Saturday, February 6, 2016

Who Are Your Sons?

They were standing in front of me. I'm not sure they knew I was there or that I could hear them. Even if they knew, I don't know if they would have cared.

They had their faces pressed to the glass, pointing, laughing.


I watched the ice, where young kids from ages 4 to 9 skated. For most, this is their first season of hockey. Some just learned to skate. A few, like my son, tower above the rest, looking out of place, but needing to be there because they, too, are beginners.

They skate by these four kids who are watching. The younger ones don't seem to notice. Their heads are down, tongues out in concentration, desperate to stay on their feet, determined to try to get the puck this time.

But the older ones, like my son?

They see.

They see the fingers, the open mouths in silent laughter that they can't hear through the glass. They know that fun is being made. And that they, the larger ones, are the likely targets.

I glance around, bouncing my infant in my lap, wondering if their parents are here. I guess their ages to be maybe 12, 13 years. Probably they're here early for their own practice or possibly to watch the high school game that will be starting on the next rink over in a few minutes.

And I sigh.

I have learned the hard way that attempting to engage pre-teens in meaningful dialogue without any relationship is a recipe for disaster. For being called the F-word or worse, for being mocked myself. And right now I am surrounded by young children watching their older siblings play hockey, my own infant playing in my lap and trying desperately to get out of my arms and crawl on the bleachers. The last thing I want to do is invite these young children to be a witness to vitriol or, let's be honest, violence if I confront these kids. If I were alone, I would say something.

But today, I stay silent. They don't know me. They won't listen to what I have to say. And, honestly, their parents COULD be sitting right next to me. And as many of us attempting to raise respectful children know, parents may not take kindly to watching their kids be reprimanded, even when it is absolutely certain their kids need intervention.

So I sit there, sadly, wondering about authority and where it has gone, hoping my son doesn't totally understand what's going on, that this won't dampen his enthusiasm for hockey.

When I was their age, if ANY adult had called out my behavior, I wouldn't have dared called him or her a foul name in response. Most likely, I would have hung my head in shame and endured the certain discipline of my own parents when they found out about it later.  As most certainly they would have.

Have I mentioned these were boys? White boys? (Just in case you are making any assumptions.)

We hear a lot about so called "mean girls." About the bullying, the horrible treatment, about girls as young as preschool forming cliques and saying awful (and even racist) things to the little girls around them. I, myself, have still not recovered from middle school and the treatment I received there from girls who could have been friends, allies, teammates but instead chose power and pettiness and sent a girl to her bed sobbing every night.

But these boys. Mocking, laughing, taunting. Seeping privilege and meanness from their pores. Boys can be mean, too.

If this were an isolated incident, I would have written it off.

But it seems like there is just so much meanness, so many kids cursing out adults and parents, so many kids lost in a world without boundaries.

Parents, what are we doing? Are we giving up our parental authority and firm boundaries in the name of raising kids with "minds of their own," producing unkind, entitled children who don't have a freaking clue what the difference is between healthy independence (which is what I'm shooting for) and premature abusive power?

I for one would want to know three things if my sons were perpetrators of this type of shenanigan:

(1) That my son at least KNOWS this is terrible behavior.
(2) That if another adult were to approach him and point this out he would respond with respect and repentance.
(3) That said adult would feel comfortable telling me about my child's behavior and being confident that there would be discipline involved.

And let me make something clear. I don't propose to be any kind of child development expert. I don't read a ton of how-to books about parenting. I don't propose that I am perfect or that I don't mess up all the time or that my kids never do anything wrong or hurtful to others.

But, gosh darn it, I am trying. Trying to raise my boys with an understanding of right and wrong, with a bent towards kindness and justice and respect, with a love for God and his children. Sons that would be able to withstand this type of treatment with their confidence and joy intact and would, if being mean themselves, be able to receive chastisement, repent of the behavior, accept forgiveness, change in a positive way and move forward in new understanding of how their words DO have power.

So, parents, take a look.

Who are your sons becoming? The mocking, cruel boys on one side of the glass? Or the type of boy who might intervene and say "Hey, those kids are just learning...let's stop laughing at them and help them out!"

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