Wednesday, April 30, 2014

So What, Who Cares? Yikes, My Kids Are Learning About Sex on the Playground!

Dear Erin,

My daughter has been coming home from school with all sorts of information about the birds and the bees that she didn't get from us.  Eventually, we learned that one of her 2nd grade classmates has been "enlightening" the class with information that is at best exaggerated -- at worst, completely invented.  After complaints from parents, the teachers tried to intervene.  The child and his parents denied responsibility.  They claim their child doesn't know anything about sex to begin with as they "haven't had that conversation with him yet."  What can we do to protect our child and get this to stop?


Dear TMI:

Kids say the darndest things.   Most of the time, their misguided utterances seem pretty harmless. Consider this jumble of misinformation that my kids brought home this year: 1) Taylor Swift has had 500 boyfriends,  2) North Korea is going to start a world war (and win),  3) Women can’t vote,  4) Guinea pigs are cannibals, and 5) Someone’s uncle is making a movie about their recess game.

When kids get stuff wrong, parents can usually just straighten them out.
My personal responses to those fact nuggets, for example, were pretty simple: 
1)Wrong.  2)Wrong.  3) Sexist and Wrong.  4) Maybe.  5) Um. No. Creepy.

What I can’t tell from your letter is if little Billy Birds and Bees is harmless, or outright offensive.  I mean, if the kid is going beyond bad facts – e.g. Taylor Swift is a sexual cannibal, or my uncle gave birth to a guinea pig – to details about human sexuality that are violent, graphic, or terribly age-inappropriate, then those parents were right to enlist the help of teachers.  In extreme cases, a school should probably respond with age-appropriate sanctions. 

Since you used the word protect, though, perhaps you don’t find the kid so harmless.  Perhaps it bothers your daughter to hear this graphic dialogue.  If the other parents are defensive, or in denial -- and the school refuses to challenge them -- parents like you are left to wonder how you can stop the sex, lies, and inaccuracy on your own.

I assume you’ve already told your daughter that this lad is an unreliable informant.  We can’t control the crazy of other parents, the crazy of their kids, or the inaction of authorities.  But we can exert some control over our children’s personal filters.  We can urge our children to report unsolicited rumors to us, then help them fact check, in the privacy of our own homes.  Will that be enough for you?  Maybe.  Perhaps Billy just has a mysterious and untreated hormone imbalance.  Once he stops eating soy, maybe he’ll stop acting out, and start having whatever conversation it is, that his parents think they've already had.

Or maybe that won’t be enough.  Maybe his chatty ways are still bothering your daughter, or disrupting her education, or presenting her with concepts she isn't old enough to filter.   In that case, I can offer this potentially relevant story.

Many years ago, I took a job in an office, and was placed on a team with several men who were predisposed to sexual banter.  They talked about their sex lives.  They asked about mine. They commented on my looks.   I tried to make it clear that, uh, I was busy working.  A few months into this job, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I told my supervisor that they were disrupting my ability to do my job. 

My supervisor told me that legally, I could file a complaint.  I could escalate it through "proper channels."   Practically, though, this wasn’t likely to accomplish much.  My colleagues might be reprimanded.  I’d have to confront them more publicly.  And since I still might have to work with them, this might be a bad outcome. For me.   Instead, he suggested I simply ask them to stop.   I’ve tried that, I protested.   Try it again, he said.  This time, don’t smile.  Don’t sound friendly.  Look them in the eyes.  Tell them you need it to stop.  Immediately.

And you know, it was great advice.  I think of myself as a fairly brazen chick.  But really, I hadn’t even realized how much I undermined my own message – in a stereotypically female way, I suppose -- through facial expressions, verbal cues, and body language.  Ultimately, was I a bad feminist for failing to escalate through proper channels?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  In any case, that's not the issue we're debating here.  But more to the point, it totally worked!  It didn’t force a big legal thing.  Or make anyone defensive.  It just delivered the best outcome.

I don’t know how relevant this story is to your conundrum.  I just know that oftentimes, the proper channels can’t protect us. Or our kids.  If ignoring, and correcting, and legally escalating hasn’t fixed the problem to your satisfaction, maybe it’s time to empower your daughter to just let Billy have it.  To tell him she’s wise to his lies.  That his teaching style isn’t working for her.   That she’s dropping his class.   Shut the kid down.

It’s nice to be nice.  Especially on the playground.  But sometimes the best outcome is to stop getting along, and start speaking the truth to crazy.   Good luck.  

1 comment:

Katie said...

Sound advice. I'm always in favor of giving kids the proper tools for fighting their own battles.