Bullying, and the Battle for Equality

Hasardous waste-01This week I have been called immoral, evil, ignorant, and bigoted. I was told I care nothing about children (this after almost 30 years as a pediatrician). I was told that I was going to burn in hell. It has been a very odd week.

None of these things sounded much like the me I know and love.

Each time I was simply standing up for what I believed was right, and the “adults” with whom I was conversing were so astonished when I did not simply cave to their obvious superiority that they went straight to name calling, rather than reason.

I could almost feel the thrill they took in shouting their beliefs from their shaky mountain top, refusing to even consider a different viewpoint.

I am a grown up, I can hold to my beliefs and not shed a tear, but oddly… it still hurt.

So how must it feel as a 10 year old, when enormous adults are towering over you, talking at you and not giving you a moment to speak for yourself? How, when the popular kid in class, the one with all the social power, calls you a dork and shoves you into a wall? How, when you know you are different and different is immoral, ignorant, and hell bound, if only because it does not sanctify their views and might poke a hole in the fragile balloon of their security?

We are fighting in the streets now, for equality not based on religious views, skin color, sex, or sexual preference. I wonder if the people demanding they be respected even though they are Muslim, or Black, see that their fight is the same as those that demand equality even though they are gay. Do the women ( and the Pope! ) fighting for equal pay see their battle as a part of the never-ending fight for all humans to respect each other as equals?

Can we ever get to a point where we realize that no one wins, as long as someone else looses?

That someone else’s success does not subtract from or in any way prevent ours?

As usual with social change, evolution must start with the children. Children are pure potential; their minds are open, interested, and willing to love. A baby looks at any face with wide open eyes and an ear-to-ear smile, not caring what color or sex that face is, what church they go to, or whom they love. We as their parents and teachers sometimes ruin that. We damage their beautiful, open minds and darken their young hearts, forcing our reality upon them. We teach them to smirk and squint, to judge and condemn.

If we want our children to be happy and fulfilled, to be able to think and create, and to be open to the opportunities the world puts in their paths, we must examine our own thoughts, pack the ugly ones up and cart them off. When we catch ourselves starting to say something unkind, we must stop. When we find ourselves treating someone as if they are less, we need to realize that this gives permission for another person to treat our child as if he or she is less. If our children see us treat every person with respect, they will know they also are deserving of respect, simply because everyone is.

Take the positives from our separate cultures and celebrate them, but allow that other cultures have positives too.

Be proud of our accomplishments, but also find it in our hearts to congratulate others on theirs.

Step up when someone is cruel.

Understand that we are not fighting for Gay Rights or Black Justice or Women’s Rights, but for Equality. We cannot hold onto our own rights if we do not grant everyone else theirs. It makes no sense to insist that a person respect our beliefs and then turn around and denigrate theirs. It is immoral to campaign for Black justice then go home and vomit up ugliness about gays or women; to fight for equal pay for women then turn around and gossip about the mixed race marriage down the block.

Until we can give respect, we ourselves do not deserve it, and our children will follow in our path.

When we stand up to our own bullies (especially the ones squatting in our own brains), we teach our children how to stand up to theirs, and they will be able to grasp and hold the life we wish for them.

Perhaps now is a good time to remember the words of Martin Niemöller (1892–1984):

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.



the Pope, and the Smacking of Children

So, I haPrintd great hopes for this Pope. He was a man of the people, a decent human being, and truly seemed to care and connect with his community. Then he said that birth control would never be allowed by the Catholic church, and followed a few hours later with: This does not mean you have to breed “like rabbits!” Sigh.

Now, he has commented that it’s OK to smack your kids, as long as you don’t humiliate them. Yes, I will admit he was talking about spanking, which seems to be a blind spot, but the only place he outlawed for said smacking was the face, and hitting is hitting.

I am not happy, and when I am not happy I make lists. Below is an even dozen tips on how to discipline kids that, while not ordained by God, is based on common sense and a lot of experience with children:

  1. Don’t hit your children. It is not possible for a big person who is four times the size of a small person to immobilize them and hit them, without frightening and humiliating them. It can’t be done.
  2. Before you discipline, make rules that make sense, and inform your children. You shouldn’t punish them for breaking a rule they didn’t know about.
  3. Decide on the manner of discipline before they break the rule. Never decide on the punishment when you are angry; you will do things you later regret. Involve the children in the decision. “What do you think would be an appropriate punishment if you break this rule?” Kids can come up with some very creative punishments. Don’t listen if they want to be burned at the stake, or shot into outer space.
  4. Be consistent in your discipline. They knew the rule, they broke it, they get the punishment each and every time. Don’t even think of issuing a warning for a rule they already knew. Kids are smart; they will figure out that they can break any rule, once.
  5. Make the discipline appropriate for the crime. If they broke a toy, they loose the toy. Mean to another child? Being made to appoligize is harder than any spanking, and the memory will make them consider before they do it again. Look at porn on the internet? “I guess you get to do your computer homework in the kitchen where we can see you. Dude.”
  6. Make the discipline immediate and short term. None of that “Wait ’til your father gets home!” stuff. If you wait too long, your child will disassociate the punishment from the crime. The same thing is true with punishments that last more than a day or two. Three months of grounding for that, umm, incident, will loose its effectiveness after a while.
  7. Hold out hope for the future. Your child needs to know that you still love him and he may someday get his tablet back. The stick doesn’t work without the carrot in place. “Pick up that mess you made and we can sit and read that book you love!”
  8. Don’t tower over your child when you enforce discipline. Start with the respect any human deserves, get down to their level, look them in the eye, and explain the problem.
  9. Alternatively, don’t allow the discussion to devolve into excuses. Your child needs to take responsibility for his actions, not try to talk his way out of trouble.
  10. Make sure you squeeze in more rewards than punishments. Forever. How long would you go to work if you didn’t get a paycheck? Hug that child when he shares his toys. Play ball with her when she finishes her homework. Be astonished and happy when they clean their rooms. Rewards will always work better than punishments.
  11. Teenagers are, as always, a special case. Their brains are not fully developed yet, and they will not be able to see the consequences of their actions far into the future. They are also not always rational: a teen once asked me if it was true that a girl could not get pregnant if she put a yellow skittle in her vagina when she had sex. They need freedom to make mistakes, but they also need to be protected from mistakes that will kill their futures. Watch them, without blinders. Know where they are and what they are doing. Contracts work: if they know you will come and pick them up anywhere, anytime, and not freak out in front of their friends, your child will call you. You can discuss the consequences with them in the morning.
  12. Again: Never hit your child. Not only is it disrespectful and humiliating, it also simply doesn’t work.

Realize that the goal of discipline is a well adjusted, self confident adult who has a good relationship with his or her spouse and children, and a good reputation at work; the goal is not a well behaved thirteen year old. Have patience and keep the long view. Your child is worth it.

I do have hopes for this Pope, but if you are going to tell people that they need to control their birth rate, it is unkind to outlaw the most reliable ways to do that. It is poor parenting to tell your child to do his homework and then remove all the books, paper and pencils from the house. And perhaps an unmarried man with no children, who has never been faced with the possibility of that 2 AM phone call from the emergency room, is not the man to discuss the intricacies of child discipline.