Sunday, November 01, 2009

Teasing or Threatening?

Several years ago, a nice kid in a neighboring town got into trouble. He was from a nice family. He'd never done anything wrong. He was a little slow and quite naive, reasonably honest and helpful and kind. Some trouble-makers began to include him in their group and take advantage of his naivety. One night the bad guys decided to rob someone, and ended up killing the victim in the process. The nice kid was along for the ride in the car, observed the robbery with fear, and ended up accused as an accomplice to murder.

That story made a huge impression on me. Innocence of wrong-doing isn't enough; even being duped into an association with trouble-makers can get a kid into trouble.

Some kids were playing cards the other day. When one child had to leave the group for a couple of hours, he told the others, "Don't touch my pile of chips or I'll have to hurt you when I get back." I don't think he intended it to be a threat; it was just something he says to try to get people to take seriously that he really really doesn't want anybody to mess with his stuff.

But Maggie was somewhat intimidated by it. I don't think (???) she actually thought that she was in physical danger. But she complied with his request. Knowing that the child would not be returning to the game, I had divided up his chips among the other players. The kids were uncomfortable with that: "but he'll get really mad." They accepted the fact that I was the adult, and that I had made the decision to divvy up the chips, and that it was always possible to re-include the kid later should he happen to return.

But in spite of what I'd said, Maggie took it upon herself to set aside "his" chips. She didn't want to arouse his ire. And this makes me wonder what would happen if she were in public school, or out in the workplace where people could take advantage of her. Can she distinguish between a real threat and "big talk" which uses the same verbiage as a threat? How do you teach a child to discern whether a threat is actually a threat or is just tough-talk "teasing"? How do you teach a child to be kind and helpful and accommodating, while still making sure they are never accommodating of evil? How do you teach them not to tattle, while still ensuring that they know to go to the authorities (parents or teachers or cops) for help when it's necessary? I think most kids grow into figuring out these things without specific lessons on it. But how do you teach these things to kids who need more explicit instruction in these matters?


  1. My cousin, Mark, has worked with developmentally disabled adults for 25+ years. He may know of a way to help you and Maggie. Would you like to be in email contact with him?

    He is a smart and accepting person. He is as progressive as we are conservative. Mark is also very considerate of people with views that are different than his, though, so I think you can work with him if you choose to.

    Let me know if you want to email him.
    Pam Kirk

  2. I'm not sure, Pam. I thought I'd talk to you after chapel today, but you weren't there.

    See, Maggie mentioned yesterday, as we were reading history, that she didn't understand why Spain kept fighting the Moors. Why not just let the Moors come in and take the land, and the Spaniards go somewhere else? What do you think?

    I think what I'm bothered by is the extreme pacifism, to the point of letting someone else take advantage or abuse, without so much as a peep of protest. And I wonder if someone who is "progressive" would understand that. I mean, look at the liberal/progressive stance on national defense. So I'm questioning whether a person with a different political viewpoint would be able to help.