Posts Tagged ‘children’

So, this, absolutely and in its entirety.

(image from the Women’s Rights News Facebook page)

But people object to this. It wouldn’t need saying if there wasn’t a widely prevalent train of thought which takes “boys will be boys” to the level of smiling endearingly and seeing no problem with these behaviours before children have reached a certain level of numerical maturity.

And I think a partial explanation is that, if you’re not bothering to think about it much (and let’s face it, thinking is hard), you might assume that the only alternative being proposed to complete indulgence is wrathful tyranny. That the only way to instil in your child the notion that hitting or insulting other people isn’t okay even though you’re six must necessarily involve shouting or spanking or some other form of vicious authoritarianism.

Which seems tragically unimaginative. People seem to concoct the least reasonable opposition imaginable to their own established view on something, dismiss it on its face, and conclude that their own stance must be unassailable. (See also: “Russell Brand’s ideas are a bit vague and ‘revolution’ is a scary word, so let’s keep trying this representative democracy thing which I’m sure will starting working in everyone’s best interests any decade now. I agree with Nick!”)

Is it not at least worth investigating whether kids can be taught not to bully other kids, and encouraged to carry this lesson into adulthood, without implementing some ridiculous imagined Demon Headmaster scenario?

Is there any way it might be possible to steer children away from certain negative behaviours, without crushing their spirits and condemning them as monsters for their crimes?

It’s worrying how many parents who already have children seem to assume the answer must be no. What do you every time you and your kid disagree over whether they should have ice cream for dinner, or whether your new curtains would look better with a more interesting pattern snipped along the edges with scissors?

Do you yell at them until they’re browbeaten into capitulation? Is their every mistake corrected with a clap of unforgiving thunder?

Or have you managed to find some way to tread a happy medium between loving them and teaching them the rules that society expects them to live by?

And if it’s the second one, how hard can it be to extend that principle to times when they’re tempted to pull other kids’ hair?

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It’s just over a year since I last put my face on the internet to make noises with it. No promises it won’t be that long till I get around to it again. I’ve got a wedding to plan, I’m far too busy to be messing around with stuff like this. It is still quite fun, though. For me at least.

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I’ve been instructed to have opinions.

But I’ve got a note from my mum which says I’m not a proper grown-up and am therefore excused any difficult adult conversations that might challenge my illusions that real life is still something I can put off indefinitely. Look, here, it’s in totally-not-forged handwriting, and it says this is all too much for me and I’m allowed to just go and have a sit down and watch cartoons.

*tries to shuffle away but is shoved forcefully back onto the sportsfield (of LIFE (it’s a metaphor))*

Oh, bum. Okay then.

Hello, by the way. I hope you all had a good thing over the festive thing. Happy new thing, and all that. Now, back to work, 2013’ll be half gone before you know it.

So. Opinions.

I’m nearly thirty years old. I graduated university six and a half years ago, and have lived independently and supported myself financially for nearly as long. I’ve been in my full-time job for six months, and actually have what seems like a career for the first time in my life. I’m cohabiting in a house with a mortgage. I’m getting married this year. I’m getting double glazing and a new bathroom fitted. I have a cat. I have a beard.

By my stage in life, Einstein had long since published his “Annus Mirabilis” papers, several of the most ground-breaking works in the history of science. Ramanujan had filled countless notebooks of ground-breaking mathematics, some of which are still only just being understood today, and was almost ready to die of TB. Galois had been killed in a duel nearly a decade ago, after inventing a new branch of mathematics that I struggled to get my head around in the final year of my Master’s course. Kurt Cobain and the rest of The 27 Club had moved on from composing to decomposing over a year ago. Orson Welles had had plenty of time to get over his follow-up film to Citizen Kane being a financial failure.

You get the picture. Other people have achieved a lot of stuff by my age. Even when you don’t just focus unhealthily on the outliers, a lot of people have been comfortably getting on with the grown-up parts of their lives for quite a while by this point. I’m a grown-up.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. I’m nearly thirty. Of course I’m old. What the hell did I think was going on ever since I stopped being a teenager?

