Friday, December 15, 2017

Teaching Respect from an Early Age.

Bear with me. This was written about a month ago, but it's still relevant.

It has already begun. My child, not yet in kindergarten, now has a “me too” story. She told me last night about a boy in her class that is constantly calling her names that had to do with her butt. When I asked my daughter if she responded to the kid and told him how it made her feel, she said yes, but that he continues to do it. Cue the momma bear instincts. My child is 4 years old, nearly 5. I cannot believe that I’m having to help her through this at such a tender age. Her father and I counseled her to tell the boy that she didn’t like the way he talked to her, and to tell him that if he continues to talk to her that way, he will be ignored. That wasn’t enough for me, though. I had a talk with the kid’s teacher. The teacher assured me that it will be addressed, and that it’s not the first time this behavior from the kid has been called to her attention. The school in which our kids are enrolled has “character trait of the month” where kids learned different traits of being a good human. Apparently my daughter’s harasser missed the entire month where respect was being taught.
            And before you get all “they’re just kids being kids on me,” listen. This is where it starts. At 5, we dismiss a young man’s behavior as “a kid being a kid.” When kids get older, it’s “boys will be boys.” All of this conditions these children to believe that they can say (and sometimes do) whatever they want, regardless of how it impacts others, and without consequence. That has to stop now. As parents, it is our duty to enforce respect from the beginning. We do it when a young kid tries to take a toy away; we tell them they need to wait their turn. It should be no different when a child decides to call another a name, pick on, or otherwise tormeNnt another kid. Anti-bullying campaigns are a thing now. Because for years, parents outright dismissed bullying behavior.
As a society, we’re smarter now. We know the damage that can be done by leaving bullying unchecked. The same needs to be said about sexual harassment. A 5 year old might not be able to identify or explain sexual harassment. But by turning the other cheek and dismissing the behavior, we’re enforcing the seeds that enable harassment later in life. Now I’m not arguing that every 5 year old boy that calls someone a name is going to turn out to be a habitual harasser. But if we don’t teach them now that it’s inappropriate to call someone a name, particularly when the other child has already expressed that it makes them uncomfortable, then when will they be taught? We’re now seeing the outcome of rampant sexual harassment going unchecked in our society. These harassers have been conditioned that it’s their privilege to violate someone else’s space. I’m guessing none of them woke up at twenty and decided “You know what? I’m going to start sexually harassing people today.”
            It’s time we enforce the idea with our kids that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. That means if a person has told you a behavior is bothersome, it needs to stop. Even among siblings, a firm line should be set. What might seem ‘cute’ now has a chance to snowball into full on sexual harassment later. Now I’m no perfect parent. I struggle with drawing the line between sibling arguments and harassing behavior. I tend to be stricter with my children’s behavior toward kids that aren’t their family. But a near-5 year old might not be able to understand the subtle nuances between when it’s “okay” to taunt and when it’s not. I also realize my complicit enabling of this behavior with my son. He has picked up on the verbiage from his and my daughter’s classmate (my kids are twins, after all) and has said it to his sister, his father, and me. It took my daughter’s words to make me “woke.” It also forced me to recall all the times I was called names, particularly sexual in nature, by kids in my neighborhood. When I told my parents about it, guess what they said? “Oh, he must like you,” or “Oh, that’s just how boys are.” I certainly never condoned my son using the same words, but by not shutting it down, I was subtly telling him that it was ok to behave that way. This ends now. So, parents, I implore you to stay vigilant. Even words that might seem ‘cute’ now can be cutting, and behaviors that go unchecked from an early age can snowball. Let’s work together to change the narrative of sexual harassment.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Things that Make you go.. Hmmm.

I'm sitting on my couch, watching house remodeling shows on HGTV when a commercial comes on for Lowes, touting the 'need' to remodel a bathroom for a household of 4 people with 1 vanity. And I was struck in the face about the dichotomy of my life. Growing up, there were times that my family used food stamps to make ends meet. I lived in a trailer for some amount of time when I was in 1st grade, where we had to walk down to the shower house to get bathed because there was no running water in the shower in the winter. When we finally lived in a house that my family owned, it was a 3 bedroom, 1 bath, 1,200 square feet, 100 year old duplex that didn't even have a shower. As a teenager, I was privileged to live on the other side of the duplex, where there was at least a shower. Being the oldest and the only girl, I even had my own bedroom on the 3rd floor.

Flash forward to this evening. I'm sitting comfortably in my larger-than-needed, 3.5 bath house, and I'm watching this commercial going "WTF?. Since when does more than one bathroom sink in a house of 4 people become a 'need?'" And I feel so hypocritical. At what point in time did my norm of living go from a single bathroom for 6 people to a toilet for every member of my 4 person household? When did I drink the Kool-aid? I realize that I'm not alone. Average single-family houses have nearly doubled in square footage in the past 50 years1. So it leaves me with this question: What constitutes a 'need'? Clearly. My family doesn't need a toilet-per-person to survive. But somewhere along the lines, that became a just-what-you-do kind of situation. Am I ruining my children by providing them more than what they need to thrive? I'm already acutely aware that they will grow up way more privileged than me, given the contrast between my own and their upbringing. They will never experience what it's like to be made fun of because they went to school in ratty clothing. I'll never forget the moment in grad school, when a well-to-do roommate of mine asked me the question "Is this the nicest place you've ever lived in?" I had to think about it for a minute. I assessed the state of our 5-year old, builder grade2 townhouse and responded with a resounding "Yes." 

So here I am. Wanting to offer my kids the opportunities I never had in life, but also struggling with the feeling like I'm betraying the hard-learned, but very important lessons I learned about the true difference between "wants" and "needs." And I suppose I'm not really looking for an answer, per se. Because however we choose to teach our kids those important life lessons will all depend on so many different variables that it's impossible to predict them all. 

This is just the most recent instance of what I call "Things that make you go.. hmm."3

1. There are many statistics on this. I've seen them, but at the moment, I'm too lazy to go look them up. But don't take my word for it. Feel free to Google it yourself. 
2. The very fact that I know the definition of that phrase means one of two things - either I watch too many home renovation shows, or my privilege is showing. I think it's both. 
3. If you don't get this reference, you're either too old to too young to read my blog. ;-) Just kidding. It's a real thing though. I swear.