I work two days per week from home, and have a nanny on those two days to watch the kids while I’m not available. Every week when I emerge from the office at 6 p.m. to let our nanny go, I ask for the download on how the kids behaved. Usually they are quite good, but once in a while a big issue comes up that we need to discuss. Last week, one such “big issue” arose.
Our nanny had asked my son to pick something up that afternoon, to which he replied, “No! You’re STUPID!”
I was absolutely blown away that he would call her a bad name, and immediately asked him where he had even heard such a thing.
“Jacob calls people stupid at school.”
I wanted to scream. My twins have attended pre-Kindergarten two half days per week since September. The rap sheet of their social “learnings” since that time has been less than awesome:
- A boy held Kenna to the ground and wouldn’t let her go even when she was yelling for him to stop. He told her he “wanted her in jail.”
- A kid in the class taught the rest of the kids (ages 4 and 5) to sing a song he made up called “Sexy Lady.”
- Nathan has picked up on the aggressive behavior of some boys in his class and comes home trying to scare his little sister with forceful “ninja” moves like the other boys in class do to each other. This has been a daily issue in our house since he started school.
- Both Nathan and Kenna always have something to report about how mean the “bad boys” on the playground are – taunting the kids in the pre-K class for being “babies,” telling them to hit other kids, suggesting they throw sand at smaller children, and so on. As much as they don’t like it, they are fascinated by it, and sometimes pretend at home they are the “bad boys.”
If I had read this list from another parent before my kids started school, my honest reaction would have been this: Buck up! That’s life. Kids are like that. They have years of it ahead. Teach them how to deal with it. Make a lesson out of it. Make them stronger people.
But now that I’ve experienced the impact of negative influences for several months, I’m starting to feel differently. I’m starting to wonder how much of this is necessary and appropriate for making them “stronger people” when it’s clearly opposed to our family’s values. After thinking a lot about it, there are 5 key questions I’ve come to consider when determining how to handle negative influences.
1. Is this truly a negative influence, or is my child simply reacting negatively?
A few months ago, Nathan held up a stuffed animal and told his little sister, “I’m going to kill you with this!” I immediately assumed this language came from school. When I asked where he had heard those words, he said, “The Bible. Joseph’s brothers wanted to kill him.”
Gulp. Hmmm. Good point.
It’s really easy to become a parental Pharisee, abolishing anything from your kids’ lives that doesn’t meet your law of perfection. But it’s important to remember that everything has the potential to be a negative influence and that most attempted classifications of “negative” and “positive” influences are shallow at best. There are times that I, as the parent, am the worst influence they had in a given day.
Before you’re too quick to pluck things or people out of your kids’ lives, consider if the influence itself is the primary problem or if it’s your child’s reaction. A reaction can (usually) be worked with more easily.
2. Is my child mature enough to learn from being exposed to the negative influence?
Last Halloween, we took the kids to a costume store. The store had several large, scary things at the front that I failed to see quickly enough to avoid. Kenna started laughing when she saw them. Nathan, at the same age, has never shaken it from his memory and still has bad dreams about it. I’m very cautious about any scary imagery around Nathan now that I see how impacted he is by it.
If we keep our children in a closet their whole lives, they won’t be exposed to any potentially negative external influences. Most of us would agree that wouldn’t be prudent, as it would set them on a course for unprepared disaster when they experience the unfiltered world for the first time as an adult. That said, a child can only learn from exposure to negative influences if they’re mature enough to handle them. As in the costume store example, that maturity has to be determined on an individual basis, not an age basis.
3. How does this influence my children as a group?
While Nathan comes home wanting to fight like a ninja after being surrounded by aggressive little boys all morning, Kenna is barely aware that this is even going on; it’s been a negative influence on one child, and no influence at all on the other. If the ninja behavior by itself was simply annoying but not hurting anyone, it might not be something worth dealing with. But when Nathan is influenced by this and then hurts my 2-year-old, the results of the influence are farther reaching and far more negative, warranting immediate attention.
4. Does the opportunity for positive influence outweigh the opportunity for negative influence?
I love Charlie Brown, and was excited when my kids were old enough to watch the various Peanuts holiday specials. I had never realized it as a child myself, but the kids in the show call each other names. For weeks after watching their first Charlie Brown special, my kids were calling each other “blockhead” like they did on the show. I seriously considered not letting them watch it again, but concluded that the other positive values of the programs far outweighed the negative. I was willing to address this one particular problem in order for them to continue watching. When they showed me that they were able to understand that part of the show was wrong, and stopped using those names against each other, they were allowed to watch more.
5. Is there a reasonable alternative to this negative influence?
School is part of “everyday life” for kids of a certain age. From that perspective, there will always be a number of difficulties parents have to address whether they want to or not. We don’t always have the luxury of running through a list of questions and tossing certain things or people out of our kids’ lives at our discretion. Sometimes we are quite simply forced to deal with it. It’s important, however, to ask yourself if there is a reasonable alternative. In the case of my experiences with preschool, I came to the conclusion that I want to try homeschooling next year – something I never thought I would say. Admittedly, this is for many reasons other than the negative social influences, but they were an important consideration.
What are the key things you consider when deciding what to protect your kids from? What questions would you add? What are some of the bad things your kids have picked up from school?