I was perusing Salon online today when I came across this article from a woman complaining about her friend’s 11-year-old son. The son, she stated, was violent and physically aggressive as well as being rude and hard to talk to. She asked the columnist, Cary Tennis, what she should do, since speaking to her friend had garnered no results but a condescending “It’s okay, you’re learning how to deal with children”. The woman stated that she was childless and therefore felt uncomfortable telling off the child, though she had politely tried to redirect his behaviour and tell him how she felt about his aggression and rudeness. His father did not attempt to redirect or correct his child’s threatening behaviour, and instead laughed it off.
Mr. Tennis decided to tell her that it was she, the woman being tormented, that was the problem. If she could only see the “beautiful wildness” in the child instead of being angry that he was “acting in the way that children do”, she would be able to understand him better. He bemoans that people insist on good behaviour to keep up the guise of normalcy in our culture and that most children need to be let to run free and explore. It doesn’t matter if you feel physically threatened, according to Mr. Tennis. Manners, essentially, are archaic – instead, it’s that we’re not understanding children enough and take their uncouth behaviour as bad and threatening instead of “beautifully wild”.
It’s rare that this happens to me, but I’m kind of at a loss for words, here.
I’ve dealt with a lot of children over my years as a childcare worker. I’ve seen a lot of different personalities, dealt with some children that were hard to get along with and others that clicked immediately with my personality. Children are people, and as such, they don’t all fit into one cookie-cutter mold – this is absolutely 100% true. I agree with the columnist on that. I also agree that understanding needs to happen when it comes to dealing with children, who don’t always know better. However, this idea that we need to appreciate and allow children’s “beautiful wildness” to run rampant at the sacrifice of our own well-being and personal safety is a crock.
If this same woman had said, “A man I know has been physically aggressive to me and verbally abusive. He makes me feel unsafe and his partner insists that I’m just learning how to deal with men and need to be patient, and blows off my concerns,” we’d all be gasping in disapproval and horror. Because this “man” is 11 years old, it’s easy for us to just shrug at the woman, telling her that her concerns don’t matter, she just needs to be more understanding to this child. Maybe she does – but maybe this child needs to be corrected so that he doesn’t grow up into that man who is abusive towards women.
Everyone has a right to feel safe around others. Everyone has a right not to feel threatened by someone else’s behaviour. If that behaviour belongs to a child, parents need to recognize that they have a responsibility to teach their children that some behaviour, no matter how “beautifully wild” it is, isn’t acceptable. Women are all too often shoved into the background, their concerns blown off as drama and hysteria, and the fact of the matter is, though we do need to be understanding towards children and remember that they are learning how to fit into society, we don’t need to be told that our discomfort and fear regarding an 11-year-old boy who stands at our height and is physically aggressive is misplaced.
And honestly, should children grow up to think that women’s concerns mean nothing? Should this boy grow up to believe that he can run roughshod over everyone around him? No, because that’s not fair, either. It’s not his fault that he thinks the way he does – and it is his parents’ fault for not helping him see that the way he is dealing with people is infringing on their right to feel safe.
It’s time to stop making excuses for each other’s threatening behaviour, no matter what age the person is. It’s time to stop telling people that they just need to be more understanding and put their own feelings aside. If we don’t call it out, it won’t stop. Mr. Tennis, you need to look at what you’re saying and how it comes across to women who are reading your column. You’re telling them that their unsafe feelings don’t matter and aren’t valid. It doesn’t matter how old you are – it’s not okay to threaten someone else.
We learned this in kindergarten, folks. Time to follow through and remind each other that it’s not okay.