Adults often ask me why children in groups are so cruel. I am always astonished at the question. What about groups of adults? What about the Holocaust? What about the Serbs and Croats? How could neighbors who have lived together for hundreds of years suddenly turn on one another and begin to see each other as enemies? Why have Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland been willing to plant bombs in each other's neighborhoods and kill people only blocks away? What about the Hutus and the Tutsis? During the genocide in Rwanda, a Hutu man beheaded his Tutsi wife and his three sons in front of a crowd when the Hutu chief in his town told him he had to kill all Tutsis. What force could make a person do something like that? Peer pressure. Peer pressure in a horrible group cause.
All human beings who live in groups are subject to invisible, neutral forces: the laws of group life. And if we are going to understand why children do the things they do to each other - especially the cruel things - we have to know what these laws are. Without knowledge of these social forces we make the mistake of thinking that tragic events are driven solely by "bad kids" or "gangs". We won't understand that "good kids" are often responding to exactly the same set of underlying principles as "bad kids" or that there are gangs of "good kids" in our schools as well as gangs of "bad kids".