I wish more parents were proactive.
We had an experience with Zacharie getting bullied this week. At least it was my perception he was being bullied because conversations regarding gender identity and religion were being spun by some peers to single my son out as different and to exclude him.
That was my perception, and to some extent Zacharie’s, because I’m a hyper aware parent who is raising kids who have an understanding of social issues.
Our family watches Survivor. When Zeke’s transgender storyline played out this season, we hit pause on the show and talked about it. When gay contestants on The Amazing Race kiss or hold hands, we hit pause and talk about it. When we watched Hidden Figures, we hit pause a lot and talked about feminism and racism.
My sons are 7 and nearly 10 and whenever a controversial topic comes up, it is talked about immediately with age appropriate language to build a foundation of tolerance, empathy, and respect.
This week I’ve learned that not every parent is like that. Many parents cruise along their lives applying stereotypes, accepting status quo, and not trying to move the needle on raising better children.
Their entire lives my children have been taught there are no such things as boy toys and girl toys, no such thing as boy colours or girl colours. My sons are encouraged to play with what they want (Charlie went through a wicked Shopkins phase with encouragement), wear what makes you happy.
Those lessons aren’t being taught by other parents.
Lunch table rhetoric for kids quickly sinks to lowest common denominator. Is it because of parenting? Is it because of media messaging?
I’m not sure, but when Zacharie told a friend his favorite song was Let It Go by Trevor Guthrie, the kid who hadn’t heard of that song, accused him of liking the song from Frozen and used it as a point to tease and taunt.
The girl teased Zacharie because, according to her world view, Frozen is for girls and boys shouldn’t like that song. My kids didn’t attach to Frozen the way others did, but if they had there would have been zero eyes blinked in our house. It wouldn’t have mattered.
I’m a parenting outlier, and I don’t like it. I’m tired of waiting for other people to step up.
I don’t necessarily think the kids are being outwardly malicious when they tease this way, but because my sons are aware that words matter, that breaking stereotypes matters, that empathy and acceptance and tolerance are life rules, the perception gets twisted.
Trump might call it ‘locker room talk,’ others might say “boys will be boys,” but words matter.
This week, in a fit of competitive frustration, Kevin Pillar of the Toronto Blue Jays screamed a homophobic epithet at a pitcher. Nobody heard what he said, but we could all read his lips. In the post game press conferences it was dismissed as a heat of the moment thing sporting types say.
Later, with the benefit of sober second though, Pillar graciously recanted his outburst with humility and regret.
He was still suspended because words matter. Even in the heat of the moment, words matter. Even when you’re ignorant to their meaning, words matter.
When we dealt with the bullying issue this week we learned that other parents were shocked to discover that discussions of religious tolerance, gender fluidity, and empathy needed to be had with 8, 9, and 10 year old boys.
It hadn’t even crossed their mind.
They were just doing what they do, just keeping up with everyday life, not looking down the road for opportunities to talk to their kids about different issues as they arise.
I don’t want to have a big dump of a conversation with my sons when they suddenly “hit that age,” I want to have a series of small conversations throughout their lives, constantly building on a foundation of acceptance, understanding, empathy, tolerance, and respect.
And that’s why I’ve come to the conclusion that I am a parenting outlier.
My sphere of influence is a group of 1000+ dad bloggers who are active on changing the perception of what it means to be a modern father. We even have a conference dedicated to that messaging and have fought against everyone from Huggies to Amazon to get the message heard.
We are active and engaged with our kids. We realize media messaging matters. We advocate for families. We preach that dads don’t babysit. We want our daughters to have superhero idols and we want to be able to wear Wonder Woman gear.
That’s my bubble. And I’m realizing it’s a bubble as opposed to conventional wisdom.
Other people are just doing what they do, not thinking about it. Instead of empathy, there is apathy. Maybe not a conscious decision to disengage, but there is no effort made to engage.
This is why normals don’t vote. They’re just not bothered to do the work to understand the issues, they’re focused on their immediate situation and just doing what they do.
I am an active and involved dad. Not everyone is.
A continuous theme in the blogosphere is that husbands are useless and countless open letters proclaiming this are written by wives. I’m an outlier.
I don’t give my kids free rein to consume media as how they see fit. We don’t have video game consoles. They make YouTube videos, they don’t daisy chain for hours watching what they want. I manage their social media accounts, they don’t have access to them. They’re not first in line to see big action movies. I’m an outlier.
I talk to my kids about social issues and how to treat other people with respect. I’m an outlier.
I’ve sought out advice from my bubble this week and found some solace in articles on Babble.
Am I missing something here? Should I shaping him to be more controlled and socially acceptable? Pondering such things makes my upper lip furl in a snarl a bit, I must admit. But this is the world we live in, I hear; I am told. We can’t change how other people raise their kids; to not be bullies. We just have to teach our son to learn how to deal with it and develop a thick skin.
[MY SON IS BEING BULLIED, AND I MAY BE TAKING IT HARDER THAN HE IS]
“Maybe your son should try making friends with Trevor,” the assistant principal suggested. Excuse me? Was this the best solution they could offer?
“Wait a minute!” I shouted (probably louder than I intended to), “You’re asking my son to make friends with a child who’s caused him suffering all year long?”
[NO, I DON’T WANT MY SON TO BEFRIEND HIS BULLY]
But I’d suppose that many parents (me included) simply don’t know. They’re certain that their kid could never ever be the bully, OR they’re way too blinded by the understandable nature of being a parent who loves their kid to the point of utter denial.
[TO THE PARENTS OF BULLIES]
Annie Fox, M.Ed. is an education consultant and the author of several books for tweens and teens including the Middle School Confidential series. She also has a blog, where in a post called “My Child? A Bully?” she points out that “no parent wants to admit their kid is a bully, but according to a recent U.S. Department of Justice study, 77% of students nation-wide reported having been bullied, verbally, mentally or physically, in school in the past month. Lots of tormentors. Each one is somebody’s child. Would you know if (s)he was yours?
[HOW DO YOU TELL A PARENT THAT HER KID IS A BULLY?]
The adults in Bully try to shrug things off with kids will be kids. That’s true, to a point. When you have those kinds of raging hormones stewing in a school environment, there is going to be some conflict. But where is the line? When does random horseplay cross over to harmful bullying? How often does a kid have to be warned before there are actual consequences?
[BULLY LEAVES PROBLEMS UNSOLVED]
The rallying cry in my bubble is “we have work to do.” It’s a reminder that not everyone thinks as progressively as we do. I’m deep in the bubble and I can get convinced my reality is conventional wisdom, and then I get kicked, or my son gets kicked, and I remember “we have work to do.”