So my niece, who has 2 little ones of her own, posted this picture to her Facebook page saying that she loved it.
I loved it as well. There is a difference been acceptable rowdy boy behavior and unacceptable aggressive bratty behavior. I was shocked to see someone reply to her with this, “You want a boy to grow into a man that can’t fight? That’s tight. My daughters gonna be ready for the ufc by the time she’s 10.” Seriously? It’s one thing to know how to defend yourself and a whole different thing if you are wanting your child to fight. Today another friend on Facebook posted a link to this article, A Plea for Boyhood and Rough Play by Celeste Brinson, and while I agree with part of her sentiment I vehemently disagree with other parts as well as some of the commenters to that article.
While I agree that boys and girls are hardwired differently for the most part (allowing for some exceptions to the rule and that no one is 100% anything), I really hate the term boys will be boys. It’s been used for many years to excuse or explain away bad behavior of the male species. Everything from pushing and shoving to fist fighting to being sexually promiscuous to being disrespectful to women has been excused under the auspices of boys will be boys. I know there are some people who don’t mean to give off these connotations when they use that phrase, they are thinking more in terms of liking to play in the dirt or with gross things, having more energy and liking to be rowdy and enjoying more forms of physical play.
It harkens back to this nursery rhyme from the early 19th century that has been repeated over the years in many forms:
What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails
And puppy-dogs’ tails
That’s what little boys are made of
What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice (or all things nice)
That’s what little girls are made of
I am not a woman who feels slighted by the idea that genders are created differently, nor do I feel that it means women can’t be rowdy or have abundant amounts of energy. I also don’t think boys who enjoy more placid activities will grow up to be less ‘manly’. You can argue nature versus nurture on these things, and while I will agree that nurture also goes into personality and preferences for different playtime activities, I still believe it is naive if not downright moronic to deny that here is a biological component to certain proclivities. That being said, the notion that because men and women are different they are not equal or that one is better than the other is equally asinine. Many people who advocate that gender preferences are the result of nurture only are buying into the very assumption they claim to despise…that one gender is better than the other. They are offended by the thought that somehow the way they are is not a choice. Why are they offended? Because they buy into the thought that certain traits or proclivities are superior.
Before I go down a complete bunny trail, I’ll get back to the article on little boys I linked to above. First I’ll start with the areas in which I agree with the author. She makes a point that as a society we are less tolerant of boy play because, “our society’s lack of acceptance of unstructured play, physical touch, and big body play.” I would agree with this sentiment. We are scheduling our children until their time cards show overtime with structured activity, we are expecting children to be mini adults who live in the adult world and know how to act towards other ADULTS and we certainly have little tolerance for noisy, physical play. Back in the day there was another saying I hate, “Children should be seen and not heard.” I always found that saying to be demeaning and a little dehumanizing of children. It infers that children have nothing to offer adults and society as a whole. In many ways we have gone back to that mentality, but don’t use those specific words. Tolerance for children being children seems to be at an all-time low. As a society, we don’t want to see them, hear them, smell them or even hear ABOUT them. Certainly that is not everyone’s attitude, but there definitely seems to be a lot of anti-children sentiment out there with restaurants who make blanket rules about not allowing children at all because of a few bad apples (read: bad parents who refuse to teach their children how to act in different settings), passengers who complain about children on planes and have no empathy for a baby who may be experiencing bad ear pain and doesn’t understand, Facebook users who get irritated by “too many” pictures or posts about their “friends” children, etc.
The author goes on to say that she understands that your son may not be the rough-and-tumble type and that all children are unique. She then tells a story of how her then 2 year old was invited to a play date with a sand and water theme and how the mother of the other child (a girl) was basically aghast that she allowed her son to get all messy. She says that while the host agreed that her son looked happy, she complained about the clean-up. The author then makes an editorial comment of, “on their driveway — give me a break”. If the assumption that she made that it was just about the woman’s driveway is correct, then I agree with her. That is definitely making a big to-do out of nothing. However, what if that other mother was actually worried that you would want to traipse your covered-in-sand-and-water little darlin’ through her recently-shampooed, carpeted house to clean him up before heading home?
