Why You Should Teach Your Kids Not To Be Jerks

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People, please teach your kids not to be jerks. Please. Don’t let your kids be jerks.

This is my son Zack. He’s seven and getting ready to start second grade. He has a limb difference, which means not having part or all of a limb. As you can see, Zack’s right hand is not completely formed. We call it his little hand because…well…that’s what it is.

DON’T LET YOUR KIDS BE JERKS

We adopted Zack when he was two and we honestly thought his limb difference was no big deal. We’ve spent most of the last five years telling him to “put that down” and “stop climbing that.” He plays soccer and flag football. He does martial arts. He colors. He helps me in the kitchen. He carries his own laundry basket from his bedroom down to the laundry room. He’s a typical kid with an anatomy that’s maybe a little less than typical. I don’t think about him being different because for the most part, he isn’t. Zack is one of the most confident and gergarious people I know. To say he’s outgoing is a massive understatement. He’s always shown a lot of self-confidence in the way people react to his limb difference. Earlier this summer, we were standing in line for a slide at a water park and he struck up a conversation with the people in line in front of us.

“I bet you’ve never seen a little hand like mine,” said Zack, waving his right hand in the air.
I remember that moment with such clarity. I remember how much I admired his confidence and self-assurance.
Fast forward a few weeks. We were getting ready to go to “Meet Your Teacher” night at our kids’ school. Zack had mentioned a few times how he’d been dreading going back to school, which struck me as odd because he loves school. He’s such a social child and he’s always been eager to get up and out the door in the mornings. When school ended in May (which seems like about 37 seconds ago) he expressed sadness over missing his friends.

I didn’t really take the time to address Zack’s aprehension about the new school year starting. I’m ashamed to say that I brushed him off when he tried to bring it up and it wasn’t until about thirty minutes before it was time to leave for the event that I actually focused on his concerns. (I’m busy. I’m being pulled in a gazillion different directions. I try to multitask way too much and I suck at it.)

“People who are new to my school might stare at me and ask me questions about my little hand,” he said.

“They might,” I answered. “That’s pretty normal, don’t you think? Your little hand is pretty different than what most people are used to seeing. It’s okay if they ask questions, right?

He paused. “Yes. It’s okay if they ask ,but I get tired of saying, ‘This is the way I was born.’ Is it okay if I’m tired of answering questions?”

“It’s okay that you feel like that,” I answered. “But people who don’t know you are still going to be curious. Once they get to know you, they won’t be curious and your little hand will be no big deal.”

“Please don’t let them be mean to me, Mommy.”

“When have people been mean to you?” I demanded.

This is the part of the story where my heart sinks to the pit of my stomach.

After some prodding, my son revealed to me that some kids taunted him at daycamp this summer. He’s a sensitive kid, so it’s hard for me to determine whether or not it was taunting or just curiosity, based on secondhand information. We live in our little suburban bubble and most of the people we interact with are people we see all the time. Curiosity over Zack’s limb difference is something that has come and gone. My kids went to day camp outside of our little corner of suburbia and he experienced some teasing, questions, and curiosity that comes with meeting new people.

I’m honestly not sure what was said that made such an impact on my son. My gut tells me it wasn’t much more than the reactions of kids who hadn’t seen someone built like Zack before. But he did ask me, “Mom, what’s a freak?” which kind of led me to wonder.

Here’s my take-a-way from my interaction with my son: Ask questions and be curious about people who look different that you look. But before you stop to ask questions, consider that there is a living, feeling person on the other end. Teach your children to be curious, but also teach them to be sensitive. Teach them what appropriate responses to differences are as they get older. Blurting out  curious questions might be acceptable for a four-year-old, but most eight- or nine-year-olds should be able to practice some empathy and consider how their questions or comments will be received.

And, if you have a child who is different, in any respect, keep paying attention to what they’re experiencing, thinking, and feeling. Their perception of being taunted or ostracized MATTERS. Don’t blow them off. Listen. Be their advocate. They need you.

And please…don’t let your kids be jerks. Talk to them about differences and inclusion. I know kids are curious. I know kids can be mean. But it’s up to us to teach them to be better, right?

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This post originally appeared on Jill’s blog, Ripped Jeans and Bifocals.

Jill is a blogger, freelance writer, speaker, caffeine addict and wannabe wine snob. She thinks Costco is the happiest place on earth and that dry shampoo is the best thing ever invented. In addition to writing for Babble you can find her regularly on her blog, Ripped Jeans and Bifocals, where she writes about adoption and life as the oldest mom with the youngest kid pretty much everywhere she goes. You can follow Jill on Facebook,TwitterInstagram, and Pinterest.

1 COMMENT

  1. Zack sounds wonderful. Trying not to raise jerks over here and calling them out when I see jerky behavior. I have an 8th grade son who loves the academic work of school and dreads the social interaction. Character building is rough and it’s two fold. I have to teach my kids to have positive and compassionate interactions without much control over the “characters” they’ll cross paths with throughout the day.

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