On Sunday afternoon we took the kids to a local playground. The sun was shining, the air was crisp; a perfect Fall day.
The weather brought out lots of other families and the playground was busy. There were a few other boys around my son's age - maybe a little older - and, being a pretty social kid, Gavin tried to join in with their game. The group obviously knew each other and weren't quite sure what Gavin was up to. They started mocking him, "Stop copying us! Dude, stop copying. Leave us alone. Dude."
Poor Gavin. He wasn't sure what was going on, but he got the message. "Mom, those boys don't want to play with me!" It still hurts my heart to hear that, because what Mom ever wants to know that other kids don't want to play with their child? Granted, he has to do some work on his socializing skills, but he's three! He will learn soon enough that not everyone likes to be roared at by dinosaurs, and he's working on asking people what their names are instead of yelling, "Hey! Boy!"
So if you were watching your sons tease another little boy, what would you do? One mother suggested that her daughter ask Gavin if he wanted to play with her, which she dutifully did. But already the gender roles started to rear their heads, and she - unintentionally - left Gavin behind when she noticed Mia had pierced ears, a novelty. We ended up moving to another nearby playground where both kids had a great time, at least until the same boys came and started teasing Gavin again. The afternoon ended early.
It got me wondering if this desire to tease, to make fun, is inherent or if it is taught. How do I let my kids learn their own way while still staying respectful of other people? How does one learn the difference between harmless teasing and bullying? And is any teasing really harmless, especially when kids are too young to know better?
These were the questions on my mind when I read this today. How that mother must have felt, to know that her son was being punished socially for just being himself. And now she has to let him go. I can't imagine that kind of pain. Kids are cruel - I certainly did/said things when I was a teenager that I'm not proud of now - but should the anti-bullying campaigns stop with their peers. What role do we as parents have in directing our children's' behavior?
It's not enough for kids to hear over and over from Ryan Seacrest or whoever that It Will Get Better. They need to have it reinforced at home that it is not okay to make fun of people for being gay or another race or religion or for having purple hair. Will they cave to peer pressure and join in the teasing on occasion? Probably. But they don't have to be cruel. As parents, we have a role in making sure that it does, in fact, get better. After all, what if our child is the next one to decide that it won't?