She then talks about how rough, unrestricted play can be messy and therefore inconvenient for adults. I would say that you have no right to visit your ‘mess’ on anyone else. We are all responsible for our own children and if we decide our child is allowed to get messy, make sure we’re the ones that are cleaning up the mess. Better still would be to have your child clean up the mess if they are old enough. Personal responsibility for your choices is a very important value to instill in children. I would also say that ‘unrestricted’ anything with children is not only ill-advised but is the reason so many children and young adults have entitlement issues. Children with entitlement issues haven’t been taught boundaries, to respect other people’s boundaries, to have self control or that we don’t always get what we want. Rarely have they been told ‘no’.
During the article Ms Brinson mentions things like hitting and pushing as part of her boys will be boys attitude. I’m sorry, hitting is never acceptable in my world no matter what the age and pushing is not nice and could get another child seriously hurt in the wrong situation. It’s about teaching our children basic respect for other people and how not to be brats. She starts concluding the article with this gem, “When we say things like “Hands off!” and “Quiet down!” to our boys, we are asking them to suppress something innate inside of them.” Umm, no. Sorry. There is a time and a place for everything and children have to learn boundaries like anyone else. In fact it is important that they learn those boundaries while they are children because the adult world will not be so kind to them when issuing correction for bad behavior. Hitting little Timmy on the playground will result in punishments like grounding and forced apologies….hitting Tim as an adult could result in jail or having a gun pulled on your adult child. I would rather “stifle” my son’s level of rowdiness than go to his funeral.
It is not just boys who need to be reigned in from time to time. Girls have their own behaviors that must be given boundaries. It’s about the traits and not the gender. Girls tend to be more talkative, but we don’t allow a social butterfly to take over the conversation when it’s inappropriate to do so (in church, a funeral, when adults are having an adult conversation, etc). We don’t allow a very affectionate girl to continue to hold onto a younger child who doesn’t want to be hugged on as we have to teach boundaries and personal space.
Respect. Honestly it’s all about respect.
So while I agree that boys are told to behave like little adults, which they are not, and society has little patience for physical play at this point, I’m lost for words at how tolerance of physical play = allowing your child to hit another child. I’m unsympathetic to the idea that your child should not be ‘restricted’ when he could be effecting other children negatively. I’m down-right offended by the idea that you should be allowed to set rules at another person’s home. If you don’t like the rules, leave. If you feel your parenting is being questioned and you don’t like it, leave. Honestly if you are secure in the knowledge that you are doing the best for your son, then don’t let these things bother you. Move on.
I say all this as the mother of a 5 year old boy. A boy who is loud, who is rowdy, and who loves physical play. I say this as a mother who lets him run around the house, make noise and has been hurt more times than I can count ACCIDENTALLY by my boy. I also say this as a mother who says no! when it’s appropriate, gives consequences when “rowdy” gets out of control, who never lets her child get away with pushing or hitting another child and who occasionally gives time-outs even for accidents if it was due to over-the-top behavior…because in the adult world even accidents often have consequences, especially if there is negligence.
In many ways I feel like we are not raising children, we are raising men and women, as the foundation for who they will be will come from what we are teaching them right now. I want Creative Kid to grow up to be a man who is secure in his masculinity because he is strong in who he is and knows how to treat people, not because he can push people around or can kick someone’s behind. I want him to grow up to settle disputes with his words, not with his fists. I want him to fiercely protect the ones he loves, but never to raise his fists in anger. I want him to never start a fight, but to be able to finish it if necessary. I want him to treat women with respect, knowing we are different and respecting those differences. I want him to be loyal, to be kind, to be ambitious and to be confident. We all have a host of traits we want our children to grow up to have, but we have to be wise and remember we’re setting the foundation of who they will be as adults. No one wants their child to be in jail for felonious assault…but some end up there. No one wants their child involved in a ridiculous road rage incident..but some end up there. No one wants to bury their child because of their inability to control themselves…but some end up there.
Thanks for reading!