There are a series of what are known as “animal advice” memes floating around the internet these days. There’s a photo of a lovely-looking duck who gives genuine advice, a sad-looking bear who confesses things that the meme-maker couldn’t imagine confessing in real life, and a cat with a newspaper who thinks about all the things he should do or buy, amongst others. Then there is “Paranoid Parrot” who often talks about mundane paranoia (“Whip my shower curtain open ten times during each shower in case a serial killer is creeping up on me.”), but who in this day and age often expresses genuine moments of fearful concern.
The other day I happened across this particular iteration of the “Paranoid Parrot”:
This image struck me as terribly depressing, because the person who made this particular meme is not trying to be cute or amusing…they are referring to a real case where a 6-year-old boy got suspended from school for kissing a girl in his class on the back of the hand. The boy in question had “sexual harassment” stated on his permanent record as the reason for the suspension. Meanwhile the little girl whom he “harassed” insisted that she didn’t mind because these two kids consider themselves to be “boyfriend and girlfriend”.
When I first heard about this story I literally almost threw up. Here’s my issue: I am 100% all for ensuring that things like sexual harassment do not occur in our schools, but a little common sense has to be employed as well. A 6-year-old cannot “sexually harass” someone because a 6-year-old doesn’t even know what sex is. And even if this particular kid had already had a thorough explanation from his parents about exactly what sex is, a kiss on the back of the hand is not sex. And just to put a cherry on the top of that cake, the term “harassment” implies “unwanted”, which the little girl in question explained herself was not the case.
I’m not completely immune to the realization that bad and upsetting things can happen to children while they’re in school. If this little boy had been reaching up under the little girl’s dress and fooling around down there, then yeah, I can understand some slightly drastic measures being employed. If he’d been holding her down and laying kisses all over her while she screamed for him to stop, then by all rights, suspend the little creep. But when, I ask you, did a little peck on the back of the hand become sexual-freakin’-harassment?!
In my opinion this is just another thread in the web of hyper-sensitivity that we’re spinning around our children in this day and age. Of course we don’t want our schoolkids to be harassed, and of course we don’t want them to wind up violent criminals, and of course we want to keep them from winding up depressed and suicidal. All that goes without saying. But stating that a six-year-old kid is a sexual predator when he doesn’t even know what that means is not helping the situation; it’s just going to wind up being a horrible label that follows him around for the rest of his life. Suspending an 8-year-old boy because he chewed his Pop Tart into the shape of a gun is not going to stop him from becoming violent anymore than destroying every gun-related toy on the face of the planet; it just proves that adults will find any reason to punish a kid, and teaching good morals and the difference between right and wrong is a hell of a lot more effective than being punished for every little thing you do. And don’t even get me started on things like banning balls during recess and removing the competition from sport to make sure that “every child wins”…I don’t even know where to start on how ridiculous this kind of thing is, but I can absolutely guarantee you that it is not helping the situation in any way, shape, or form.
I want to protect my daughter as much as any parent wants to protect their child. I hope that when she goes to school that she’ll have good friends, good grades, and never ever get hurt or harassed or get in a fist fight or find herself depressed because of what other people think of her. But I also have enough sense to know that taking away her childhood is not the way to keep these kinds of things from happening. Little boys will kiss little girls because they’re curious and they don’t know how to express themselves yet. Kids will express violence and anger, not because things like guns exist, but because it is part of human nature to get mad and want to express that anger physically. Kids will get upset over loss and failure, but that doesn’t mean that we take loss and failure out of the equation…all that accomplishes is that they’ll get more upset later in life when they find out that the world does not cater to their delicate sensibilities.
The trick is not to take all of the factors that bring the issues to light and try to completely remove them from the equation. The trick is to come back to the time when parents and teachers and other authority figures actually put in the time and effort to teach kids how to be good people. We need to explain to our kids why something that they might do is not necessarily appropriate. We need to teach our kids the difference between right and wrong and how to deal with their feelings instead of expressing them in cruel and violent ways. We need to let our kids learn what failure feels like and subsequently show them that it’s not the end of the world and that they need to work hard for the things they want, even if there are other people out there who will always be better than them. We need to put real effort and care into shaping our children into good, all-around balanced people, instead of enforcing rules that make them terrified to even breathe, and warping their childhood so that each of them graduates high school with the genuine belief that everything they want will be handed to them on a silver platter just as long as they want it enough.
I can’t tell any one person how to raise their kids, and I certainly can’t tell the schools how to deal with kids (I do, in fact, respect the fact that this job just gets harder and harder as the years go on), but I can say this. If my daughter comes home from a day in her preschool class and tells me that a little boy she likes kissed her on the back of the hand, my reaction will be to talk to the little boy’s parents just so they know the situation…not to run off to the school and demand that that little boy have his life torn apart for doing something that innocent little boys have been doing since the dawn of time.