This is the first of a regular column on parenting from author, speaker and dad Doyin Richards in which he’ll tackle some of the toughest questions today’s parents face. Do you have a topic you’d like him to take on? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m worried that our world is becoming too politically correct. My 9-year-old son was suspended in school for “bullying” after he pushed a girl on the playground and she hit her head. This stuff happened all of the time when I was growing up and no one punished me. As a matter of fact, my son told me that he likes this girl, so it wasn’t malicious. Do you think he got a raw deal?
– Mark in Dallas
My guy, I’m not sure if you’re paying attention to the news cycle lately, but we could use more political correctness nowadays, not less. (We can save that discussion for another day, though.)
First off, your kid’s hands shouldn’t be on this girl (or anyone else) at school. If you have the urge to come at me with some version of the antiquated “boys will be boys” nonsense, please don’t. Toxic masculinity is running rampant in America these days because boys and young men are taught that the only acceptable emotions they can express are happiness, lust and anger. When those emotions are mixed with aggression, it can get ugly.
I was bullied mercilessly growing up, so I know exactly what it was like. Between getting shoved into lockers, having my lunch money stolen and being called “crowbar” for being black and thin, school wasn’t exactly fun for me.
You have one thing correct, though: Bullies weren’t punished that often when we were growing up. Most administrators in my elementary school thought bullying victims were overreacting or believed kids needed to learn to handle adversity themselves. Since this continued all the way through high school, I did handle it myself when I broke a bully’s nose who pushed me too far. That was the last time he bothered me.
Do I believe bullies need to get their asses kicked in order to solve the problem? In some cases, absolutely. But it shouldn’t have to get to that point if we can raise our kids to be good humans. I’ve said this plenty of times before, but I’ve always thought that raising a child who is smart or athletic has much less to do with one’s parenting abilities than raising a kid who is kind.
And speaking of kindness, please stop with the “he hits her because he likes her” foolishness. What starts with a shove on the playground could evolve into punching his wife in the face for talking to another man at the grocery store, if left unchecked.
So, Mark — you gotta move past the thought of your son being victimized by the “PC Police,” because that ain’t it. Bullying is a serious issue in schools, and all of us need to do our part to ensure it ends. This is where you put on your BBDP (big boy dad pants) and tell your son that he isn’t being kind to this girl when he hits her — he’s being a jerk.
You want to raise your son to be accountable, right? Your kid should use the time he is suspended from school to apologize to this little girl and reflect on his behavior.
My daughter was told in school that her outfit was “distracting” to the boys. She’s 8 years old and was wearing a tank top and shorts — and it is completely in line with the dress code of the school. As a dad, how do I deal with this?
– Pete in Jacksonville, Florida
There is so much wrong with this that I’m struggling to determine where to begin. I guess I’ll start by wondering how a tank top and shorts worn by a prepubescent girl could distract anyone. Was her outfit covered in gummy bears? Was her tank top so shiny that it blinded the other kids? I’m struggling over here to find any reason that could be viewed as remotely acceptable.
She’s freaking 8 years old! How and why others could view her in a sexual manner is a huge (and disturbing) problem. The first thing I would do is set up a meeting with the administrators who brought this to your attention and get some direct answers as to what the problem is here. Being told that your child is “too sexy” is not an answer that I would be OK with.
If you’re telling me that there is no justifiable policy prohibiting this particular outfit at her school, then she should continue to wear it unapologetically. As a dude, I’m tired of this line of thinking that girls/women have to do everything to make boys/men comfortable. It’s like that guy who refuses to hire an attractive (and qualified) female employee because he doesn’t know if he can behave like a decent grownup around her. Maybe the focus should be on raising boys who have the requisite tools to focus on themselves instead of being “distracted” by what the girls are wearing or doing — but, hey, what do I know?
I have two young daughters and would be absolutely livid if this happened to one of them. It’s not my daughters’ job to cater to the needs of boys, and I tell them that at every opportunity. You should do the same with your little girl. As a dad, it’s important to remember that your role in shaping a positive body image for your daughter is invaluable. This situation could be embarrassing and confusing for her, so you have to remind her that she is doing nothing wrong and support her throughout this.
While we’re here, there’s a larger issue at play that affects students and parents all over the country. Research has shown that school discipline is meted out unequally across racial, gender and economic lines — and I know this to be true because I witnessed it firsthand when I was a kid.
As for the school administrators, they should use this incident to reevaluate their training and policies. The goal of a good school is to provide the best education possible in the safest learning environment possible. I fail to understand how the sexualization of young girls helps in either regard.
This is the bottom line, Pete: It’s up to the world to change, not your daughter.
Doyin is a father, husband and author dedicated to creating and celebrating a world of great fathers. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook at @daddydoinwork, or ask him a question for a future column at email@example.com.