Screen Shot 2012-10-08 at 10.18.48 AM

The Kid Experiment

I think it’s fair to judge a society on how it cares for and attends to its children, animals, and last on the list – women.  I think in a way, a child is a social experiment.  Sure, the great majority of that rearing is up to the parents and its teachers, but there are moments where we, as a whole humanity, say loudly, “this is what we want the world to look like in the future.”

 

I’m thinking about a couple of stories this morning.  One is about the North Vancouver yearbook debacle (or tragedy depending upon how you look at it) that I read about in the Huffington Post.  Here’s a short synopsis – a young boy, named Rob, horribly bullied, and hated at school for most of the years he attended, goes to pick up his yearbook.  Under each student’s picture and name, there are a list of goals, dreams, or adjectives used to describe the students.  The words are theoretically used as a way to sum up one’s hopes and dreams as they leave school.

 

There is one word under Rob’s picture:  FAG.

 

Now, let’s be clear here.  This is not a word scribbled in pen by another feck-wad of a student.  This is a word printed in indelible typeface in EVERY copy of the yearbook, under his name by a printing house.  A word that clearly must’ve been passed over by the eyes of the student yearbook committee, the appointed supervising member of the faculty, and the printing facility.  Granted, this all happened a long time ago to Rob (circa 1970)…but still.

 

But, still.

 

All credit, Huffpost, link below.

 

That’s really the immediate response I have.  “But, still.”  A third grade response for a third grade act.  Because I mean how, HOW, can people sit by and let that happen?  Never mind that the guy is straight, and raced out of high school, not even attending his graduation day to marry his high school sweetheart.  Never mind the fact that he’s not even gay.  Never mind it.  The point is that it happened.  We (as in society) let it happen.

 

It reminds me of a story that Wifesy told me once.  A young man that she used to work with walked through an alley in Venice on the way to his car.  He saw a group of younger, teenage, boys in the alley huddled around a young and scared puppy.  They had doused it with gasoline and struck a match.  No, I’m not kidding you.  The young man ran over to them and said, “Stop, stop.  I’ll give you everything I have in my wallet.  Just stop what you’re doing and give me the puppy.”

 

He handed over a few hundred dollars and the teenagers walked away from the unthinkable.

 

My question is…don’t we all have an obligation to say, “Stop!”  Don’t we have an obligation to handover the contents of our wallet in order to stop a great deal of cruelty?

 

Maybe it’s just a dog…or maybe it says something greater about all of us.

 

I look back upon my past and in a sense, I’m proud that I can find very little in it that includes picking on something small, innocent, and easily broken.  I remember one incident, though, very clearly.  I had a six pack of juice boxes brought from home.  I placed them on the bench in the locker room.  A teammate of mine asked me for one.  I said, “Sure, but don’t give any to Sandy.”  To this day, I don’t know why I said it.  I don’t even remember disliking Sandy.  Nevertheless, I said it and immediately after the words left my lips, Sandy rounded the corner.  She had heard the whole thing from the other side of the lockers.  That had to be over 30 years ago and I still remember it like it was yesterday.  I still have guilt about it and it’s minor in comparison to printing “fag” under someone’s name or trying to burn a puppy alive in a back alley.

 

Yet, there is something built into my character, into my anatomy, that makes me regret it.  Why isn’t this type of regret built into the anatomy of everyone?  Or maybe it is and some people simply find it easier to ignore?

 

I’m not saying we need to police every, little, thing kids say and do.  I get that some uncomfortable things are just a part of growing up.  I’m not saying we need to stop kids from being kids and -unfortunately- kids are going to be cruel.  What I am saying is, can’t we do better?  Can’t we do better as a whole?

 

I’ve read a couple of stories about a parent -literally- going into physical battle for their kid.  I’ve read about a woman who choked her daughter’s bully, another one who physically smacked the crap out of a kid who beat her own, and a third about a man who got on a school bus and physically threatened to end the life of another boy who had taunted his disabled son.  And those are just the stories that I know of.  (Think of them like cockroaches, if you can see one, that means there are literally hundreds.)

