Tag Archives: children

Lessons Our Children Learn (ii.)

In the previous post, I rambled about false messages parents are sometimes sending to their kids. The original issue that got me started was reading about girls being told that if boys harass them in the playground, that means they like them.

Now, luckily enough, I’m in a position where my daughter never actually was bullied by any of the boys in her school. She just doesn’t seem to be enough of the meek and mild type who becomes the first victim of bullies. Because I know it does happen, even in her primary school. Some of the boys are quite notorious. As a member of the school board I get to hear even more stories than I would otherwise, and I never stop wondering what it is that makes boys consider themselves cool when they set fire to the trashcan by the schoolyard or when they pick on those weaker than them. But neither can I stop wondering when after a weekend or holiday I find broken bottles in a sandbox. I don’t mind teenagers hanging out in a playground, and I don’t mind them drinking beer there any more than anywhere else, but beer bottles don’t break on their own in a sandbox. Sometimes I want to put up signs saying “It’s not cool to pick on weaker people. It’s actually sooooo lame.” Or “It’s no fun to see a toddler cut his hands on a broken bottle.” Or even if the glass gets noticed and the parents take their kid away from it, “It doesn’t make you a man to spoil a toddler’s fun.” When we moved during my first term in primary school, I didn’t think it the least bit cool when the fourth-termers picked on this new kid. What I considered really cool was when this class-mate of mine, who wasn’t even one of my closer buddies, stood up to them and got them off my back.

Recently, I’ve heard problematic behavior in boys and how it seems to become ever more common explained by the way our primary schools work. I remember years ago, girls were said to have a disadvantage at school. They were said to show less class participation allegedly for being shy. They appeared to shy away from anything that was remotely scientific or at least to give up more quickly and explain the supposed failure with a gender-specific, genetic incapability. Even if the latter may not have disappeared, entirely, the whole situation seems to have changed considerably. It was talking to an old friend who fathered a boy a few years ago that I first realized how much, at least primary schools here in Germany, are geared towards girls. There are hardly any male teachers in primary schools, the whole is so much about sitting still, proper handwriting, drawing pictures, and if you’ve done a good job, as a reward you get some colorful sticker pasted into your exercise book. I know that I as an adult sometimes can’t muster the patience for watching my daughter paint her letters rather than write them. Maybe it’s no small wonder that boys grab the first outlet, they can get. Some schools, hereabouts, react to that. They offer extracurricular boys groups, often led by a male teacher, where the boys get to participate in all sorts of activities that they are interested in, typically activities more physical than regular classes. Instead of painting pictures in art classes, they may go and build a wooden hut in a forest, for example. There’s the building of something tangible, the physical exercise of collecting the wood and raising the building, the element of danger using real, maybe sharp tools, which they’ll otherwise typically be protected from. There’s also the experience of faith being put into them by trusting them with the tools and the possibility to learn how to pay back that trust with responsibility. I’m totally in favor of such groups, especially when they set themselves rules and through a male role-model demonstrate that justice and respect are not less manly than bullying your school-mates, quite to the contrary.

Whether school can really teach kids that if they don’t learn it, at home, I’m a little unsure, not to say skeptical. Most adults, today, only seem to care for themselves. What politicians do is good, as long as it is beneficial to me. Everybody can say what they want, as long as they’re not talking nonsense. And nonsense is whenever they take a view that’s different from mine. Take a look at your average, controversial blog article and the comments it gets. I’m not at all surprised it gets as bad as this. It’s my conclusion from my blogging experience that most people just aren’t interested in discourse, they just want to be right (and here’s my issue with the couch-queen’s tag-line.) And whoever contradicts their opinion needs to be ground into the dust. That’s just a fantastic display of respect for other people’s opinions and at the end of the day of respect for other people as such. How can we suppose kids to learn respect with such adults? So many people talk about respect and when you listen to them closely, all they talk about is getting it, not giving. If there’s one thing I hope I’m getting across to my daughter, it’s that, whenever she feels being treated unfairly or disrespectfully by friends, teachers, parents, whoever, (a) don’t accept it and (b) remember what justice or respect demand when it’s you who’s acting.

