The media is replete with outrage over the suspension of a 6-year-old boy because he kissed a girl on the cheek and on the hand. HERE HERE Most pundits and bloggers are beside themselves with anger at the school district. But let me play devil’s advocate for a minute…why does this boy get to kiss or touch a girl simply because he is 6 years old? Where is her bodily integrity? Where is her right to say no?
Granted suspension right from the git-go may be a harsh reaction to what happened. Yet it still comes down to teaching boys that they are not the purveyors of others people’s bodies and that girls have a right to not be touched by a male at any time in their lives. Women’s, or girls’, bodies do not belong to anyone but themselves. They do not belong to a 6-year-old boy, a 16-year-old boy, a 36-year-old man or a 60-year-old man. The adage of “boys will be boys” is outdated and immoral. Oh and by the way, I speak as the parent of two boys who from the day they entered society were taught to respect the rights and personhood of others.
The right of a girl to say no is inherent in her humanity. Boys at any age should be taught that they do not have a right to just kiss a girl simply because they want to. This must start at a very young age. If you teach your children not to hit at 6 years old because it violates who another person happens to be, you should teach it is not OK to kiss them without permission as well. And if suspension is the norm for hitting then why isn’t it the norm for kissing without permission? A violation of another’s personhood on any level is not a small thing. As with all parenting you can’t just wake up one day at 16 and tell your sons not to touch unless allowed. This is an ongoing process. It is for their own benefit as much as any females’.
On another level, our fear of pedophiles is so great that we try to teach our children about “stranger danger” and that they have a right to not be touched by an adult. Why is it that we do not have the forethought to teach our children that other children do not have the right to touch them as well? No, there does not have to be anything insidious with children touching children, but what makes people think that simply because it is children interacting with other children that everyone is comfortable with the touching event? What makes everyone think that it is always “cute?”
There is also another problem: the concept of sexual misconduct by males is inundated throughout education. Just look at the ridiculousness coming out of colleges today HERE. We need to teach our sons parameters, limits and boundaries when it comes to sexual encounters as much as we teach our daughters. Boys need to be taught that drunk girls cannot give consent, even if they do say “yes.” Boys need to be taught that it is NOT OK to play sex games at a party when girls are drunk. That indeed that is rape. Boys need to be taught to think with their brain and not with their penis. Boys need to be taught how to handle relationships and what to do when they falter as well. Understanding a situation and its consequences is more important for their future than a few minutes of sex or even having a girlfriend away at school. And whether we, as parents like it or not, this sexuality and its consequences that everyone is so afraid of in society starts very very very young.
Now back to the 6-year-old. The question becomes did he actually understand that what he did was wrong and did anyone tell him to stop before the suspension? There is no reason to assume that a 6-year-old who is kissed by any number of women in his life, would see it as an affront to kiss a girl he liked. He probably felt it was a very natural thing to do to show her how he felt about her. He simply needed to be brought into a counselor’s office and have them explain to him why what he did was wrong, and why it was wrong, then have him apologize and go about their day.
The 6-year-old didn’t need to hear the words sexual harassment. He only needed to hear that he’s not allowed to violate someone elses space without their permission. His parents should have been informed about the problem and they could have explained it to him in nice normal tones about not kissing someone simply because he wants to. If he continued to kiss the girl despite the warning, then suspension would have been in order.
Society has a way of trivializing what children do. They have a way of infantalizing what a child does when they step outside the normal expected fantasy about what a 6-year-old happens to be. While many school administrators go over board when a boy pretends to play with a gun or an imaginary bow and arrow, the reality is that teaching respect for others on every level needs to start young. Making them understand how certain actions can make others uncomfortable and ill-at-ease is not a bad thing to do. Having young children think outside themselves is very important for their future as we live in our interconnected world.
Yes, the irony here is manifest. The more we become dependent on a virtual world of the internet and computers, the more we do depend on the human element to make everything work the way it is supposed to work. While more and more young people spend hours everyday on social media and game play, the element of humanness disappears. It is important in some way to bring that back into the lives of our children. It is essential that we make them think of others when they are about to undertake anything that they chose to do.
Life is about living with those around us. It is understanding and thinking about others before ourselves. It is about living in a cohesive group that helps, promotes and thinks about the whole as apart from the individual. Learning about functioning in society begins with the family, then moves on to the school and the wider world. Understanding that a 6-year-old will not always be a 6-year-old is very important for their own survival in this world.
To overdramatize what happened with this boy does the children involved no good. But at the same extent, a lesson had to be learned. Instead of complaining about it, maybe parents should take this opportunity to teach their children about boundaries when it comes to someone else’s person. The children can be taught how to interact properly, and make friends appropriately if everyone simply takes a minute to think about the reality and not make more out of it then necessary.
Update: Apparently after a meeting between the boy’s parents and the School District superintendent, the district has changed the 6-year-olds records to read suspension for “misconduct” instead of “sexual harassment.” HERE
Meanwhile, the boy’s mother laments that after this incident her son is now asking about “sex.”
Hence I repeat my earlier point: Who told this child that he was suspended for “sexual harassment” instead of for simply kissing a girl without her permission? Whoever did that lacks any modicum of common sense.
UPDATE: Legal Insurrection has the latest. The mother of the little girl says that it was sexual harassment and goes to great lengths on her Facebook page to explain what actually happened and had been happening to her daughter at school. It is evident that the boy in question has some behavioral issues that need to be addressed. The issue remains: what exactly is the school doing to address the boy’s problems? Suspension without education and above all the appropriate support for the boy will only lead to further behavioral issues as he ages. Any special needs parent could tell educators that.