Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My "Why 'Just Playing' Is A Shitty Thing To Say" Rant




Some common myths about kids: They are mean. They should accept that other children will be mean to them. They are violent.  Adults think these things and, after a while, so do the children. I don't think anyone, including children, should accept being bullied, hit or pushed around (literally or figuratively). When parents blow off this kind of behavior or tell their children to“suck it up” when they are on the receiving end of it, I think they are setting their child up to be pushed around for the rest of their lives. They're telling their kids that they should just accept it; it’s a part of life. Whether it is in their relationships or the jobs they have chosen, because they have been told their whole lives this is just the way life is.

When violence spills out into "play" with other kids I can’t help but wonder if the kids are acting out what they see in their own homes. And I'm not talking about pretend gun play, sword play kind of violence.  I'm talking about hitting, pushing, bullying kind of violence.  If it were across the board that kids acted violently towards all kids they encountered I might say is it normal, but that isn’t my experience. There seems to be a pattern with children who have never been violent with Austin. Their parents are partners with their kids.  They don't blame, they don't punish, they don't spank or shame their kids.  They don't force apologies or belittle them.  And when their child does something that hurts another they are honest about it with their kids without making excuses.


I don't tell Austin when he has been bullied that it’s “just life”.   I most certainly don't tell him to“suck it up”.   When he is outraged at being hurt on purpose by someone, I don't try to squash that emotion.   I take it very seriously because that emotion is a sign for him that something isn't right.   If he's being pushed around or if someone is hurting him physically, it should feel bad to him.   It should not be something he feels he needs to accept as a part of life.   I hope he never becomes so numb to being pushed around that he just takes it.   I hope he always stands up for himself and lets the abuser know that he is outraged by their attempt to hurt him. Maybe then they'll stop.


Maybe violence towards other children has to do with the general acceptance of treating children disrespectfully. It's what is done to them, so it's what they do to other people who seem smaller and weaker to them.


Austin has been in situations more than once where he was intentionally hurt by a friend. He was once shot at point blank, in his groin, on purpose, by a friend. His mother said he was "just playing". He's had a ball thrown at his face by a friend, point blank and the mom said, "Oh, I'm sure it's just cause he wants to play with you."  Recently, he was pushed down to the ground from behind and then laughed at after he fell. It was explained away to me that this child is "just rough" and was "just playing".  In none of these situations was an apology given to Austin for being hurt.  I was given a "Oh, they’re just playing". The lack of empathy for Austin, who was hurt, is astounding to me. It's assumed that the kids were "just playing" so neither Austin nor I should take the hurt so seriously. In one situation I was accused of being dramatic for being upset because no permanent damage was done!   How is this right? How does this help anyone?




Austin has been the one who has hurt someone while he was playing more than once.  He once threw a stuffed animal at a friend's face before a game catch started, then laughed.  I told him that it wasn't funny. I told him not to throw things at people's faces and apologized for him. When we got in the car we talked about how it hurt his friend to be hit in the face and embarrassed her to be laughed at afterwards. Things like this happen; kids miss the mark with humor. It's our job as parents to help them understand, if they don't already, what is funny and what is mean-spirited. To not help them understand and to write it off as play is doing a disservice to the child, to the parent, to the relationship between the person who was hurt, and the child who hurt him. It doesn't help anyone to defend and justify hurting someone in the name of play.  "It's not "playing a trick" when it makes someone else cry. It's not playing ANYthing if the other person isn't playing. It's bullying, and that's not okay." - Rue Kream


Which brings me to the forced apology that happens oh, so often after one kid hurts another.  All kids know when some one's mom has made them give an insincere apology and it doesn't actually make things better. The kid who received the fake apology doesn't feel heard and the one who was forced hasn't actually processed how he hurt someone.   There is still something between the kids that has yet to be worked out.  For some kids and parents the word "sorry" wipes the slate clean.  All is forgiven without any real thought for how they affected the other person. It's cemented for the kids that they can hurt without care for others when kids hear their parents say "they were just playing". They start to understand that they can do things that are mean and violent, and their parents will back them up and say, "Oh, he was just playing" and that as soon as they say sorry they can move on without real thought for what they did. They can keep playing. Lots of kids and parents accept this explanation. I don't. Austin doesn't. I know what play is and it doesn't involve pain inflicted on purpose. Austin knows what play is and it doesn't involve friends trying to hurt him or laugh at him.  Because that shit isn't funny.


When someone is forced to apologize they miss the feeling of remorse inside that truly evokes change.  When we feel sad that we hurt someone, when we feel regret, we change.  When someone is forced to apologize they are robbed of that opportunity.

I don't think blanket statements like, "kids are mean" help anyone.  It leaves kids feeling they should accept that other kids will be mean to them, that they can be mean because that's just the way they are and it leaves parents with an excuse to fall back on when their kid does something that hurts someone else.


Let's all do each other a favor as parents.  Let's drop "just playing" from our vocabulary and focus on helping our kids navigate what is appropriate ways to play and what isn't when something goes awry, without all the excuses.





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