The other day I told my five year old boy a secret. I told him it would keep him safe and help him the rest of his life. He sidled up to me and put his ear to my face. I whispered “never, ever, ever, ever, hit a girl.” I made him repeat it. I made him memorize it. Later I asked him “what’s the secret” and he echoed back “never, ever, ever, ever, hit a girl.”
There’s a girl in my son’s class, and I think she likes him. At five, it’s hard to tell, but when a girl annoys a boy to the point of frustration, and occasionally hits him, it’s a good sign of her liking him (even older girls—when I was in seventh grade, a girl signaled her infatuation by pulling my chair out as I was sitting down). My boy, in his frustration and in retribution for being hit, treated this girl like he does his younger brother: he hit her. The teacher immediately gave him a time-out. After school, when I asked if the girl was also punished, he said no. That’s when I told him the secret.
Boys are not innately gifted with the knowledge not to hit girls. Practically everything that we consider to be civil behavior is learned. The womb and DNA only go so far, and the rest is gained through careful observation and imitation.
Children who grow up in violent households tend to be violent adults. Growing up in a home with constant fighting, arguments, shouting, occasional violence, foul language, and drinking tends to produce adults who fight, argue, should, get violent, and use foul language. I am a firm believer in exceptions. Some children decide that they’ve had enough, vow to live better, and do. Typically these kids have seen other families who don’t fight, argue, shout, hit each other, and cuss. Perhaps a friend whose home is a peaceful, quiet refuge, to which the kid escapes as often as possible. It’s quite easy to understand why a child would vow to become more like the Cleavers than the Bluths*.
My point is that a child who grows up in what we’d consider squalor, violence and pain with no reference to anything else, has no idea that her life isn’t …read more