There’s a recent news story getting a lot of attention. A six-year-old kindergartener in Colorado was suspended from school for sexual harassment because he kissed a classmate on the hand. His mother is upset she’s having to explain “sex” to her six year old and feels the school’s reaction is extreme.
She admits Hunter’s been in trouble in school before–he’s been suspended twice–once for rough-housing and another for kissing the same little girl on the cheek. She feels the school district has gone too far for an innocent kiss. He’s just a little boy with a lot of energy who has a crush on a girl.
Apparently a lot of people think a kiss from one six year old to another is not a big deal and many feel the school overreacted. One woman was concerned Hunter would be “traumatized” by this punishment.
The more I’ve heard about this story, the more frustrated I’ve become.
The question that keeps coming to me is this: If we don’t teach this little boy “NO means NO” now, when does he learn that lesson? It’s just innocent; he has a crush on her and wanted to give her a kiss because he likes her. If we don’t teach our children when they’re young that you need to listen when someone says “I don’t want you to touch me,” then WHEN do we teach them? It’s not a big deal; it’s just a kiss. It’s sweet. If we haven’t established that our own desires don’t supersede another person’s refusal, what do we say when our teenager holds his girlfriend down on a bed having sex with her against her will? He didn’t mean anything bad, he just really likes her and wanted to show her.
It might seem like a big leap to go from “an innocent kiss” to rape, but let’s get real for a minute. Six-year-old boys turn into sixteen-year-old young men who grow into twenty-six-year old adults. What we teach our children when they’re little serves as the base for everything else they learn. If their lesson is they can do whatever they want regardless of how someone else feels about it, then we’re going to have adults who do just that without a care for how their behavior impacts others.
We’ve created a culture of excuses. We have a teenager who claims “affluenza” as a defense for killing four people while driving drunk. How can he be held accountable now? He hasn’t ever been because Mommy and Daddy always bought him out of trouble in the past. He never had to learn about taking responsibility before. We have two high school football stars who repeatedly penetrated a classmate they carried to multiple parties while other players recorded, tweeted and texted photos of the events further degrading her. Their defense was that she didn’t say “no” to any of it–but that’s because she was passed out. How were they supposed to know her pain and humiliation would matter since they had always been told they were king? They never expected there would be consequences since their coaches and administrators always “fixed” things to be sure they could still play football. They were given a pass on everything else because they were special. Why would this be any different?
There always seems to be an excuse, but excuses don’t bring back the four people killed by a drunk kid on a joyride and they don’t unrape a teenage girl.
Hunter’s mother has played this off saying the children saw themselves as boyfriend and girlfriend. The problem is, that’s her version. The little girl’s mother has disputed that saying the little girl didn’t want to be touched or kissed by this boy. It has been a pervasive issue and she’s had to teach her six year old about how to respond to unwanted touching. Hunter has repeatedly been told–by the girl, by his teacher, and now by school officials–that he needs to keep his hands to himself.
Having been in the education world for over twenty years–as a teacher and parent–I have never come across a kindergarten teacher who doesn’t have a multi-leveled discipline system where students get layered warnings and consequences. Hunter had been repeatedly warned and received other consequences before his first suspension. And certainly there had been more before his second suspension for kissing this little girl. It’s a very rare thing for an elementary student to receive a suspension at all, but three times in three months??
Every child–every person–has the right to have their personal boundaries respected. That little girl should be able to be in her kindergarten classroom without being touched by someone if she doesn’t want to be. Just as Hunter should be too. Whether it’s unwanted touching with someone’s hands, lips, or anything else, it all comes down to the same thing: it’s unwanted and there’s no acceptable excuse for it.
Although his mother believes it to be true, Hunter isn’t the victim here. He’s the one who’s receiving a consequence, yes, but that doesn’t make him a victim. That makes him the person who acted inappropriately. That makes him the one who was in the wrong–not the person who was wronged. There’s a six-year-old little girl who has repeatedly been touched by a boy in ways she didn’t want. SHE is the victim in this situation.
It may seem extreme to label a six year old’s behavior as sexual harassment, but that’s what it was. He may not understand it in those terms, but that’s what it boils down to. If he does the same thing when he’s sixteen or twenty-six, it will be sexual harassment–and the consequences will be much more significant than two days suspension. I believe that his consequence is as much for his parents as it is for him. It’s a wake up call to get their attention. If they don’t get Hunter to understand that he doesn’t get to kiss and get physical with other people–no matter how much he likes them or is an energetic boy who likes to rough-house–the ramifications will be more serious.
Some people are upset that Hunter has been labeled a “sex offender” and that he’s got a record because of this discipline. Neither is true. The reason listed on his school record for receiving this consequence is sexual harassment. He wasn’t criminally charged. In the same way receiving a detention for taking someone’s pencil doesn’t make you a thief with a rap sheet, neither does this label him a sex offender. What it does, though, is establish a history. If Hunter continues to touch other students in ways that aren’t appropriate or wanted throughout the years, the school will have records indicating his continued behavioral issues.
We’ve become a culture of parents who defend our children and their actions without question. While I believe in supporting our kids and standing up for them when they’ve been wronged, I believe we’re doing them a significant disservice when we shelter them from life’s every woe and discomfort. We all make mistakes; that’s life. But an important part of living is owning our mistakes and learning from them … and I believe that’s a lesson we’re never too young to learn.
[Note: After the negative publicity, Canon City Schools Superintendent Robin Gooldy met with Hunter’s parents. He changed Hunter’s disciplinary offense from “sexual harassment” to “misconduct” and he was allowed to return to school. I’m afraid that the only lesson learned here will be “the squeaky wheel gets the grease” … only time will tell whether Hunter and his parents have learned anything more valuable than that.]