 

A rational adult will hear stories like that and cringe a little bit because a parent is supposed to know better.  A parent is supposed to do better.  It’s reprehensible for a parent to smack another person’s kid or even threaten them.  They should go to the other child’s parents first or the school board or the teacher.  All true.  However, there’s a little part of me that goes, “Yeah,” when I hear about such a thing.  I think that’s because whether it’s the right thing to do or not, when an adult tells a little kid to knock it off, it’s the age old theory of “might equals right” at work and at the very least, for the moment, problem thwarted.

 

But, it’s still not the right thing.  The right thing would be treat these kids, helpless puppies, and yes, in a more subtle way – women – like they were a reflection upon how we want the world to be.  We want kids to feel safe and we want the helpless to be defended by the capable.  We want women to enjoy liberty without reprisal.  None of that is possible, unless reasonable adults stick their noses into sticky situations and say, “Stop” wherever it is necessary.

 

When no one does, you have a grown adult male, who still hurts from something printed 42 years ago.  You have a society that says, “That’s just kids being kids.  Get over it.”  Quite frankly, that’s not where I want to live.  The experiment is not over, but when sh*t like that happens, we’ve failed.

 

***

Sweet Mother is updated daily-ish.  If you’d like to follow this blog, click the “follow” prompt at the top, right of the page.

 

**

You might also like:

Born in the US-Gay.

 

*

Photo creds:

feature, tomlin, puppy

 

61 thoughts on “The Kid Experiment

  1. There are some serious psychos out there. But kids have weird ways of establishing social hierarchies, and bullying and hazing are a part of that. I have been bullied and belittled; it’s part of growing up. But I agree that adults must intervene when something goes to hell like that yearbook or puppy incident.

    1. i so get that there’s a mild to medium amount of ‘hazing’ that we all must endure. but, i agree with you – when it gets all ‘lord of the flies’ and sh*t it is the responsibility of ANY sane adult to intervene. it just is. xo, sm

  2. Excellent post. Those two cases are heartbreaking, just like so many others we read about. Sadly, there are no shortage to them. Even still, after all that’s been said about bullying, cases like these come to light. Once again, a lot gets back to the parents. Teach your kids empathy from early ages and never let up on the message. Role play scenarios. Teach the golden rule. And make it clear that the teasing or bullying of others will never, ever be tolerated. Unfortunately, too many kids see their parents model the exact opposite behavior. We learn from what we see.

    1. so true and so well said, carrie. i saw another bullying thing, just the other day, where a kid sent a mom a video of her kid getting beat up by another kid on the bus. the kid and his brother beat the tar out of this other kid and nothing from the offending kid’s parents. no dialogue, no apology, nothing. i think you’re right. kids don’t know these things innately – it’s taught somewhere, both on the positive and negative sides. xo, sm

      1. I think every personality is different, and some people are naturally empathetic. But that doesn’t mean we don’t still have to nurture the trait, especially in those who aren’t naturally “with it.”

      2. i’m with you on that. i think i got a larger does of empathy then some. sometimes to my detriment, i mean, i cry at movie trailers! but, i’m so with you, i think a lot of these things can be ‘trained’ and at the very least they must be stopped before insanity takes over…because the truth is there’s a momentum to these moments of cruelty. sadly. xo

  3. The yearbook story shocked the hell out of me! Not all kids take hazing/bullying the same way as others do. I remember I wasn’t particularly think-skinned when I was a child, and got bullied quite often. But, it didn’t shame me to let my parents know about it. I think parents should make it clear via words and their behavior, that kids could turn to them any time, and not risk judgement or embarrassment in front of their peers or their parents, for that matter.