And I don’t even mind. The job and house and fiancée and cat are all good things. They’re great. This isn’t just about facing up to the horrifying realisation that I’m not a child any more. I don’t miss all the Nintendo games, and I get to stroke a kitten whenever I want and listen to Radio 4 as I commute to my nice job where I earn money to buy lots of fancy cheeses. You can’t make any of that less awesome by slapping a label on it that says “grown-up” and expecting me to be terrified.

And yet…

And yet some things feel like they mark a Significant Change from the life I’m familiar with. Some things don’t seem to be compatible with me, without requiring me to drastically change who I am and how I define myself. Some things I can’t even persuade my brain to really understand and contemplate how they could possibly be reconciled with my own future. Some things still seem like things that other people do; other people with more of a grown-up handle on life than me.

Yes, babies, I’m talking about you.

My nearly-wife has a very different perspective on these things. She’s about to start training as a midwife, for a start, so she’s been studying the manual. But she’s also, I have noticed, a woman. As she’s pointed out:

For a woman having a baby, pregnancy and childbirth are massively disrupting in a way that they just aren’t for the partner in the equation, whatever flavour the non-pregnant individual comes in. You’re the one with a tenant for roughly 9 months, the one who gets kicked from the inside and stretched into odd shapes. You’re the one who has to get the smaller person inside you, outside of you through a not massively accommodating exit. You’re the one who naturally produces sustaining foodstuff from your frontal funbags (yeah, funbags) and who is basically sloshing about in all kinds of hormonal soup for months and months.

When Kirsty thinks about babies, the first stage is all the physical stuff where there’s a thing growing into a person inside of her; long, gruelling, gradual, and with the birth itself as a gloriously rewarding end-point. I sort of get to skip all that first bit, so to me “having babies” means there’s suddenly this small person around who I’ve never met before, who’s not great conversation, and who depends on us entirely for everything for the rest of the foreseeable future. Which just doesn’t fit into the model of reality I’ve spent nearly thirty years building for myself. It’s a sudden, massive, Significant Change, profoundly and qualitatively different from anything else I’ve ever experienced.

Which is why it’s quite scary and difficult to think about, and my darling love has to gently coax me into giving serious consideration to something increasingly important to her.

Except… is it really that different and scary?

The cat’s a tiny life who depends on us, more or less. We love her and watch her grow and try to keep her out of trouble. Kirsty assures me that babies are basically the same, and she’s read a book so she must know what she’s talking about. And I’ve been around actual human infants for brief periods of time in the past, and nobody’s exploded. We’re clearly not wholly incompatible.

Maybe it’s all just a big mental block I’ve got. Maybe this Significant Change is actually no more of an unbearable, unimaginable, impossible impasse than any of the other standard grown-up indicators that I’ve breezed through these past few years. Maybe I just shouldn’t have believed the hype.

Because when it comes to children, hoo boy is there ever hype. Just about every source of art or entertainment or media output that ever touches upon the subject of children is mandated to emphasise how they’re the most important, world-changing, heart-wrenching, meaning-imbuing thing in their parents’ lives. Or if they aren’t, they should be, you monster.

Having kids is about the biggest deal any TV or movie character can go through. And I’ve been a passively avid consumer all my life. My expectations have been warped by Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment industry. I can’t separate out what’s been drummed into me repeatedly from supposedly authoritative sources, from what I actually think.

My mind is no longer my own. My consciousness has been broken down and assimilated. I do not know who I am. Thanks a lot, babies.

I don’t know how to draw any of this together into a coherent conclusion. I don’t feel like I have any sort of insight into the conceivable possibility of forthcoming parenthood, either as a man or just in general. I just know it still feels like a distant, alien thing to give any thought to. It’s not something I know how to have opinions on.

But maybe I’ll get better at it if my girlfriend/wife keeps talking to me about what she’s been up to at work, delivering other people’s babies, over the coming months and years. In fact, I’m pretty sure that was her plan all along.

