One of my kids from last year, Juan, was knocked off his bike while he was riding to the store and thrown on the ground. The kid is ten years old, and he now has a black eye and a puffed-up lip, and his whole face generally looks like he was in a prize fight. He says the boys who did it were teenagers and that there wasn't a reason for it. He's scared but doesn't want to show that so he's just acting a lot meaner.
I want to find the teenagers that did it and get them arrested or beat them up or something. Until I remember that they're not that much older than him and the exact thing probably happened to them. And that I can see in Juan's eyes that he's learning to do the same thing to smaller kids and he'll probably end up right in the same position. Then I just want to cry, because he's figured out that to survive in his neighborhood, he has to be mean. There are a lot of characteristics inherent in this child - he is creative, loving, loyal, and hardworking. He is not mean. But you better believe he's going to learn to be, in order to survive. Just like a lot of the older kids around him, meanness is going to become a quality that defines him.