Surprise surprise: we’re parenting our children all wrong. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking… “This guy doesn’t even have kids, what the hell does he know?” Well, see, there’s this weird thing about me. I wasn’t born 38 years old. Shocking, right? And even more shocking is that I wasn’t just a “normal” kid. Oh sure, I related to other kids, but I never really fit into any group of kids. I was the “weird” kid.
Not the kind of weird where I had 32 lizards with rainbow-painted spinal scales or anything like that, just different. I liked TV. I loved cartoons. In fact, I loved cartoons until I was almost 30 and even now I still enjoy South Park and the Simpsons and I can watch Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny with the best of them.
I didn’t really like the girls in our neighborhood. I didn’t want to run off and be “independent” and didn’t care if I had to eat dinner with my parents every night. I spent lots of time writing papers and playing games on my computer or my Nintendo. In fact, by every objective standard of the term, I, for the time, was the weird kid.
My parents never tried to make me “not” the weird kid. They took an attitude that I do today, which could most succinctly be described as “Screw ’em if they don’t like it.” I was weird, and it didn’t matter.
I was rewarded, too. I went to High School and met lots of people just like me. We were weird together and it didn’t matter. I met lots of cool people, dated, and had a great time. Lesson learned: if you’re the weird kid, find others and be weird together.
But that’s the exact opposite of what we teach kids now. We don’t teach them that it’s okay to be the weird kid. Instead, we spend lots of time telling kids they aren’t weird and it’s society that’s messed up. That people who don’t know them have no right to judge them. That if someone thinks you’re weird, they’re the one with the problem. That is precisely the wrong message if you want to develop independence, individuality, and assertiveness.
Recently a completely idiotic campaign hit the public consciousness in a similar thought process: the “Ban Bossy” campaign. As dumb as this thing was, and as roundly as it was mocked, the idea was portrayed as a bold step toward creating assertive girls and stopping the subservient nature that seems to permeate the way we raise girls.
Precisely. Wrong. Message.
As Dorit Goikhman, a friend of mine from Twitter precisely put it, “Don’t ban bossy; teach girls not to give a shit.”
My God, yes. A thousand times over, yes. And that was only the headline. In the piece she says the following:
Leaders cannot develop if they are under the mistaken impression that they are entitled to any good behavior whatsoever on the part of those surrounding them. Leaders flourish in the absence of entitlements, because they are strong. They are better than the people who bring them down. They became strong because they had to.
Oh my God, exactly.
It’s the same for “weird” kids. Weird kids aren’t broken, damaged, or pariahs and they certainly don’t need to be told that the world is treating them wrongly. They need to be told that however the world treats them they are free independent people and worthy of respect and it doesn’t matter if someone decides to give it to them or not. It wouldn’t help to add a healthy dose of “screw the world,” also. It’s one thing to teach kids to play nice but completely another to teach them to submit just because they’re outside the mainstream.
Nothing good has ever come of cramming a kid who isn’t the textbook definition of “kid” into a mainstream society when they don’t really fit. We scream about a child’s need to express themselves and be themselves and be as creative as possible and happy with who they are, and then we set limits on that based on what society sees as “normal.”
I can say that my parents, in many way were “old-fashioned,” but neither myself nor my sister were ever told “how to be.” Oh sure, we were “corrected” when we behaved badly, as any child should be, but we were never told what mold we needed to fit in. In fact, my sister and I couldn’t be more different. If you met us, you wouldn’t even know that we were raised by the same people and yet we were, so it is possible to have structure, but not stifle.
That’s what we need to do more of. We don’t need to “ban bossy.” We don’t need kids to “act normal.” None of that is needed. We just need to teach kids that even if they don’t fit into the “right” mold, the problem isn’t them, it’s the mold, and it’s fine to be who you are regardless of others and how they feel about it.
I know this will raise some hackles, and some people reading this will think I’m calling for childhood anarchy. In a way I am, but what I’m not willing to do is turn a child into a victim of a society that doesn’t “get them.” I’d prefer to raise a kid who doesn’t seek the approval of every person around them. If everyone is raising children that shout 2+2=5, I’ll be damned if I’m going to chastise a kid for raising his voice and saying 2+2=4 and my advice is that you should do the same with your kid. Teach them that being free thinking, independent, creative and beautiful doesn’t automatically imply conformity. We could use a few more of those types of people in this world: people who let that conformist mentality just roll off their back into the gutter where it belongs.
Header Image via fivehanks on flickr