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2009-2010 (Before new approach)
* 798 suspensions (days students were out of school)
* 50 expulsions
* 600 written referrals

2010-2011 (After new approach)
* 135 suspensions (days students were out of school)
* 30 expulsions
* 320 written referrals

Wow, this school in Washington saw some real improvements with whatever this new policy is that they were trying. 30 expulsions in a year might still sound like a lot, but this is an “alternative” school that particularly seems to deal with troubled kids – some of the students themselves describe the place as a “dumping ground” for kids nobody really cares about.

But this new thing the principal’s doing seems to be doing a great job of keeping them in line. I guess really cracking down on these over-confident, disrespectful teens and their unacceptable behaviour started getting through to them. If you’re stern enough, and make it clear who’s in charge and what kind of behaviour won’t be tolerated, they’ll stop acting like they can get away with anything, and you’ll have far fewer disciplinary problems once the majority have been subdued into meek subservience.

Oh, wait, no. The complete opposite of that.

It turns out, bizarrely enough, that if someone’s angry and frustrated with their situation, and has been dealt a crappy hand by life in general, and they express their anger in a burst of shouting and swearing, and you try to make them stop acting that way by shouting even louder, hurling invective back at them, and punishing them at the first sign of insurrection… then you’re not so likely to win them over to your way of seeing things. Chances are you’ll just piss them off even more and make them keep shouting at you.

And this fairly basic fact of human psychology isn’t magically different just because that person isn’t 18 years old yet.

A lot of this comes back to the fundamental attribution error, and a tragically widespread neglect of compassion as a virtue even in circumstances where it might be a bit difficult. It might be less challenging to respond to some uppity kid swearing and raging by taking a dislike to him, putting him down as a bad sort. But very few among us has never had an experience of losing their temper, and we all know that when it happened to us, there was some understandable reason for it. It might not have been a good reason, and we might not be proud now of the way we acted, but it doesn’t mean we’re bad people just because we got a bit angry that one time. Maybe we were just frustrated by things going on in our lives, and we didn’t deal with it very well.

Well, the principal and teachers at this school have been running with the radical idea that young people, too, are human beings with complex feelings and reasons for their behaviours, who may also have frustrating shit to deal with and be ill equipped to handle it appropriately all the time. And it’s working. The kids are learning perhaps the most important thing school can teach them. They’re being given a chance to experience other ways of interacting with people, and finding out that, if you can control your anger, think things through that are bothering you, and trust people who have the chance to help you, it can work.

Complex trauma ain’t pretty.

It’s when your dad’s in prison AND your mom’s a meth addict AND she’s too drugged out to move in the mornings, so you’ve got to take care of your little brother, get him fed and off to school, AND you’re despairing about being evicted for the third time because she hasn’t paid the rent and the landlord’s screaming at you to do something.

Or your dad’s a raging alcoholic AND he beat the crap out of your mom again last night AND the cops came and took him away at 2 a.m. AND the EMTs took your mom to the hospital and you hardly slept a wink and you’re frantic with worry because you don’t know what’s going to happen, but you’ve got to stay cool or otherwise you’ll have a complete meltdown.

Or your fat step-dad’s sneaking into your bed in the middle of the night AND you’re too terrified to move because he says if you say anything he’ll kill you and your sister and your mom, who’s depressed AND doesn’t talk much anyway.

Teens who live with complex trauma are walking post-traumatic stress time bombs, says Turner. They teeter through their days. The smallest incident can push them into a full-blown meltdown. Some kids run away. Some explode in rage. Some just mentally check out.

So, yeah. You could treat people who’ve been through stuff like that with zero tolerance and shout back at them to do what they’re told right now or you’ll throw them out and it’ll be their own fault.

Or you could try and help.

(And don’t even get me fucking started on prisons.)

(h/t BoingBoing)

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A quick thought. In between lengthy discussions of what that army of teenage mothers storming the castle are doing wrong, it might be worth listening to what they’ve got to say, and looking at what they actually need, beyond another stern telling-off.

Hence, prymface.

And while we’re on the subject, if your mom goes to college, she could be doing a lot worse for herself.

