In Australia last week, not far from where Bo and I are living right now, a young girl was given detention for hugging a classmate. Hugging. A punishable offense apparently. I heard it on the radio and was instantly ashamed. Has it really come to this?
I’ve been thinking about it for the past week. It’s one of the few news stories that penetrate my sleep-deprived brain and for whatever reason, stick. I thought about it as I watched my niece and her best friend (both 16) hanging out together. And the beautiful affection that close friends have. The play fighting and the sharing of secrets. Those moments that make up our most coveted memories that we grasp for now, when those days are all but gone, and we are feeling nostalgic.
I did a quick Google to see if this sort of ridiculous thing was happening anywhere else. And what I found shocked me further. Kids being banned from doing handstands in the playground in Eastern Australia. Little boys in the USA being expelled for kissing games. Girls in Australia being kicked out of a concert for kissing each other. Boys and girls being policed all around the Western World. Childhoods being limited. But, for what.
Our new local area has it’s own Facebook page. Because, who doesn’t have a Facebook page these days? The page is designed to get local people buying and selling and passing on local news. But what it is truly used for is fear mongering. Only yesterday there was a woman who seemed genuinely concerned for her own safety. A group of wayward youths, she writes, are sitting on the curb on my street. And street drinking!! i think they are casing the joint out. A warning to all!! OH. MY. GOD. COME. ON. NOW. WOMAN!!
Is she for real? Yes. And apparently, many people agree with her and are also concerned. What is the world coming to?? They question. Have they already forgotten what it’s like to be a teenager? Have they already forgotten what it is to be young and carefree? What it is to sneak a bottle of beer or to pool your coins together with your friends to buy a cask of wine and to share it together, to have a day of silliness. Does this make kids criminals? I think not.
I was one of these wayward youths. We passed stolen cigarettes from chipped nailpolished fingers to ink stained ones. We laughed and we swore and we tested the boundaries. We may have also stolen many garden gnomes in a game we called “gnoming” and re-homed said gnomes in the early light of morning. We drank and we climbed trees and we played games. We were young… we were living and loving and full of good old fashioned teen angst and melodrama. We partied HARD. We kissed and fooled around and boxed and skated and at the end of the weekend we all went home to our parents. Because even though we loved to pretend we were all grown up, we still knew we weren’t. We did lots of stupid things, but never did we do any of them with any kind of malice. We weren’t criminals. We were just experimenting hell out of life. We weren’t doing anyone (except for maybe our parents and the sleepless nights we caused) any harm.
I’ve worked with kids since I was a teenager. I’ve worked with teen theatre groups. I’ve worked as a nanny. I worked as a counselor at summer camp in Canada. Kids do some freaky stuff, that’s for sure. They push boundaries. They experiment. They do some disgusting things! But should there be rules to stop them from doing so? Imagine what your childhood would have been like without it all.
Why are kids being punished for enjoying the beautiful, carefree joy that youth brings. Why are we, the adults, so hell bent on policing kids? Too many rules is never a good thing. These are the best times of your life, people once told me, and in many ways they were right. Are we taking these “best-times” away from our kids? Is my kid going to be given detention; or worse perhaps, given that school days are still many moons away; for being affectionate in the playground. If hugs are outlawed between girl-friends (or boyfriends, or young couples, or whoever), what’s next? What about kiss chasey in primary school? What about that first awkward kiss behind the sheds in high school? What about holding hands with your first boyfriend? What about passing notes to your best friend or holding her hand when she feels crappy… If these kids grow up with rules outlawing some of the most simple of childhood pleasures… I tend to think that the level of rebellion may lead to more harm than good.
I don’t know about you but when I was growing up I did everything that I was told not to do. And then I did it again. And again… and again. Are there mistakes I made? Absolutely. Are there times I wish I had chosen differently, in hindsight. Yes, sure there are. But those mistakes (and the consequences of said mistakes) were mine, and mine alone. And I learned a thousand times from them. I learned what it is to be human.
Paranoia and fear are infectious. They spread like a plague. I get fear. I truly do. And being a parent has instilled this kind of constant low level fear in me that will probably never truly go away. I absolutely understand being afraid that something will happen to your child. I get it with every fibre of my being. Since Bo was born, in fact, since the moment I saw those little blue lines appear on the stick… I’ve had moments of weakness where I let my imagination play out all of the horrific things that could possibly happen to this little being that I love more than anything, more than anyone, in this world. I have moments where I torture myself by playing these twisted movies through my mind and more often than not when the tears begin to well in my eyes I scold myself and I try desperately to move my mind on to other things. I get it.
It can be a scary world at times. But I think that the scariest thing about the world right now is that we have so much access to it. The world is scarier because we know more. We see more. The media plays into our fear. Our governments rely on our fear. When afraid, we are easier to control. The people. The masses. The subordinate. We are taunted continuously by the media with the awful things that happen to people in this world. The rape and the murder. The hurt and the pain. The war and the famine. The death and the poverty. We are taught to fear it all. We are taught to fear each other, to fear ourselves.
But life is often loud and dirty and painful and sexy. And you do not need to be frightened of it to be informed. I don’t want Bo to be afraid. I want her to be fearless, informed, educated and to know when rules are meant to be broken, to know when she should dive on in and take a risk, and when to stand back. Understanding limits that are her own, not limits that have been placed on her because of a mass induced fear.
It is this blinding fear that separates us from each other. Blind fear is what creates terrorism. It separates us because of our race, our religion, our sex. It separates men and women, adults and children and every day I find it separates us from ourselves.
For us to come together.And coming together is what we need in this fast paced, technological, hard-ass world. We need to stop being so afraid for no reason. I truly believe that the world is not a bad place. It’s a beautiful place full of happiness and hope and love. There is so much wonder that is being lost. Culture that is being forgotten. Joy that is being forsaken. For what??
What are we so afraid of anyway?