-term negative consequences including poverty and imprisonment.

Continuing to excuse unacceptable behavior that has negative and long-term consequences for individuals and high cost to our society (in terms of increased mental health care, social and economic services into adulthood, etc.) needs to stop.  Recognizing, acknowledging, and addressing bullying is the right thing to do – no longer ignoring, or even worse, encouraging or perpetrating the bullying behavior (yes, it happens). Many adults are going to have to change the way they think about bullying behavior.  We will have to recognize that the bullying behavior may be a warning sign of underlying mental health issues that can be addressed earlier rather than later.  We will have to recognize that bullying, its underlying causes and both short-term and long-term consequences can no longer be passed off with a simple shrug and “kids will be kids”.  Enough is enough.

In order to help adults recognize bullying behavior and appropriate methods for addressing that behavior the Poe Center has developed Bullying Uncovered: What Parents, Teachers, and Other Adults Need to Know.  To book this program for your parents or staff, contact Kate at [email protected] or call her at 919-231-4006 ext. 399.



Wolke, D., Copeland, W. E., Angold, A., & Costello, E. J. (2013). Impact of bullying in childhood on adult health, wealth, crime, and social outcomes. Psychological science, 24(10), 1958-1970.