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Once you get past the sweeping generalisation that anyone who’d do anything so horrid to our poor kiddies is an inhuman monster, and grow up beyond an automatic guttural lurch of disgust and vengeance at the mere mention of childhood and sexuality in the same breath, you can start to imagine why paedophiles might deserve your compassion.

You’re not supposed to draw a parallel between homosexuality and a predilection for pre-teens, because it’s usually only homophobic idiots who make them. But consider one similarity that can exist.

Many gay people go through much of their life being told by the world, and believing profoundly, that their innate and unavoidable sexual drives are sinful, dirty, wrong, and evil. Some are driven to denial, or celibacy, or suicide. Some try to resist engaging in the sexual practices in question, and fail, and fall further into deep self-loathing. Some come to accept that this is just the way they are.

I daresay a lot of child abusers feel the same. Many try to repress their feelings; many can’t; many convince themselves that there are no ethical issues worth worrying themselves about in what they do, or are driven so strongly that their moral concerns get pushed aside and ignored, at least some of the time.

In neither case is demonisation of individuals a satisfactory solution. Telling people that something inside them corrupts their very being and renders them irredeemably evil is best left to Christianity. So how best to address these sexual drives?

For homosexuality, the answer’s simple (at least in theory; the execution is taking some time). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with same-sex attraction. It can be embraced as fully as any other expression of positive feelings between consenting adults, and all guilt about it can be abandoned entirely. Take the same care as anyone else would for safety and respect for personal autonomy, and you’re grand.

Those who are sexually attracted to children don’t get quite such an easy answer. The actions to which their urges drive them are simply unacceptable. Children cannot knowingly consent to sexual acts. If we tell people who experience such drives that, while we can’t condone them acting on their natural urges, we feel no less respect or love for them as human beings, they’re probably not going to be wholly content to leave it there.

Which is where chemical castration comes in.

There’s a pilot study being conducted at the moment in Nottingham, on around 100 male sex offenders. They’re being treated with a drug which inhibits testosterone production, and early evidence from Europe provides hope about its effects on decreasing recidivism.

(Incidentally, I think the label “chemical castration” is an unfortunate one. I’m not aware of the details of either procedure, but there seems to be about as much connection between this drug treatment and surgical orchidectomy, as there is between male and female “circumcision”.)

I know that not all sex offenders are very like the tortured souls I’ve described. Maybe of them engage in morally reprehensible behaviours without compunction, and concerns have been raised that this procedure won’t kerb underlying violent attitudes. There’s no doubt this is a partial solution at best, but you don’t have to look far among any gay community to find members who fervently wish they could just take a pill to make their “sin” disappear, and be “normal”. It’s hard not to extrapolate and wonder how many child abusers want the same thing, and would jump at the chance to quash the desires that they know only cause anguish, to themselves and others.

The offenders all currently being treated have volunteered, and I suspect this will remain a crucial aspect. Forcing such a biological change on people for society’s benefit is a very touch one to justify, and not a conversation I’m going to attempt here. But there’s a long and noble history behind temporarily hobbling yourself in some small way to stop yourself getting distracted, helping yourself reach your goals when temptation looms by simply taking will-power out of the picture.

Unplug the internet when you’ve got writing to do, so you can’t keep checking Twitter. Give your car keys to a friend, so you can’t drive home no matter how sober you know you are. Take some hormone-suppressing medication so that you don’t even think of luring a child away to do anything inappropriate.

For some people, it might be just what they need.

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– People often talk of the “culture of silence and shame around rape” – but is hounding accused perpetrators into perpetual silence really a useful goal?

How not to respond to a scientific follow-up study that fails to support your original conclusions.

101 Reasons For Having Children! Listed on a site which proudly takes its name from one of the most patronising Bible verses I’ve encountered.

– A guy let police know when he found some illegal pornography on his computer. He’d been trying to download music, there’s no implication here that child porn is what he was after, and he’s not been arrested or charged with anything. But he’s still been told by social services that he’s not allowed any unsupervised access with his child. Oh, and they’re keeping his laptop.

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