Act #346: Kissing is good. So are boundaries.
The world is outraged by the seemingly harsh punishment handed down this week to an adorable, blond 6-year old boy, for kissing his classmate on the hand. He was suspended for two days due to "sexual harassment". Facebook newsfeeds and news comments have been blowing up with things like: Unbelievable. Way to blow something out of proportion. You've got to be kidding me. That's what 6-year olds do. They are just kids. Look at that darling little boy! He doesn't even know what sex is yet.
What most of the news outlets are not reporting is that this same 6-year old had already received an in-school suspension for kissing the same girl on the cheek. And that he has done so repeatedly to the point where she felt threatened by him. To the point where her older brother felt the need to keep an eye on her while at school. And several other kids in the class felt the need to also protect her by telling the teacher because they had witnessed him doing it over and over again. This same 6-year old boy had also previously been in trouble for "rough-housing" and school administrators had been trying to work with his parents to correct all of this behavior.
So what's a school to do if they've disciplined, tried to work with the parents, and already tried to establish healthy boundaries? What would you do if you were the principal? As the mother of a tender-hearted first-grade boy and as the director of a rape crisis center, I've thought long and hard about this. While it is true that first-graders may not be at a developmentally appropriate age to understand the complexities of sexuality, there's no reason we shouldn't be teaching them about healthy boundaries and how to respect the personal space of others.....with all due seriousness. As parents, it is indeed our responsibility to teach them these things. Sure, it's normal for kids to test boundaries and harmless for them to want to mimic their parents' kiss with their friends. But it's JUST as normal and important for us to teach our kids about consent....and yes, even at the tender innocent age of 6 (and probably younger.) I remember last year when my son started thinking it was cute to go around tickling all the other kids. They all seemed to giggle with delight, except for this one shy 5-year old girl who just kind of cringed. So I took that opportunity to sit my boy down and tell him that he didn't have the right to just go up to anyone and touch them. That while tickling could be fun, especially if it made people laugh (apparently that was the response he was trying to illicit), some people might not like it - and that he should always, always ask permission before touching anyone.
It also crossed my mind that this particular 6-year old boy might have other developmental or behavioral issues that have made it challenging for him to understand these sorts of boundaries. After all, we're not talking about babies or toddlers playing around and kissing here. We're talking about first-graders. At his age, he is expected to be able to follow rules and read social cues from his peers. So maybe if his parents have already tried to work with him, but he's just not capable of understanding, there's something else going on. Maybe a two-day suspension and an elementary school record aren't even going to come close to changing his behavior. But then again, maybe harsh consequences are exactly what it will take for him to see the correlation between his behavior and how it impacts someone else. I wish I had all the answers, but I don't. One thing I do know for sure though, is that these scenarios are seldom easily reduced to: Unbelievable. Way to blow something out of proportion. You've got to be kidding me. That's what 6-year olds do. They are just kids. Look at that darling little boy! He doesn't even know what sex is yet.
So the question is, if you were the principal, what would you do after already disciplining and working with the boy's parents? An equally important question that we, as a society are already failing to ask: What's the little girl to do? Surely not this: Accept the natural order of the world - that boys will always have the right to kiss her anytime they want to.