    1. i never turned to my parents for any help with this stuff. so, i can understand kids who don’t. but, i will say that i had the very fortunate privilege of having people coming to my defense when it was necessary and i needed it. i remember one kid who was mercilessly calling me names. after a while, i had all i could take and i turned around and smacked him. hard. the action shocked even me. i stood there stunned and his taunting turned into a rage and just at that moment a girl who really was a periphery friend came over and said right to him, ‘well, what did you do to her? she wouldn’t have done anything if you hadn’t done something to her. what did you do?” she just turned it on him and he backed down, completely. i never forgot that, how another person can diffuse a situation. it’s just as important, i think. xo, sm

      1. That’s a very touching incident. I guess it helps when a peer helps diffuse the situation; could be more effective!

      2. i think it’s everything. so much of the kid cruelty is energy misdirected all over the damn place. so, if kids are taught to step in and step up for each other, a lot of it stops right there…

  4. This is really great. That has to be one of the worst words in the English language. I really don’t like it. I’ve had to get onto my brother in the past for using it, and at the time he thought it was a joke. Thank goodness he’s grown out of that. It took him making friends and really understanding how hurtful that behavior could be.

    I’m also a devout defender of Justin Bieber.

    1. i think you’d be a great brother to have. i agree, when used as a taunt or a put down, it’s just an awful word. and you had me dying at, “i’m also a devout defender of justin bieber.” lloooooooovvvvved. lol. c’mon, what’s wrong with people? the beebs ain’t so bad. tho, i’m not sure he needs defending. he can laugh all the way to the bank… ;) xo, sm

  5. i think im in love with the guy who gave all his money to save the puppy…how brave is that….
    i rem long long time ago when i was in 4th grade and my brother was in 1st..i went to his class and there was this very cute little boy comes to me and complaints to me against my brother bullying him..he was so tiny and cute…i was like a 4th grade kid myself but i found him so fragile that i scolded my brother for being mean to the boy….and next thing i know they both became best friend till they were together in that school…

    i get offended when someone makes a gay joke i wonder how much bad it must be for someone who is being actually mocked on the face..

    1. it’s really cool that you said something to your brother about that, lil miss. and look what happened. ;) i think a lot of times with kids that stuff is really misdirected anyway. so, it’s really nice to see that you could turn that energy around back into a positive direction. really nice. xo, sm

  6. SM, I read your daily posts and I really like what you have to say so when I ask this I genuinely curious, not picking on you – why did you, in both instances you mentioned women, list us last or refer to us as an afterthought?
    Like I said, I’m not picking, just curious.
    Katie

    1. not at all, a good question. because i do think that grown women have more of a built in defense mechanism (if they’ve done the work) then small children and puppies. in other words, we are more capable of defending ourselves. a prime example, would be the local anchor woman who was called ‘fat’ in the ‘dear fat dudes’ post i wrote. if you watch her video of her defense, it is the most well thought out, one-two punch, that really puts any bully in their place. there’s no way a child can readily and easily put together that solid of a defense, but a grown woman can. AT LEAST in a free country. in countries where women have less rights, less so. but, that is why i put us last because although i think women could definitely be grouped into this category and as tocqueville once said, “a country is only as strong as its women,” at the same time it is clear that neither of us is as defenseless as that young boy or the puppy. in fact, moms (and women in general) can be some of the most to be feared warriors of all. so, that would be my reasoning. much love, sm

  7. SM… this is one subject that needs to be brought up more often. Too many times have I seen people getting picked on, made fun of, and tormented by those that thought they were better. But My perception of this is that it is usually those that do the tormenting are the ones that are inferior in themselves. I have several gay people in my family, and I hate the way some people treat them, even though they are wonderful individuals. My son used to ride on the handicapped bus because it was the only one from his school that came to our neighborhood, and he became a champion of those kids. I hope this comes through for you, it is a native American photo and saying that more people should read…

    1. hmmm, mikesen, the photo did not come through… but, you make such a great statement here. it is usually the bullied who has the most inner conflict and is projecting it more or less. that doesn’t make it right, but an interesting point, nonetheless. i think your son must’ve received quite the education on that school bus and i think him being a champion for those kids will serve him so well in life. now, that’s a wonderful thing. thank you for leaving such insightful and wonderful commentary here. i’m really glad you did. much love, sm

  8. Fantastic post, moms. I’m like you, I don’t ever recall doing anything that caused someone else mental or physical pain. I had my share of remarks when I was very young from wearing glasses (it wasn’t cool then) but nothing like you’ve described. I think kids learn it from people who are their caregivers or parents or role models. And you are right, we have to stand up when we see examples of bullying. No excuses for it. Mean is mean and sometimes there is only black and white and that means we all know what’s right and we all know what’s wrong. Great post — loved it.

