I think you’re really going to enjoy this installment of our column, Parenting Styles. It resonated so much with me and what I’ve experienced this year with both my 7-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. I’ve found that it can go both ways as far as unwanted attention and it’s something parents don’t seem to know how to address…
Something happened a few weeks ago, and I’m still mulling it over.
My daughter, a first grader, invited us to her classroom presentation, some goats and trolls thing with cute songs and clapping and, somewhat unrelated but still sweet, every child individually announcing reasons they have to be thankful.
We applauded everyone for the usual lists – “my family,” “my house,” “my teacher,” but then, at the end of one little boy’s turn, we heard, “I’m thankful for my girlfriend!”
Around us, parents laughed and clapped as the first graders breathed a collective “oooooh!!” and turned to look pointedly at our daughter, who stood there grimly, eyebrows raised and mouth pursed.
My husband gave me a look that said, I’m going to kill that kid, just as the mother in front of us turned around to coo, “Oh my goodness, that is the cutest thing!”
I tried to smile.
After school that day, we got the scoop: This little boy had been insisting for weeks that our daughter G was his girlfriend. He chased her at recess to give her hugs that she told us she didn’t want. She said she told him to stop it every time, but he wouldn’t and so she just outran him whenever she could.
While my husband instructed her, in all seriousness, to Thai kick his head the next time he bothered her, I had a flashback to a few weeks prior. We were on the playground after school. I chatted with a few other moms while the kids ran off some energy, and suddenly, G made a beeline to me, screaming, “Mom! Mom!” She collided with me, wrapping her arms around me, just as a little boy came racing up.
“Hug, hug!” he shouted, arms already out wide. G turned her face toward me, squeezing tighter, saying “No!”
I put my hand out and spoke without thinking.
“Hey. When a girl tells you to stop, you stop. Do you understand?”
He looked at me with big eyes and nodded yes. When he ran off, I asked G if she was okay, if that was a game they normally played. She said he chased her all the time and sometimes she didn’t like it. But she seemed fine, and skipped off to the slides.
I made a mental note, and then I spaced it completely until the morning before the first grade show. As we got ready for school, G complained about having to go. She said her teacher had rearranged desks, and now she sat right across from the little boy who had been chasing her.
I asked her if this kid was still bothering her, and she nodded, brow furrowed. I told her I’d speak to her teacher, and this time, I got as far as drafting an email before deleting it, deciding this needed to be handled in person. But that afternoon, we did the pick-up line so we could race off to karate. I told G I’d talk to her teacher the following day.
I forgot, distracted by our spur-of-the-moment decision to take the kids out for an after-school treat at the frozen yogurt shop. That’s when she told us about the girlfriend thing, and I realized that the chasing/hugging had really escalated.
I felt like crap. I’d dropped the ball at least twice. But I wouldn’t do it again.
The next day, I stood outside the classroom, waiting for the bell. I rehearsed what I planned to say, something about patterns being established early, and boys needing to know that no means no, whether it’s unwanted attention or physical touching.
I wanted to be clear that my daughter didn’t need to put up with any kind of harassment – because that’s what this was – and that it was affecting her desire to come to school.
I felt the need to be calm and clear, with bulletproof logic. I thought about the mom the day of the classroom presentation, the one who thought a six year old having a girlfriend was cute. Sure, they were six, but did it matter?
I shouldn’t have worried. G’s teacher didn’t find any of it cute. She was, seriously, incredible. I got as far as bringing up the girlfriend remark when she stopped me.
“Oh my goodness, and I moved her right across from him,” she said, hand over her mouth. She continued briskly, “Don’t worry, we will address this immediately. We’ve actually had an issue with him about something similar already.”
She said, in effect, it was behavior that needed to be corrected immediately, and she wasn’t joking.
We called G into the classroom, where she was allowed to choose any spot in the room for her new spot. Her teacher told her that if the little boy chased her again, touched her, or made her uncomfortable in any way, to tell her immediately. She apologized for not catching it earlier, and she promised to be more vigilant (which was unnecessary, but thoughtful).
Turns out, this little boy had already had a meeting with the principal about something related (don’t ask me what, G’s teacher was professionally discreet). He had been told that if his behavior continued, they would be meeting with his parents.
Does that seem harsh for a six year old who wants to chase and hug the girls? I don’t know. But I do know that if one of my sons was doing the same thing, I’d want to hear about it. And I’d take it pretty damn seriously.
Things have settled down, so whatever the principal and teacher told this little boy, it seems to have sunk in. I’m grateful for that, because we live in a world where boundaries seem to be pushed all too often. We read horrible stories about high school rapes and men shooting women who turn them down – behavior and a sense of entitlement that truly stuns and horrifies me.
I don’t know where any of that comes from, but I do believe that learning to stop when you’re told to stop, understanding everyone deserves to be respected, and knowing how to check your own damn ego are all lessons we need to learn. And those lessons should start early.
I don’t like the girlfriend/boyfriend thing for little kids. I just don’t. It goes hand-in-hand with the hyper-sexualization of kids who are way too young for this stuff. It’s not cute, it’s not funny, and it needs to stop.
In this case, at least, it has.
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