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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Bullying and our competitive edge

October 14, 2010

Who do you think you are?

Great gobs of  vitural ink have been sloshed around describing America’s “decline.” In a recent Newsweek story about the 100 best countries we didn’t even make the top 10. We’re Number 11.  But, it’s not like Newsweek dropped a bombshell. We’ve all noticed the slippage for a while. From family problems to school problems to dysfunctional legislators to holy book burners.

Oh yes, my friends, we’ve got Trouble with a Capital T that rhymes with D and that spells DECLINE. All the pity party laments boil down to just one thing: “America’s lost its competitive edge.”

Oh yeah? Not so fast, dude. Sure, we may be losing the competition for top world ranking in stuff like education, health, quality of life, economics, and political environment. But what about Top Dog status in stuff that really matters? For example, when it comes to vying for popularity within their peer group no kids on Earth come close to the clawing, biting, sheer grit of American teens.

In light of recent horrific in-your-face school bullying plus the cyber predator stealth assaults launched from smart phones and PCs, I think I’ve figured out what’s driving at least part of it. It’s competition. And we’re scary good at it.

I’m sure we’d all agree that we hate bullying behavior. And it goes without saying we hate bullies. Every last one of them. But for the record, there is no them. It’s all us. From time to time, to one degree or another, consciously or un, we all dismiss other people as unworthy of respect. Folks, that’s the core of bullying. And we behave that way when we’re competing with each other.

Think about it. If you’re hotter (or cooler) than me or I’m hotter or cooler than you, we may distrust each other. We may try to bring each other down in thought, word or deed. If you’re smarter than me or way stupider, you’re on my hit list. If you’re fatter than me or thinner, if you wear more or less expensive clothes, if you’re a super jock or a super geek… watch out! ‘Cause whatever we are that’s “different” may be seen as a threat to someone else’s never-ending quest for votes, money, power, friends… love. And we all know what happens when we feel threatened. We attack. Sounds ruthless, but we’ve gotta get real. We’re on the edge here. Each one of us adults and kids, we’re socialized and primed to compete with each other and often that means giving each other a hard time.

So, you still in this competition or are you ready to opt out?


UPDATE: 2/2/12: Just got this great bullying awareness and prevention info-graphic from @MAT@USC aka, Master of Arts in Teaching… because it is an art!



  1. Sounds to me like the competitiveness needs to be channeled in a more positive direction…like sports.

    Comment by Janis Meredith — October 14, 2010 @ 7:28 pm

  2. Annie,

    It’s that thought or word or deed thing that really grabs me. Because it really is IN all of us. And we need to stand up and take notice. Because it always, ALWAYS has a trickle down effect…and it all goes out to the universe.

    So often, I use the term when teaching teachers how to manage their own difficult feelings when dealing with “tough” kids… “It’s all about how we hold these children in our hearts and in our heads” that is almost palpable. We have to change “relationships” before we see behavior change.

    I think that same task applies to EACH of us. We all need to hold each other in our “hearts” and in our “heads” with much more compassion, kindness, empathy and understanding.

    Thanks for all you continue to do for youth. I think of you daily, as your books were some of the first I purchased for use in our new counseling place located in the schools…and they sit close at hand for youth that are struggling with fitting in, getting along, dealing with difficult situations.

    Wendy @Kidlutions

    Comment by Wendy Young, LMSW, BCD — October 14, 2010 @ 7:35 pm

  3. Annie,

    I see nothing but constant competition. It was in our little elementary school so badly, I chose to homeschool and have continued for 8 years. My kids were bullied on that playground in front of “volunteer” mothers. No one saw it or said a word. The school math competition reward was a limosine ride to McDonalds for lunch and the winner was allowed to choose 2 friends to go with them. A bit much for a little 3rd grade multiplication memorization, no?

    It has been on every team that each of my 3 boys have played in every sport for every season. In fact, it is unusual to find kids that play multiple sports anymore because the competition is so fierce now that they want kids to choose one sport over all of the others to play year round. Travel, select, A team, B team…blah, blah, blah.

    My daughter is a dancer and I dance teacher at the same studio and the competition there is worse between the mothers than the kids. In fact, I would bet that the kids would get along better if the parents were not so busy watching the classes and comparing the kids and putting their two cents in all of the time.

    My two oldest are now playing high school football and that is an entirely different beast altogether. The competitive nature of high school sports is really scary. You think those videos of the junior league parents screaming are strange – welp – somebody needs to remind high school teams that this isn’t the NFL and that most of these kids will never play ball again in their lives and this is the only experience they will have…

    I have 4 children. 3 boys and a girl. The oldest is 16 and the youngest 10. I have watched alot over the years. This generation of parents is raising their children with “be the best at all costs” mentality. It is pushing these kids into a very warped perception of the world and creating more bullies. When I began reading your piece – I kept thinking – “We need to be MORE competitive???” I’ve spent 16 years trying to get away from it and let my children just have a peaceful childhood where they have pleasant memories.