    1. so glad you liked it, brig. i think this one hit a nerve for people. and that, at least i think, is a good thing. i also think it’s good that we don’t remember tormenting people. i’m not sure everyone can say the same. much love, sm

  9. There are a couple of things that came to mind as I read this. First, how long do you think it might be before the “insult” is taken out of being gay? The label gay has become one of the biggest ways to insult someone while at the same time, the LGBT community has made such huge inroads in equality and respect.
    The second is that I have to wonder whether the old way of doiong things has made bullying even worse. I remember (and I am not THAT old) when my husband’s advice to my sons was that if you get one fight and show that you won’t be bullied, the bullying will stop. It is the kids who are seen as unable or unwilling to fight or stand up for themselves who are the biggest targets for the bullying, The zero tolerance that has been put into place for any fighting has changed this, and a kid who fights back is now suspended/expelled from school, and can be charged with assault. I am not sure, but this may not have been a great policy.
    The fact that these things happen in childhood and adolescence means that the adults of the world must still take full responsibility for what happens. Kids need the adults in their lives to set out the ground rules. They will challenge them, as that is the job of kids, but the adults have to model the desired behaviors. Too many adults are not acting as adults in our society.
    Sorry for the rant in a comment, but I work with kids in these situations every day.

    1. you know, i think if this guy had just been called, ‘fag’ — maybe it wouldn’t still have the same sting 42 years later. in fact, i think the guy was willing to put it to rest. he’s not even gay, for god’s sake. but, it was his daughter who found the yearbook and said, ‘dad, what’s this…’ and then the child, THE CHILD, said, “dad, this is not okay, even 42 years ago…” and she had him pursue it or at least display it – the yearbook – in the media. i think it speaks volumes as to how adults will stand by to cruelty committed on a kid and shrug it off as “part of growing up” — there is just no way, no how, that some adult, somewhere, within that yearbook process didn’t see it… i think THAT is the pathetic part and not whether or not this kid was called gay. if it was a woman and it had said “slut” under her name, i think the idea would be just as bad. in my humble opinion, that is. as far as kids standing up to the bullies, i think this is a goddermned common sense issue, and as far as i can see, no one is using common sense. of course, a kid who is bullied and then sticks up to his tormentor should not be punished. that’s insane, but i will say that kids are so insecure and confused as to how to communicate these things and when that adults really do have to step in, as you have. there was an incident in my junior high, we were young, maybe 13, and every single day these older boys would come by and squirt a group of us at our lockers with the fire extinguisher. i said to my friend, ‘they do it again and i’m going to do something about it.’ they did. and i turned, walked over to the extinguisher, and shot it point blank at the kid’s stomach. he was shocked and ran. and of course, he got caught with fire extinguisher foam all over his stomach. he then TOLD ON ME! i did not know how to defend myself at the time, when brought into the office, so i just took the punishment. my mother told me years later that she had no idea the boys were taunting us and she never would’ve stood for the punishment had she known. but, i never said anything. so, you see, kids are a mess and communication is the key. complete communication and every rational adult stepping in. i think, anyway. xo, sm

  10. Great post as always. I remember once pulling into the parking lot at my son’s school and seeing a boy in the playground being pounded on. I immediately jumped out of the car to stop it and as long did I heard my kids telling me to stop. I ignored them but when I returned to the car they explained to me that now they would be targets of the bully. That mentality stayed with my kids. When someone pulled a knife on my son he did speak out and was bullied for that. We stood by him and his decision to face the bullies daily though it broke our hearts. He eventually found his niche and made friends and the bullying ended for the most part.

    As an educator I find the attitude of “bullying is a part of growing up” an easy excuse. I work really hard to explain to kids that what they say and do to others sticks with them forever. You can’t ever take it back or put someone back to who they were before you harmed them. Saying sorry doesn’t make everything better.

