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.

Be Your Kid’s Cheerleader, Not Their Bodyguard

As a kid I was what some people might refer to as a “nerd”, and other people might refer to as a “geek”. Some people may have even classified me as a “loser” or a “dork”. It wouldn’t have been way out there to hear someone call me a “dweeb”. I had all the qualities of these many descriptors: I enjoyed school and was good at it, I loved writing and drawing, I only had one or two good friends, I had no sense of fashion or what was “cool” at any given time, I was fairly shy, and I liked lots of things that were considered to be (at the time) things that only nerds liked, like Star Wars, anime, and RPG video games.

I mean, come on...look at those walls! LOOK AT THOSE WALLS!
I mean, come on…look at those walls! LOOK AT THOSE WALLS!

The thing is, when I look back at my childhood I know that I actually had it pretty good. I got along with kids from all social groups, and though I was often teased and tormented I was actually fairly well-liked overall. And yet, if you had asked 10-year-old me, or 12-year-old me, or 15-year-old me, she would have had a grocery list of complaints to make, because that’s the thing about kids: they see things very differently and react explosively. That’s what we have to remember when dealing with young’uns.

For example, when I was young I was an excellent student, but I was dramatically lacking when it came to things that were important to all the other kids. I remember once when I was in the 5th grade, a couple of kids in my class were talking about “Green Day”. I remember wondering why they were talking about Saint Patrick’s Day in the middle of November. I had absolutely no idea that Green Day was a band and I felt like a total loser when I finally figured it out. I was regularly tormented for not knowing about the “important” bands, TV shows, and celebrities.

I was even pretty pathetic when it came to normal “kid” lingo. I read constantly and had a great vocabulary for my age, but when it came to things that kids say to one another I just didn’t get it. Once, I can remember one of the girls in my class told me that one of the boys in my class thought I was a “fox”. I had absolutely no idea what that meant. I didn’t know whether to be amused or upset. The boy in question was the kind of guy who was friendly enough but also a bit of a torment, so I didn’t know if being a “fox” was a good thing or if he was teasing me. In this particular case my ignorance showed clear through; the girl actually ended up asking me if I knew what a “fox” was because she could see the twitchy confusion on my face. I felt like a complete idiot as I tried to convince her that I did, even though I didn’t. And then even after I was clear on the definition, I didn’t know if the boy was being serious or mean, because I was not the kind of girl that boys liked and I knew it.

These kinds of things were exacerbated by the “normal” kid’s ability to be annoyingly ignorant toward the “nerdy” kid. When I would draw, for instance, I tended to draw in an anime style, and the result was a constant barrage of, “Oooh, is that Sailor Moon?” which is significantly more annoying than it sounds. In this vein everything I did or said was assumed to be related to Sailor Moon or Star Wars, because if a kid happens to like these kinds of things every other kid in the world will assume that that’s all there is to that kid. For a large chuck of my life I was designated to be the “kid who likes Star Wars”, and as far as some were concerned that was my only defining feature.

As I’ve mentioned before, these kinds of things, though they seem meaningless to an adult, are a huge deal to kids. Kids are emotional. Kids are quick to temper. Kids are cruel to each other. Kids are stupid.

The reason I mention all of this is because when you have a bunch of little things slowly building up and niggling at a kid’s mind, eventually it will come to a head and there will be an outburst of some kind. For me, the eventual outburst was a good thing. You see, my two best friends and I were picked on fairly regularly in junior high school. One of those two friends was the biggest target simply because she was the quietest and therefore the easiest (see previous paragraph about kids being cruel). One day in gym class we were going to be playing badminton, and while our teacher was distracted by showing one of the kids the proper swing, some of the “popular” kids were amusing themselves by hitting birdies at my friend. It was the kind of thing that she had endured before, and normally did so by gritting her teeth and trying to ignore them. On this day, however, she cracked, and on the tenth or eleventh birdie to the back of the head she twirled around and chucked her racket at the kids as hard as she could. Her reaction was the straw that broke the camel’s back for the other friend and I. Up until that point we had always been calm, quiet, and soft-spoken, but at that moment we snapped. I don’t even remember half of what either of us said. I do remember that there was an incredible amount of profanity involved, and that I ended up with my finger right in the face of one particular girl who looked, in that moment, like she was absolutely terrified that I was going to beat her face in. And the thing is, I actually may have, if our teacher hadn’t run over at that moment, grabbed my friends and I, and dragged us off to her office. I don’t remember much of that talk either, except for the fact that I was crying while we were trying to defend ourselves and I was so mad that I couldn’t stop.

We three ended up getting sent home for lunch early that day. At my grandmother’s house I explained to my mother and grandmother what had happened and that my two friends had already said that they weren’t going back to school that afternoon. After listening carefully my mother told me that I could stay home too if I wanted, but that she strongly suggested I return for the afternoon classes. She told me that not showing up would just show those kids that they’d won in the end. I hated that so much, you have no idea, but I returned to school that afternoon and spent the entire rest of the day sitting alone, knowing that the entire class was watching me, waiting to see if I’d snap again. Those three or so hours were some of the hardest I’d ever experienced. It was all I could do not to burst into tears every time I saw someone staring at me.

But as I said, in the end, the outburst that my friends and I had turned out to be a good thing for us. No one messed with us after that, and in honesty we seemed to gain quite a bit of respect. Life became a hell of a lot easier from there on out. And I truly believe that those “popular” kids learned something that day…in fact, one of them recently informed me that she’d felt extremely bad about that incident and apologized profusely for being a jerk.

