Sunday, December 10, 2006

Hurting Kids With Our Sexual Childishness

[Posted by reader_iam]

Earlier this year, in a post titled A Sexual Predator In The Making! about a 6-year-old Massachusetts boy suspended for three days for sexual harassment, I asked the following question:
Have we lost all sense of proportion, as well as our minds?

Well, folks, I have my answer: Yes.
When a Bellmead father received a letter from his son's school district saying the 4-year-old had inappropriately touched a teacher's aide, he said he couldn't believe what he was reading.

"When I got that letter, my world flipped," DaMarcus Blackwell said.

The Nov. 13 letter from La Vega Independent School District stated his son, who was 4 years old at the time, was involved in "inappropriate physical behavior interpreted as sexual contact and/or sexual harassment" after the boy hugged a teacher's aide and "rubbed his face in the chest of (the) female employee" on Nov. 10.

The letter also stated Blackwell's son, who Blackwell requested not be named in this story for privacy reasons, spent the day in in-school suspension (ISS) as punishment for the incident.

Blackwell, quite understandably, complained. In response, the school district obligingly "changed the offense to 'inappropriate physical contact' and removed references of sexual contact or sexual harassment from the boy's file" (of which this report may or may not be a permanent part).

Blackwell doesn't think that's good enough. I don't either. In the first place, the child--the 4-year-old--was placed in in-school suspension for a day, with his "offense" being explained to him (so administrators say) by school officials without the presence of his parents and before they were successfully contacted. (They say they couldn't reach the parents by phone. Fine. Then wait to deal with the situation until you DO reach them.)

Gotta question for you [or two, or three, or ...]: Did they actually use the words "sexual harassment" or "sexual contact"? If so, how did they explain those terms, exactly? Do they know to what degree the child is aware, conceptually, in words, of sex or sexuality in general? Did they even think to ask that question of themselves? Did they stop to think about how, or even if, their words or actions might damage the boy, who, the parents say, don't understand what he did that was so wrong as to justify an ISS? Do they think changing an incident report is going to change any of that?


Sorry, I lost it there for a minute.

Look, I'm going to go out on a limb here for a(nother) minute. I suppose, in the theoretical world, there may be an exception to what I'm about to say, but I can live with whatever some nitpicker comes up with. However, in the real world, real grownups with real brains should know that 4-year-olds cannot sexually harass adults. Got it? For crying out loud, it feels ludicrous to even keyboard that statement--how, in the name of common sense, could it have not felt so to even consider classifying what that kid did as sexual harassment? Or even, really, inappropriate sexual contact, in the context of ascribing blame and intent, or even understanding, to the child, much less meting out punishment at this level?

Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the child was being 1) sexual, specifically, and 2) inappropriately so. It would seem to me that, in the case of the former, a wise adult might look at the situation and see that the child is struggling with budding feelings and might not understand what's going on or how to cope with them. If he was very persistent, rising to the level of alarm, why wouldn't the first thought be, "Well, gee. That's weird. I wonder why the kid's doing that. Could he be in trouble? Could someone be engaging in sexually inappropriate behavior with him?"

But no. Instead, the concern appears to have been the reaction of the female teacher's aide. As if she were actually experiencing sexual harassment--or even an advance, of some sexual type--as typically defined, in some way. Admittedly, there's a lot we don't know about this story, but no matter the details, either the woman overreacted or misinterpreted what happened (which means she has no business being in early childhood education), or the kid's actions were indeed overtly and inappropriately sexual and she failed to immediately see the red flag and wonder if the kid was in trouble (which means she has no business being in early childhood education).

Of course, based on how the school administration handled the situation, it's likely she's in good company, either way.

I'm very unimpressed with the "advocate" quoted in this story:
The question of whether a touch is meant inappropriately or is an innocent gesture by a young child is not as easily answered through a checklist of factors, said David Davis, executive director of the Advocacy Center for Crime Victims & Children in Waco.

"A lot of variables come into play," Davis said, adding he doesn't know the details of Blackwell's son's incident.

Variables such as age, maturity and exposure to factors like pornography or even molestation, influence whether a touch is innocent or not, he said.

In the recent case of a La Vega Independent School District elementary student who allegedly inappropriately touched a teacher's aide, Davis said the things to consider are not as much the gestures themselves as the behavior afterward.

"It's a concern if a child didn't respond to redirection," Davis said. "I would be more concerned about a child's response to limits set by an adult more than the touch itself."

Well, how about that. Excuse me, but I would be a little bit more concerned, if in fact the touch is determined not to be "innocent," about how a 4-year-old came to have lost his "innocence." Then there's this: If a 4-year-old has been exposed to pornography or molestation and therefore acts out in this matter, how, exactly, does that make his action any less "innocent"? For crying out loud, in that case it would be something he's been taught, something that in his world is considered normal.

Either ... the boy was "innocent"--even if curious, or even inappropriate--and therefore was punished disproportionately and unjustly. (A day of suspension is a lifetime at that age; remember, your standard pediatrician is still recommending, at that stage, time-outs in minutes corresponding with a kid's age. Even if you agree that's a little overboard in the other direction--which I do--the point remains.)

... Or he's been victimized in some way, and therefore was punished utterly inappropriately and unjustly. In other words, victimized in yet another way by inappropriate adults.

OK, now I'm tearing up, so I'm going to have to stop, except to for this:

What the hell is wrong with us, folks? We are getting it so wrong, so very, very wrong, the way we're approaching issues of sex, sexuality and sexual expression, let alone sexual molestation. (This is not the only notable example of adult/legal idiocy in the headlines this week, by the way.) We are failing our children. We are hurting them. We are acting like children ourselves. We are children, without the excuse of childhood.

We have lost all sense of proportion, as well as our minds.

Update: Yep, I've done some copy- (though not content-) editing here, and added a link to make clear the reference in a parenthetical reference.