    1. i couldn’t agree more. i think the ‘bullying is a part of growing up” is mostly a total excuse, as well. stuff sticks. i also completely agree. sadly, most of it could be stopped, by a rational adult willing to find out what in the f is going on. i have never seen a better example of adults not wanting to get involved than this yearbook incident though. there’s no way that every single adult missed that. just no way. and it’s so lame that everyone just let it happen. and you are so right. ‘saying sorry doesn’t always make everything better.’ it just doesn’t. xo, sm

  11. This is an area where culture can trump biology, if we’re all willing to pull together. There have been a few (far too few) cultures where children are taught from basically day one not to be violent or aggressive. Adults will intervene immediately when they see the inappropriate behavior. And, of course, those are cultures where all adults take responsibility for supervising and educating all children. There’s so much our society should be doing, but we don’t.

    1. so well said, jm. so well said. far too often i see adults behaving just like one of the kids and all i can think is, ‘what in the feck are you doing?’ that’s not what that kid needs right now. but, when it turns into this ‘lord of the flies’ type stuff and adults just basically turn a blind eye, i tell you, it sickens me a bit. truly. much love, sm

  12. This was so great. I was a kindergarten teacher before I was a parent, but it took me having my own child to know that kids must be protected. They are resilient in so many ways, but when it counts they are still incredibly vulnerable and precious. The smaller they are, the easier it is to imprint them with both positive and negative. I think about my child being hurt intentionally and it literally makes me ill. All she has is her dad and me. I would hope (for her sake) that I have self control if she ever gets bullied or hurt, but I totally understand how some parents physically harm the kids who repeatedly, maliciously hurt their children. It’s just that primal urge to protect your own. Not saying it’s right, but it makes sense.

    1. I echo that sentiment! Once you have a gaybie sweet mother, it becomes so real in ways you never thought possible.
      I now see all of my students in a motherly protective stance. The only negatives words in my classroom can be about math. lol.

    2. i know, i don’t encourage it, but it makes sense to me too. however, i think any of us with empathy – kids or not – can see that kids being terrorized is not okay. and that yearbook thing – ugh – it sickens me. i like to think i’ve always stuck up for the picked on person. at least i hope i have. xo, sm

  13. Whoa… that is powerful stuff Mum. And such an indictment of our ‘see no evil’ society and culture. There has always been bullying. That mindset is part of the human mix. But it seems to have reached epidemic proportions. We have all allowed it to happen. Every time we look away and think, ‘not my business’, we are validating something ugly, and ultimately very destructive.

    Thanks for this post. And thanks for being the kind of person who /cares/.

    1. “every time we look away and think, not my business, we are validating something ugly…” now, that was powerful stuff, meeks. totally powerful. and thank you for the kind words. xoxo, sm

  14. Those kids that were going to set a live puppy on fire were not “kids just being kids.” What must be wrong with a mind that would even consider such a cruel act? They all had the capability of becoming serial killers one day and I love the little boy who gave everything he had to save that little dog. I wish that someone had been there to save Robin Tomlin. Too many people dropped the ball there.

    Sometimes I hate the world that we live in.

    1. “too many people dropped the ball there.” I couldn’t agree with you more, wendos. and the boy who saved the pup was a grown man, about in his 20s, i believe. it was a guy that used to work with wifesy. i believe he also raised that dog. it’s a crazy and sad story. and i might not have been as nice as he was. i might have beat at least one of them senseless. i’m with you, the world is really tough and sad sometimes. sigh. xo, sm

      1. I’m glad he kept the pup and regardless of his age, he was a hero in my book…even more so for NOT following what was probably his natural response to beat them senseless.

      2. right you are again. fists is not always the best answer, tho it can often be the most satisfying. at least in my imagination…

      3. How right you are. I would have been tempted to hurt them all…maybe even kill them, just to make sure that they didn’t attempt to hurt anything/anyone else

  15. This was wonderfully done. What we teach our children goes to the next generation, how we stand up will be how they stand up. This is why I write Broken Chains and this is why I volunteer in the Victims Impact Program. If we don’t change the cycles, treat our children with love, compassion and empathy we destroy our soul.

