There are lots of kids I love. But as adults we may feel forced to love all kids, because they are defenceless, innocent and small. Sometimes we are quick to pass off misbehaviours as a by-product of being a juvenile.
We say things like:
“Well he/she’s only a child.”
or “They’ll grow out of it.”
or “He/she doesn’t know how to express herself.”
or “They’re acting like that to get attention.”
or “Boys will be boys.” (which seems to state the obvious. It would make little sense to say “Boys will be turnips” as this is wholly untrue and a defiance of physics if it were).
For the most part childhood carries with it certain innocence for many. But what if some of these children are deliberately and systematically trying to unravel the highly fragile social structures us adults have been working to build over a number of centuries?
From a young age the majority of children establish an understanding of ‘right and wrong’. There is a conscious decision to choose wrong. We remember, from our own childhood, times we consciously chose to do wrong. We remember other children who consciously chose to do wrong. And we did not like them for this. And maybe we even hated them (which, in itself, is not a very nice thing to do). So as adults, is it still ok to dislike a child at a human level, even if our position in society requires otherwise?
The first kid I hated told me to “fuck off”. This is not behaviour that would be tolerated from an adult; or at the very least would be met with a similarly anger-charged, “Why don’t you fuck off?”.
However, I was a student teacher, he was a student student, and both of us were out of our depth in the West Australian Pilbara without a dime to our name (albeit the state government had paid me a lump sum to head to the dust bowl; I’d blown the whole lot on petrol – some for transport, the rest for recreational use). I’m normally non-confrontational, so if someone else had told me to “fuck off” I’d probably have done just that. But this child needed to be in the classroom doing his work because the government said so.
After much negotiation, time out, shouting and general cajoling, he re-entered the room. Sitting back in his seat, pencil in hand, eyes rolling to the back of his head, this 13-year-old ball of anguish continued to do no work for the duration of my six week stint in town.
Had I failed as a teacher? Had I failed as a human being? Or had the school simply omitted that the child had recently been taken off his ADHD medication and was spiralling into a severe pattern of withdrawal?
I tend to think that my inexperience at the time led me to have less empathy for the child. It is very hard in that moment, when someone tells you to “fuck off”, to remember that this is not a personal attack but a by-product of an unstable home environment or emotional turmoil or testosterone or flagging Ritalin levels. We are human beings first and professionals or parents second. Sometimes our own human emotions kick in and it was my inner Zen that prevented me from pushing that child over the first floor rusted cast iron railing.
I of course dealt with it in the professional way and acted amicably to calm the child, but if we met again I doubt I would buy him a drink.