Hyper-Sensitive Adults Make for Pretty-Poor Childhoods

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.

Things I Know About Kids: How to Get Them to Talk to You

For those of you who don’t follow Internet memes (click the link if you have no idea what a “meme” is), there is one that has been going around for a whole now that has been dubbed “Advice Mallard”. I haven’t the foggiest clue where the original idea came from, but the meme is a picture of a particularly photogenic duck, upon which people write pieces of advice. The advice can range from “duh”-level obviousness to thoughts born of personal experience that are actually pretty helpful. One such example that I came across a while back was this one:


In case anyone can’t see the image, it says “If you want your kids to feel like they can tell you anything, don’t overreact when they tell you something.” More easily said than done, perhaps, but still something I strongly believe parents should take to heart.

I can’t think of any personal examples because my parents were fairly approachable, but I can think of several examples where friends or classmates landed themselves in a lot of trouble because they didn’t talk to their family for fear of the reaction.

Let me paint you a picture. Imagine a young girl, 13 or 14. She’s in the cusp of the joys of puberty and decides to ask her mother about sex. It’s an innocent question…for the sake of our story we’ll say that she asks how you know when you’re ready to have sex. The mother could sit down and have a frank, honest conversation with her daughter, but instead she chooses to pitch a fit: “You aren’t ready for sex!” she shouts. “You’re not old enough to have sex! You’re too you to be even thinking about sex and I don’t want to hear another thing about it until you’re married!

Fast forward a bit. It could be a few years, it could only be a few weeks. The girl has a boyfriend, and in the infinite wisdom of the young, they decide to get intimate. The girl knows she should be on some kind of birth control, but she has no idea how to get it, and after the last reaction she got there is no way she’s going to talk to her mother about it. Ultimately she ends up going without because, lets face it…kids never think anything bad is going to happen to them. She ends up pregnant. She can’t hide it for long and her mother finds out. Amidst a slew of angry shouting and accusations, the mother releases this gem: “Why didn’t you ask me to get you on the pill?!

Given a number of different possible original conversations and end results, I’d be willing to put money down that most kids have had to deal with this kind of thing. Perhaps it didn’t end with such a dramatic result, but think back: how many of you avoided discussing something very important with your parents because you were terrified of the reaction you’d get? And how many of you had to later deal with your parents’ completely clueless reaction to why you would feel you couldn’t go to them with your problem? Betcha most people reading this are raising their hand right now.

Humans have a very basic learning pattern that is based on cause and effect:
Flower pretty; flower good.
Lightning scary; lightning bad.

This translates to young children in the form of the discipline we give them. If they do something and we laugh, they’re going to keep doing it. If they do something and we scream and yell and send them to their room, chances are they’re going to think twice about doing it again.

It’s no different when it comes to making your children feel comfortable bringing things to you. If they bring you an issue and you’re calm, understanding, and helpful, they learn that you’re a good person to come to with their problems. If you have a fit, yelling and dictating your authority, they’re going to avoid bringing anything to you at all costs.

Consider this when your kids come to you. If they tell you they’re being bullied at school, don’t storm down their and start raving like a lunatic, embarrassing the hell out of them; talk to them about it and come up with a game plan together. If they tell you that they think they have a problem with drugs or alcohol, don’t preach and berate them for being an idiot; praise them for coming to you and work with them to get through it. And for the love of all that is good, even if you still think of your kid as being a child, if they come to you asking about birth control, get it for them. Work in a calm, honest conversation about sex, sure, but absolutely get them the birth control because here’s the thing… Whether we like it or not, and no matter what we do to try and stop them from making stupid mistakes, our kids are ultimately going to end up doing whatever they damn well please. Knowing that, does it make more sense to try (and fail) to force them to make the decisions you want them to make, or to openly and supportively give them the help and information they need to make smart decisions on their own?

Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t go to your parents with something important? What made you feel that way? Did it end up causing problems down the road? Please share! I’d love to hear from you!