My son is too young to comprehend the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between people. He understands that there is an inherent difference between boys and girls or little kids and adults, but his grasp on things like race, skin color, sexuality, and cultural differences is non-existent.
My nephew is a bit older than my son and remarkably in-tune with characteristic discrepancies and nuances among his peers. To be clear, he doesn’t CARE about these differences, but he certainly understands that they exist. The fact that he’s part-black and part-white may have something to do with this. His mixed heritage alone has also prompted more serious conversations regarding identity than perhaps most kids his age need to have.
In my sister’s family, they continually have an open-dialogue about differences in people and it doesn’t stop at racism. They have had to gently explain homosexuality, as my nephew’s aunts on his father’s side are lesbians. They have also had to explain autism due to a close family member having it. These are incredibly difficult discussions to understand FOR ANYONE (let alone a 4-year-old), but my sister’s family is all about honesty, open dialogue, and transparency. And because my nephew is both highly intelligent and highly sensitive, he seems to grasp this concept better than many adults I know.
Now, because of my cousin’s history, I knew there was a chance of him getting bullied.
What I WASN’T prepared for was him getting picked on for being a Christian.
Last week, I happened to be over at my sister’s place, mid-afternoon, when her son, Ky, came barging through the front door, tears streaming down his face. This kid is rarely upset, so both his mom and I abruptly took notice.
“Oh my gosh, what’s wrong, sweetie?” My sister exclaimed, scooping his visually-shaken body into a bear-hug. Through choking tears, he explained that some kids at school had made fun of him for praying.
With tears pooling in his sweet, innocent, beautiful eyes, he quietly said, “some kids at school were making fun of me because I prayed before lunch just like daddy always said I should do. Then they told me god and religion are dumb.”
Ok, no parenting book or article I have ever read has broached this particular form of bullying, which I suppose is what threw me abruptly off-guard. Kids these days are now making fun of someone for showing appreciation for their blessings and a higher power? I was aghast – not because I’m naive toward the callous and limitless ways kids can find reasons to bully one another. I’m highly aware that kids can be a-holes. (Sorry, but it’s true). But now even PRAYING is worthy of criticism? One of the most sacred and personal things we practice as human beings?
Like the superstar mom she is, my sister handled the situation with poise and grace and Ky seemed to feel significantly better after a few minutes of discussion.
To be honest, I’m not sure I would have handled it so graciously. I spent the rest of the day being pissed. I’m STILL pissed about it and that was a week ago.
Here’s the thing: these kids are way too young to come up with such abhorrent attitudes and ideologies on their own. They HAD to have learned this sort of hatred from a parent, family member, or influencer, which means SOMEONE out there is telling these impressionable minds that God is fake, religion is bad, and anyone that follows His Teachings Is an idiot. For multiple reasons, this is a very hurtful, inaccurate, bigoted,(and potentially dangerous) attitude toward those who choose to follow His Word. Of the varying problem with this attitude is the most glaring which is the fundamental hypocrisy of it all.
I realize I’m going to be incredibly stereotypical here, and for those who don’t fall into this category, I apologize in advance. However, it seems to me that the people who have a huge issue with Christianity (or any of its derivatives) are largely liberal. Apparently, it’s not “cool” to love Jesus anymore, much like it’s not cool to wear fanny packs or tattletale or be bad at sports.
Liberals scream that there needs to be acceptance in the world – that we have to embrace and respect one another for their differences. But that ideology seems to fall short when it comes to the conservative community. And it’s (whether purposely or inadvertently) creating a culture in which conservatives are afraid to voice their opinions.
Look, racism, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia and any other umbrella term that cats people as villainous are clearly not ok beliefs to instill in our children. But you know what else isn’t? Many of the misconceived beliefs liberals have about conservatives. How is it fair that acceptance can only go one way?
Just because you have a problem with abortion does NOT make you a bad person; it actually makes you a caring person. Just because you believe in the right to own firearms doesn’t make you a gun-crazy murderer – it usually means you just want the ability to protect your family. Just because you believe marriage is a sacred institution doesn’t make you irrational or out-of-touch with reality – it means you have a very healthy and strong belief in love and the family unit. And just because you pray, attend church, or practice a specific set of doctrines doesn’t make you any better or worse than anybody else in the world – unless those practices hurt other people.
My sweet, caring, smart, and compassionate 4-year-old feels good giving thanks before he eats. He finds comfort kneeling before his bed at night and asking his lord to bless everyone he loves in life. He gets excited when he gets to dress up for to church and not one of those things is worthy of being bullied over.
Acceptance simply has to go across the board in a society where there are so many personalities, cultures, belief systems, and races. Clearly, we’ll never all agree on anything, but maybe teaching our kids how to be accepting and open-minded would be a good start. Remember: kids aren’t intuitively judgmental or mean. That’s learned behavior. In trying to lead our youth to be kinder and more accepting, perhaps we as a society can learn from them and not the other way around.