  16. I understand completely how there are people in the world who feel no regret or remorse for the pain they inflict on others –whether people or animals. They are called sociopaths and whether born of nature or nurture, they are a sad and dangerous aspect of our society. I read a quote once that I’ve taught my daughter (in some form or another) throughout her life in dealing with unprovoked cruelty and bullying. “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once the hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with the pain.” –James Baldwin. Once we as a society can start owning (and feeling) our pain rather than masking numbing, and projecting, the behavior will stop. Just my opinion…

    1. and a very interesting and well thought out opinion at that, dear laura. you make an excellent point. there has to be a lot of pain in order to inflict that much cruelty without empathy. but, what to do with the sociopaths, like you mention, who perhaps can’t even be trained to do better because of some kind of imbalance? i’m not sure. anyway, that’s a great quote and a great comment. thank you for leaving it here. xo, sm

  17. Beautiful post, and I couldn’t agree more. My heart aches for that man and rejoices for the puppy. I carry around the scars of being bullied as a kid, too. They never quite go away. Its important that we teach our kids the importance of kindness, of sticking up for the “little guy.” That’s the only way the vicious cycles stop.

    1. agreed, ashley. it’s the only way it stops. we did have a good ‘peer counselling’ program in my high school, as i recall that taught just that, sticking up for one another. if that happens, bullies back down. much love and stay strong, sm

  18. I was the victim of an attempted carjacking and robbery. I was next to a pay phone when some kid who was apparently high tried to start up my already running car. I pulled him out and started to yell at him. He ran after me around the phone booth. There was a man there who blatantly ignored the whole scene. I begged him to help me or call the police. He did NOTHING. I finally got into my car, locked the doors and flew out of the parking lot. I was more furious at the man who did nothing than the high teenager.
    I vowed never to be the bystander who does nothing to help. Those are the same people who complain about the how bad everything is. It’s ridiculous!

    1. there was a woman in brooklyn years ago and named kitty genovese and she was stabbed 100 times. there were dozens of bystanders that heard her struggle and some who even witnessed it through their windows, but they ALL did nothing. why? because everyone thought everyone else was doing something. absolutely ridiculous. and i hear you, i would’ve been more upset with the bystander too. glad you are alright above all. that is some scary shit. much love, sm

  19. Sweet Mother,
    You are so much more than I ever imagined. This piece is brilliant and important. You have often made me laugh, often made me cry laughing, but you have never struck such a serious chord with me before. People can be cruel. Children can be cruel, yet I like to think that they just need that one thing (person or action) to change that in them. I am often haunted by some incident in my childhood, much like your juice box story, that seems to be insignificant in nature but somehow stays with me in shame. Do you remember the movie “Flatliners”. I have seen it countless times. Each character returns to some earth shattering time in their life to sort it out inside themselves. Kevin Bacon’s character returns to a time when he did nothing to help a young girl who was bullied. His issue seems insignificant compared to the other character’s yet it is the one that resonates. We can all relate to this character because at some time or another we have all done nothing.

    Going now as I feel rambling approaching quickly…(ok I may have already crossed that line) ;-)

    I agree that this is a “Freshly Pressed” contender.

    1. mg, i read your comment yesterday as i was taking a day off with wifesy and i read it to her out loud. it was honestly the nicest comment and i truly appreciate it. i think about posts like this a lot before i try to get my thoughts on paper or cyber-paper anyway, so it means the world that it meant something to you. and we agree, this cycle of meanness and often worse, has to stop. and i loved flatliners… such a good film, such a good film. and such an interesting point what you bring up that what we have to fix may be small, but it nevertheless relevant. xo, sm

  20. I had a visceral reaction to this post. I’ve always been sensitive to the plight of those who can’t defend themselves but now that I have a daughter who is vulnerable to bullying, it hits me even harder. And I completely understand the parents who took it too far while protecting their children. It may not be right, but I understand why they did it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s