Our tradition is that we each take turns talking about our days. Even if there’s no big news, we still go around and share. I usually guide the conversation, although by now I rarely need to. The kids know what I’m looking for:
How was your day?
What did you do?
Did you learn anything new today?
That last question is the most important for me. My wife and I like to teach our kids that there’s always something new to learn, even if it’s something very small.
It’s one of my mottos that I impose on my children: Always be learning.
My 10 year-old son Lucas started off with the usual, “I woke up, got dressed, brushed my teeth (yes – we go into that amount of detail – it’s become a gimmick) went to school…It was a normal morning but then I got onto the bus…. and I had a problem with one of the kids who sits near me.”
He went on to explain that a girl named “Sally” and her friends were pointing, whispering and laughing at him. Eventually it started to bother him, so he asked her what she was laughing about.
Sally told Lucas he was disgusting. That he likes a boy named “Peter” which makes him gay. And gay is disgusting, according to Sally.
I asked what he said to her. I expected that he was defensive.
“I told her that she was disgusting for judging people based on who they love. I told her that probably everyone on the bus knows someone who is gay, or knows someone who comes from a gay family and that she should be ashamed of herself for not being more accepting of people no matter what their beliefs are.”
He went on…
“Your parents haven’t done a very good job teaching you about the world. You can think what you want, but in this case you are just wrong. Love is love. Doesn’t matter if someone is a boy or a girl. And you should keep those opinions to yourself – because nobody wants to hear them.”
Apparently the bus went silent. According to my daughter, you could hear a pin drop. Every student (and the bus driver) was listening to the conversation. Lucas rallied the whole bus behind him. Sally was embarrassed and later reported him for bullying.
My eyes filled with tears as he told the story. I’m not sure I’ve ever been more impressed with him. At the core of what I was experiencing was an overwhelming feeling of parental pride. I was so proud that he didn’t even feel a need to justify her stupid comment with a defense of his own sexuality. But because you’re wondering – Lucas likes girls (not that it matters to my wife and I at all).
I asked him about why he didn’t defend the accusation and his answer to me was, “It didn’t matter Dad. That’s what she wanted – for me to get defensive and be upset by her comment. But I was more upset that somebody could say these things to someone else and call gay people disgusting and not normal. It just wasn’t right. What if someone on the bus has gay parents? Or is gay themselves? I felt bad for those people.”
I was so proud that he was confident enough to call her out. It’s one thing to know that you’ve given your kids a moral compass that is properly aligned, but when push came to shove and he was faced with an opportunity to do the right thing, he stepped up.
We’ve taught our kids to stand up for what’s right, to be tolerant and accepting. Lucas put those beliefs and values into practice.
I was equally gratified that he wasn’t afraid of what the others kids’ reactions would be. I love that he took her to church!
Once I was done with being proud I started to think about Sally, about what her parents are like and what they’re teaching her. It seems clear that they’re passing their beliefs onto her and I truly believe she’ll suffer as a result of what she’s learning at home. Case in point: the whole bus turned on her for using words like ‘disgusting’ to describe homosexuality.
There is hope for this generation.
But the whole thing got me thinking…what about the kids who truly are struggling with their own sexuality or gender identification?
Are there more kids like Lucas out there or is the world still full of Sallys? For me, it comes down to what these kids are being taught at home.
As a generation hell bent on driving change, we are focused on efforts to raise awareness (and funds) in order to battle the stigmas associated with diversity and mental illness (among lots of other issues). I firmly believe in the importance of raising awareness, but for me, it starts at home. We are parents with the power to change the way the next generation deals with diversity. We have to raise children who are tolerant and open. That’s how we’re going to drive change. That’s how we are going to break the stigmas. Sure, fundraisers are important – but so is providing your children with a belief and value system that can make them better people. The world needs more good people.
My wife and I have always taught our kids about diversity and acceptance. She comes from a theater background and was always quite imbedded in the LBGT community as a result. Many of her friends are gay and we both grew up with a “people are people” mentality. We taught our kids early on that everyone is different. I have a cousin whose child has autism. When my kids were old enough to realize something was different about him, we sat them down to teach them that everyone is unique and special in their own way. I feel pretty fortunate that the message stuck. Clearly.
And yet there are still people out there who are raising kids to be haters.
The statistics on bullying in Canada are pretty hard to ignore. Canada has the 9th highest rate of bullying in the 13-years-olds category on a scale of 35 countries1. At least 1 in 3 adolescent students in Canada have reported being bullied recently2., and 47% of Canadian parents report having a child victim of bullying4. Within Canada, Quebec has the highest reported rate of bullying over every other province. And the scariest stat of all: Any participation in bullying increases risk of suicidal ideas in youth, tenfold.
We are victims of our environment.
Last winter my daughter and I went to watch my nephew play hockey. His game hadn’t started yet so we were able to catch the tail end of the previous game. I was so sickened by one father who expressed his disappointment in his son’s performance by repeatedly calling him a “pussy” and a “faggot”. I could imagine the poor kid fighting back tears behind his facemask. But I could also imagine him using the same words to bully his friends in the schoolyard. And projecting ahead 25 years, there’s a good chance he’ll turn into a douchebag father too.
And it wasn’t just that ignorant ass of a father I had trouble with. Not a single other adult in the stands called him out on abusing his kid, on using language that is totally unacceptable, on setting a horrible example of how to be a thug and a bully – at a kids’ sporting event
At the end of the day, our kids learn what we teach them. Our beliefs and values become their beliefs and values. As parents, we set the example for the people they become. I’m not a hockey dad, but if I were, I’d be teaching my kids to be sportsmen and leaders on and off the ice – not bullies and thugs.
So maybe you need to ask yourself if, overtly or inadvertently, you could be raising a Sally.
Because I can promise you that as long as there are more kids like Lucas, the Sallys of the world won’t get away with spewing their intolerance. They may even be ostracized for it.
So I ask you…what are you teaching your kids?