Like I said, I’m lucky my daughter doesn’t get bullied by boys in her school. On the other hand, the way the girls treat each other feels like a more sophisticated, less physical, but no less effective way of bullying to me. How they compete for being the prettiest, the most popular. How it seems hard to ever have three girls play together without it all ending in two of them competing for the attention of the third. How the worst threat is “You’re no longer my friend.” And how two days later alliances have shifted, again, and two girls who were bitching at each other are suddenly all close again, complaining about another girl. That completely mystifies me. If I had friends who treated me like some of my daughter’s friends treat each other, I’d have told them to take a running jump, years ago. And that, certainly, can’t be reduced to a lack of role-models at school. But maybe, if I had paid more attention to girls in my primary school, I’d know that it’s always been like that. Who knows. Somebody understand girls šŸ˜‰

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Lessons Our Children Learn

When I started blogging, I had some initial disappointing experiences with the blogosphere around issues I care about. Those were detrimental to my blood-pressure, and my zeal for staying abreast things going on on blogosphere lessened. These days, I don’t read blogs much more than I write. Unless it’s for solving specific, technical problems for which search engines direct me to some blog or other. Today, however, I stumbled across a post that made me want to comment. It’s about the stupid things we tell our children and the lessons they learn from them. More specifically, it is about how we still hear people say that if boys bother or harass girls in the playground it means they like them.

The “Queen of the Couch” gets quite upset about this interpretation of the behavior. While I wouldn’t regard bullying at school and abusive relationships as equivalent, it’s maybe fair to point out how learning to accept the former can make women more ready to accept the latter. I certainly agree that adults to whose attention it is brought should not explain it away, because the message that sends out to children is that society endorses the abuse. And in a way it does, more than it should.

Unfortunately, this kind of rubbish being said to kids is just one item on a long list of adult phrases or behaviours that make me wanna blink and go: “Hey, wait a minute. Listen to yourself and think about what you’re saying.” I mean, it’s not just that we teach the girl to interpret harassment as a display of affection. It also, and you can stop wondering why a boy being bullied never hears this explanation, conveys something about how we see women and their role in society. The girl hears: “He hurt you, but that means he likes you.” And that’s supposed to make it alright? Why’s that? Because we assume that that’s what women want out of life. Sure, everybody appreciates other people appreciating them, but at what price do you buy appreciation? Do we want it to be the primary goal, in life? Well, who am I to teach, but I’d say “No.” I don’t want my daughter to even try to be liked by everybody, to think that it’s desirable. Because, if you set yourself that goal, you’re setting yourself for failure. What I want my daughter to learn from rejection (or abuse, as it were, and if it cannot be avoided,) is that not everybody she’ll meet in her life is going to like her. And with some people she may be causing that through her behaviour, which she can then reflect on and potentially change. But some people will dislike her for no fault of her own, or no particular reason, whatsoever. And that’s OK, because if those people turn personal dislike into abuse, then they’re probably jerks. She’s already learned that not all teachers are always fair or free of personal preferences, which I’ve always thought was something kids don’t need to learn in primary school, already. But the important bit is to help her recognize unfair, or generally unacceptable behaviour as such, help her deal with it, and if there really is no way to entirely change it let her know that that doesn’t make the behaviour any more acceptable, nor means there is anything wrong with her.

I really don’t understand why we keep teaching our daughters that anything is alright, as long as they’re being liked. I mean, have we all read too much Coleridge? The woman’s desire is rarely other than for the desire of the man. I mean, I may be lacking testosterone, but I like being wanted, myself. I won’t let it justify abuse, though. And there are also, quite a few other things I like, too. Why do we keep believing, that all a woman really cares about is a guy’s attention? What’s more, why do we keep making it true by planting that idea into the heads of our kids?