    I’ve been asking for a long time now – what happened to this generation of parents that everything became so extreme – so do or die? Why are mothers camped out in preschool parking lots overnight for registration? Why are four year olds using reading tutors? Why are kids using personal trainers at 11 years old? This is the world that I view from my window every day. The way I see it – there are alot of parents creating intolerant, cut throat kids – that need to be number one at all costs. The cheating scandals across our schools are growing because kids are afraid to fail…the pressure to succeed is too great. The stigma attached to not making an “A” sports team becomes fodder for mockery.

    Schools can say that they have a no tolerance policy for bullying but when push actually comes to shove that hasn’t been my experience. My son had a boy walk right up to him and punch him in the chest when he was in 7th grade. Apparently, he had been threatening my son for weeks and my son never said a word. He didnt believe that he would really hit him. He said that kids talk so much trash all of the time it’s hard to know what’s real. My son is a wrestler and after being hit, my son instinctively defended himself and hit the kid right back. My son was suspended. The principal said that anyone who throws a punch is gone. He was punished just as if he had been the bully. The administration said that after the boy punched him my son took a “stance” with his hands up ready to fight. Their policy stated he needed to shout “I’ve been hit!” or run away to tell a teacher. My husband and I were shocked.

    I could tell you 100 stories that we have experienced with our 4 kids. Everything that we have been through seems to fall on deaf ears. I’ve learned to circle the wagons and protect my family as much as I can – because very few out there have their best interest at heart. It’s all about winning, being the best, test scores, top of the food chain at all costs. Just go to a 4 year old soccer team banquet and watch all of those kids get 12 inch tall trophies for participation that the parents each paid $30 for their child to have.

    Thank you for continuing to speak out on these issues. Voices like yours are critical! Especially for parents who feel like they are swimming upstream all of the time! 🙂

    Comment by Vivienne — October 15, 2010 @ 6:15 am

  4. I have heard that the toughest battle that we have to fight is the battle between our ears. If we can control our thoughts and rule ourselves with our hearts and appreciation this negative attitude can be overcome.

    Comment by Melissa Smith — October 15, 2010 @ 9:36 am

  5. One of the best articles I’ve read in some time.

    Comment by Linda Criddle — October 17, 2010 @ 10:01 am

  6. Hi Ms. Fox,

    I must commend you on this great write-up as you’ve hit a number of high level problems on the head. The sad part about all this is that even though the issues are so blatantly visible in front of our faces, we are still slipping in decline due to denial, decadence and the simplicity of ineffective leadership.

    The questions are, what needs to be done about them and when will we start seeing something positive towards changing these declining trends and when will people start seeing the bigger picture of what is going on, how they are affected by it and how much of a help they can be in dealing with the issues.

    We have more problems on the adult level than we do with the youths, yet, unchecked, we say the youths are the future. Well, if they are the future we are and have certainly created a future much worse than we have today. Our children are not the future, they are the present, today, now and we are not even seeing that. We are not even seeing that we have and are pushing them further away from us than we are pulling them in and gaining their trust.

    Oh how deep the rabbit hole of self-indulgence, denial and having them live the lives we want them to rather than what they can handle or would be comfortable living. So now, not only are they dealing with the issues of peer pressure at school from abuse and bullying, they have to deal with living a lifestyle that they are not comfortable with because it is what the parents want and not what they want for themselves. God forbid they even mention being anything other than what the parent wants them to be, there would be no end to that drama. Talk about culture and ethics clashes.

    How far down the rabbit hole do we need to go before we awaken to a proactive state and get engaged in our communities and the overall problems we face?
    We’ve already lost the economy, our youths, values, international respect and powers, what else do we have or need to lose?

    What are our most prized values to preserve?

    Keep up the great work. We all have to get engaged and involved in the recovery and solutions.

    Thank you very much and have a great day.

    ~Brett A. Scudder~

    Comment by Brett A. Scudder — October 17, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

  7. Thanks Annie for paring lack of respect with bullying. I have been saying that is the crux of the problem for years with domestic abuse. However, to insinuate that the competitive edge the very thing that has made us the greatest country on earth, is the problem, leaves me speechless.

    I have lived in countries that “equalize” citizens with lack of competition and social justice and it is not a pretty picture (Russia, Figi)Leveling everything to its lowest common denominator creates mediocrity, frustration, and repressed people. Bullies should be dealt with yes, but not by adults. they should be dealt with by their peers and we should train them in the skills that work so that we don’t create a generation of kids that need rescuing by others.

