The case of the easily offended 4-year-old
"Mommy!" Boots gasped. "He called me a name!"
I didn't ask what the name was out of fear it was something that would get Boots in trouble for repeating it. "And calling names is wrong," I told Boots. "But it doesn't look like you're bleeding or hurt, so just ignore it and go on."
A few minutes later, another classmate gasped. "He ... called ... me ... mister," he accused, pointing toward the same kid who'd muttered at Boots minutes earlier.
I wanted to die laughing. Now I understood why Boots had been irritated - "mister" is my word of choice when I'm hard-core lecturing the guys. Boots probably thought it means something really bad.
Even if it had been something really bad, my reaction would have been the same. "Yes, it's wrong, but we can't go through live ticked off at every little thing someone does to bug us."
Boots has been going through a stage of being easily offended of late. A bit of it's transferred to Big Guy, who was almost in tears the other night because Boots said his brother's homework looked "gloppy."
Far less than gloppy, though, will trigger a torrent from Boots. Words such as the highly offensive "mister," for example.
Part of it is because we adults encourage offendedness by thinking we have to mete out punishment for every little squabble less the teaser turn into a bully. I fear we're going to create a generation so thin-skinned its members won't be able to handle even the slightest verbal bump or bruise or they'll expect someone to charge in and fix every grievance.
As a chubby kid with frizzy hair, I was often the target of teasing when I was a young. The most-used taunts - fatty and fuzzy - just happened to be true, and I knew it. But I also eventually learned that I had strengths in areas not dependent on physique or follicles - back then we didn't believe that everyone was good at everything. And I'd heard "sticks and stone may break my bones but names will never hurt me" often enough to overcome by adolescence.
The cliche seems to have disappeared these days.
A classic example of this was last year in the school cafeteria, when the monitor practically ran to me when I came to pick up Big Guy.
"K's very upset," she said about Big Guy's sole dining companion at the peanut-free table. "He's been calling her a 'boy' today. You need to talk to him."
What I wanted to do was shrug. Back when I was in grade school, calling a classmate the opposite gender was so pedestrian it didn't even rise to the level of an insult. I couldn't believe that 40 years later I was being ordered to intervene in a petty squabble that had been discussed to the point of morphing into a big insult.
"You know it's not right to call people anything but their name," I told Big Guy. "Don't do it again."
The monitor beamed at me. Tempting though it was, I didn't recite "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me" on my way out.
Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.