Here’s the thing though…that incident could have gone a hell of a lot differently. For one thing, I could have forgone the screaming and cursing and gone right to bashing a girl’s face in. We could have done nothing at all and instead self-medicated in secret with drugs or self-harm. My friends and I could have let everything build and build and build until we ended up with major depression or anxiety or any other number of things. We could have wound up in a very different place. One of us could have even resorted to suicide. I would never in a million years have said that any of us were ever capable of that, but people often say that of kids who do end up taking the final plunge.

Now, these days we pay a lot of attention to bullying, especially it’s cyber-counterpart. And that’s good, for sure. We definitely don’t want to ignore the problem. But if you want to know my honest opinion, I think we spend way too much time focusing on the cause and not enough time focusing on the effects. Sure, it would be great if we could stop bullying all together and save all our kids from having to deal with that kind of mental, emotional, and sometimes even physical anguish, but we can’t. Not really. We can’t be on top of our kids every hour of every day, and no matter what we do or say to bullies they will continue to do what they do because that’s just the way they are. To reiterate: kids are cruel. They will always be cruel. We as parents and teachers and concerned adults can do what we can, but  some bullies will always work around the systems and thus some kids will always be bullied. Therefore, I suggest focusing more on the effects. Look for the signs. Keep your eyes open for changes in the way your kid acts. Be vigilant, but don’t hover, because kids recognize that kind of thing and they hate it. Don’t be forceful and demanding, but talk to your kids, let them know that they can talk to you. Don’t overreact. Kids won’t tell you that they’re being bullied if they think you’re going to go stomping over to the bully’s house to yell at their parents (hint: no matter how much you think it’s a good idea, that kind of thing results in MORE BULLYING). Your kids want you on their side, but they want you on their side on their terms. Your kids don’t always need you to fix the problem: sometimes they just need you to acknowledge the problem and let them know that you have faith in them to deal with it. Like my mother listened to my story about my breakdown and encouraged me to return to school to show the bullies that they hadn’t won, sometimes all your kid really needs is to know that you believe in their ability to face their own problems head-on.

Being a kid is rarely easy, and lots of horrible things have happened as a result of that, but our kids don’t need us to be their bodyguards; they need us to be their cheerleaders.

Distractions are…um…hold that thought for just one second…

This past weekend my husband and I celebrated the dual joys of our 4th wedding anniversary, and the marriage of two friends of ours. We enjoyed a beautiful ceremony in the lovely community of Cheticamp, whilst also spending time with another married couple who we hadn’t seen in a long time, and marked the whole thing off by staying at a sweet little chalet along the coast. It was all quite lovely.

Because it was our anniversary, we were inevitably asked what we got each other, and my husband got to tell our companions that he bought me a Playstation Vita.

For our wedding anniversary.

Because I asked for it.

Hey, if you’ve been reading this blog for a while and haven’t yet figured out that I’m a total and utter dork…now you know.

Hubby bought me a Wi-Fi version Vita with a 32 GB memory card, connected it to his Playstation Network account, and downloaded a bunch of free games for me (Sony, don’t ever change your Playstation Plus system…you’re definitely doing it right), plus he picked up Rayman Origins at Walmart. Since last week I’ve been glued to this little handheld joy-box. The Vita definitely has it’s flaws, as any gaming system tends to, but I’m absolutely loving it.

And that’s a bad thing.

Okay, it’s a good thing because it was a present and I wanted it, so obviously one would hope that I enjoy playing with it. But it’s a bad thing because it is a positive time vampire. This morning I got up at about 8:30 am and started playing it. Other than to put it aside long enough to get breakfast for the baby, a coffee for the hubby, and to dance with the baby when she suddenly decided I had to dance with her, I didn’t put the Vita down until 1:00 pm. I got a dozen or so Rayman trophies, and that is all I accomplished all morning.

This is the face of my procrastination.

I didn’t write, I didn’t edit. I definitely didn’t exercise. I didn’t do any laundry or dishes, and I didn’t start tidying up the guest room (which I have to do because we have two days worth of guests coming next weekend). I didn’t even really get dressed. I put on a pair of jeans long enough to run out to the car for something, but I couldn’t be bothered to throw a bra on under my shirt, and I still haven’t as I’m typing this. The baby is still wearing her pajamas. I only just took something out of the deep freeze for supper, and I haven’t established what I’m going to do with it yet. The kitty litter is full and the cats’ streaming water dish has been broken for several days. There are a ton of leftovers in the fridge that have gone bad and I haven’t thrown them out. There are about ten boxes of old baby clothes in the hallway that I’ve been meaning to go through so I can send some stuff to consignment.

But instead of dealing with any of these things that need dealing with, I played my new Playstation Vita for four and a half hours straight. And if I’m totally honest? The only reason I actually stopped playing is because I realized that battery was dying. Yes, the only thing that dragged me away from my gaming is the fact that battery scientists (that’s a thing, right?) haven’t figured out how to make mobile batteries last longer yet.

Distractions are a terrible thing when you’re in a position that requires you to be self-motivated. Currently I am not employed; I’m working on my writing, but I’m not in a position where I am getting paid or compensated in any way. That means that every morning when I get up I have to look at myself in the mirror and tell myself, “Okay. You are going to get some damn work done today!” And then I have to try to follow through with it. I have to pick my own self up, with no hope of any kind of payment of any form, and I have to force myself to sit down and write. That in and of itself wouldn’t be too bad, except for the fact that while I’m trying to force myself to write I also have to deal with a child who thinks I should wear little pink play glasses all day, and a household worth of chores and errands that never seem to slack off in any sense of the word.

Distractions are terrible and they must be eliminated. They must be stricken from the lifestyle. It is the only way. Only when distractions have been completely removed will one be able to go on with one’s day productively and efficiently.

Unfortunately, I’m way too distracted by my shiny new Vita to get on with eliminating my distractions right now, so if you don’t mind…

This is the face of my procrastination.