    As is said in the bullies3buddies web with the Magic Response method–
    “Our job is not to protect the victims from the bullies, but to teach the victims how to defeat the bullies – by not getting upset.”

    I am for personal responsibility in choices and reactions and teaching our youth what that means.

    Thanks again for bringing out such an important issue, but I am hoping I am not hearing you say that a “nanny state” approach is the only answer. Shelly

    Comment by Shelly Marshall — October 19, 2010 @ 8:24 am

  8. I love when you said, there is no them…it starts with us (or something to that effect). For things to change I really believe we all need to focus on what we can control which is ourselves and start from there. Bullying is a societal issue that each of us as individuals can start to change. Model tolerance, refuse to judge, teach assertiveness – these are all places to start. But instead we seem to put a lot of energy into blaming others (like schools) and insisting they do something to fix it.

    The temptation to rant on this subject is strong…but I will resist and instead turn my focus to what I–as an individual–can do 🙂

    Thanks for a great, thought-provoking article!

    Comment by Debbie Pokornik — October 19, 2010 @ 10:45 am

  9. Hello Annie – Great article as usual. As a parent of a child that was bullied at school starting at a young age to the point she succumbed to self destruction and suicide attempts once she started high school, I am saddened to see so much hatred, contempt and for lack of a better word, competition, from the bullies. I am a parent volunteer on campus.. I see it every day and my heart would ache for the poor lost souls. The bullies were crying out for attention…. what was so shocking was the casual way these kids would verbally and physically attack anyone “different” from them then walk away. Of course we cannot necessarily “generalize” this situation. There are so many motives to bullying. But it does seem these kids/bullies feel entitled to the best of everything, woe is the innocent and talented good kid that stands in their way. I tend to “blame” the parents more than the bullies because these children are brought up to believe the world owes them, “you are entitled to it” not because you earned it but because you deserve it. These poor kids are competing for everything in the world, attention, to be unique and stand out in some way, the best jobs, the best schools.. starting in preschool! The only way to get attention is be “the best.” And be the best at all costs. Parents have set these examples, the kids know no other way of behaving. These kids have had everything handed to them or witnessed their parents fight to get it for them. So these poor kids will do anything to succeed.

    And the sad fact is when my daughter finally came forward and pointed out her attackers.. when we attempted to get help from schools? The parents were in denial or blamed my daughter. How can a victim be to blame? I had to remove my daughter from the public school system at that point because of the bullying and constant torment after she made her accusations and worse.. she had suffered and hid it for 4 years. It was too hard to see my daughter self destruct at the hands of these lost kids. It was hard to witness because it seems these bullies had no guidance, no lives. They all have potential but they were caught up in the vicious competition, with no parents present in their daily lives to offer guidance, (since both parents are so busy competing in their own jobs). No example to follow for what is a healthy way to succeed, no parents to teach compassion, or that empathy will go further than ridicule and tormenting. And you know what? Someone has to deliver the mail, Be a garbageman, cut your hair, serve you a coffee latte. What makes someone better because they went to the best college, competed at all the sports.. but maybe bullied their way to “the top?” Some of the happiest people I have met are the ones that stepped out of the competition. Surfing in Hawaii anyone? We are all unique and have something to offer this world… let’s celebrate and teach that… not competition.

    And to refute what Shelly M said:

    the bullies3buddies web with the Magic Response method– “Our job is not to protect the victims from the bullies, but to teach the victims how to defeat the bullies – by not getting upset.”

    I should not get “upset” that my daughter almost bled to death alone in her room because someone bullied her to hopelessness? My daughter should not get “upset” that bullies took away 7 years of her life because they thought she did not deserve to live?? And these young kids had no problem telling her, day in day out? My daughter is a gorgeous young lady, she could be on the cover of any magazine. She was bullied to the point of cutting, anorexia, hair loss and several suicide attempts. All because the girls were jealous and the boys felt entitled to demand sexual submission because she was beautiful. Discovering my daughter in pieces and I should not be upset? Upset does not EVEN come close to what I feel…. and what these bullies and their parents need to hear.

    When I read the above statement by Shelly M.. teaching victims how to defeat the bullies… defeat is not the word to use. Victims need to get upset, not let the bullies drag them down. We need to stand up for ourselves and involve the world in a solution. Or the situation will just be a vicious cycle.Kids live what they learn. Parents of bullies need to know what their kids are capable of, need to hear the truth. Then comes the truth of compassion and empathy, respect and being unique.

    But then again there are also bullies just for the sake of being a bully……

    Comment by Linda — October 20, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

  10. […] RT @annie_fox: My #Parenting post:#Bullying & our Competitive Edge poses int. ? (Are we pushing kids to become PUSHY ppl?) […]

    Pingback by Fresh From Twitter today « Pictures Tell The Story — October 22, 2010 @ 3:24 pm

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