Well, as much as I may wonder about that, I don’t wonder about it any more than I wonder about a ton of other, similarly wrong messages we are sending to our kids. Like, when parents react to a child’s anger by saying they must be tired and sending them to bed. Again, I feel like this is something occurring to girls more often than boys, and then you wonder why some adult women get tired in situations when the should become angry. You need to learn that anger can actually be an appropriate reaction, but if you’re supposed to be liked by everybody and their abuse isn’t so bad, because it’s actually a weird display of affection, then that’s rather hard. Or what about parents who think children are some kind of small adults to who you can explain things and who must then be swayed by the superior prudence of the parents, only to wake up one day to find they can’t handle the pressure you can get from a kid that means to test out his or her limits. What’s the most common reaction? Well, I obviously cannot make any claims to my experiences being statistically representative, but chances are the parents will either get their children into some kind of therapy. Or, if they are more into alternative medicine, apply some kind of homeopathic globules. Do the kids need any medication? Probably not. Does anybody need a therapy? Well, maybe. But I feel it’s more often the parents than the children. What’s the message this is sending to the kids? It says, there is something wrong with you. They will learn that when they show their anger, when they are stubborn, when they resist their oppressor (which is a role parents can assume from a child’s perspective,) then that’s some sort of pathological behavior. Normal people are meek. Normal people don’t talk back. And they may even learn that that’s a situation where pills help. I don’t want my daughter to learn that whenever she feels a little upset, there’s a pill that will calm her down. Nor that she should fear her own emotions and maybe pop a pill even before getting upset.

I think, we’re sending way too many of such counterproductive messages to our children. Partly, I guess, that is because we keep following the patterns that we learned from our parents. And though many parents may say they want to do things better than what they experienced themselves, and even when they succeed, it feels like the best that happens is improvements by degrees. I mean, I catch myself, sometimes, and flinch at what I just did and what it must look like to my daughter. Sometimes I can make it right, sometimes not. I manage to refuse to use any corporeal punishment, and I will never let my daughter hear a sentence like “If you don’t learn to behave, we’ll send you to a boarding school.” Improvement by degrees, interspersed with many blunders. I guess, I should create a weekly reminder to make me reflect on my own behavior, consider the messages I’m sending, and make sure that between all the wrong messages, the one message that her parents’ love for her is unshakable can be heard, clearly, through all the noise.

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Happy Birthday Astrid Lindgren

Astrid Lindgren would have celebrated her 100th birthday today.

Is there anything left unsaid about the inventor of such marvellous characters as Pippi LĆ„ngstrump (Pippi Longstocking)? Maybe not a lot, maybe not to everbody. But some things bear repeating lest people should remain who have not heard it.

For one thing, everybody should read Astrid Lingren’s memorable speech “Niemals Gewalt” held when she received the “Peace Award” of the German book trade. To hear her relate the story of the boy being sent outside by his mother to look for a stick so she can punish him who then returns with a stone because he couldn’t find a stick is a healthy reminder to everybody who has any contact with children. It nearly drives tears in my eyes just writing about it. I suppose there are lots of young parents who swore they’d never treat their children like their own parents treated them (and I’m not talking about corporal violence alone, nor was Astrid). But it’s hard work, it doesn’t come easy or naturally, and a reminder like that from time to time can only help.

The other thing is: I just heard from a literary scholar that the fact that Pippi Lonstocking did not only have an anti-authoritarian quality but was also anti-totalitarian in general, i. e. beyond education. And I was thinking, “Woah, what were you reading all the time?” I mean, isn’t it absolutely obvious that that book is anti-totalitarian? Isn’t it obvious that somebody who believes in anti-authoritarian education must also believe in anti-totalitarian policies? And isn’t it just plain obvious from even a casual read that the book is not only anti-totalitarian but plain anarchical? And, of course, that is just why children all around the world love it. It’s the freedom from the constraints of the grim adult world that is so fascinating and offers such a retreat for gathering strength to face the world again knowing it does not have to be what it is, esp. (but not only) to children who have so little power over their own lives. If literary scholars haven’t understood that, before, I can only assume that that’s because my former colleagues are not taking children’s literature for serious. They tend to think that every message contained in children’s books must be confined to the realm of children and education, as if the children’s world was separate from our’s.

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