In a recent interview, singer Taylor Swift talked about the harshness of some critics' comments, especially after she sang off key with Stevie Nicks. One critic called it the beginning of the end of her career.
Swift said the comments definitely affected her. Her response? She wrote a song: "Why You Gotta Be So Mean?"
"You, with your words like knives and swords and weapons that you use against me. You have knocked me off my feet again, got me feeling like I'm nothing ..."
Somehow, there seems to be more mean behavior than even a decade ago.
"I believe, as a society, we are seeing more meanness, and we have become more tolerant of it," said Dr. Gary J. Oliver, an emotional intelligence expert, who has noticed an escalation of inhospitable, hurtful and demeaning behavior, and not just in adults. "We are seeing this behavior in children as well."
So, as Swift asks in her lyrics, why do people have to be so mean?
"I think there are a number of reasons," said Oliver. "We have a lot of hurting people out there. When a wounded person feels threatened, they lash out in an effort to protect themselves. These people are almost always unhappy, insecure and frustrated. Their effort to make themselves feel better and safer comes at a great cost to those who become the target of their anger."
Another reason Oliver believes mean behavior has increased is because when humans are threatened, they have a natural instinct to fight, run away or freeze. If someone has never been taught how to handle a mean situation, they often resort to fighting back or attacking someone out of anger.
"The emotion portion of their brain gets highjacked. If they have never learned emotional self-awareness, they resort to instinctive responses," said Oliver. "Parents can teach their children how to handle their emotions in a way that is assertive yet not mean and disrespectful."
Oliver shared these tips to teach children emotional intelligence:
• Love your children.
• Keep expectations realistic. No child can be No. 1 at everything.
• Help your child recognize his/her strengths.
• Teach them healthy boundaries.
• Model how to treat others with kindness and compassion even when treated disrespectfully.
• When someone makes a mean statement to your child, teach them to ask themselves, "Is that the truth?" If not, they can dismiss it. If it is, they can do something about it.
"Nobody likes being treated mean -- not even a bully," said Oliver.
"Teaching your children that they don't have to react, that they can remain calm, will serve them well into adulthood. How far your child goes in life depends more on emotional intelligence than having a degree from an Ivy League school."
Who would you prefer your child to hang around -- someone who is mean, disrespectful and rude or someone who is compassionate, kind and respectful?
E-mail Julie Baumgardner, president and executive director of First Things First, at firstname.lastname@example.org.