I have a gregarious 8-year-old son who wants nothing more than to be everyone’s friend, host play dates and just have everybody get along. He’s always giggling, joking and trying to get the party started. Most other kids love him. Who wouldn’t want to be buds with the life of the party? They accept his invitations and laugh at his jokes, which makes Javier beam with pride. He sometimes becomes so over-the-top happy when he’s playing with friends that he impulsively bear hugs them or plants a kiss on their cheeks. What can I say? My son is a lover.
Not all kids are comfortable with all that touching, and over the years I’ve explained that to Jav. The older he gets, the less the impulses take over. But for a while when he was about 5 and 6, they were a regular occurrence. They’re probably fading for many reasons, not the least of which is that he’s just plain growing up, maturing and learning how to control his feelings while having respect for other people’s space.
So when I read about the 6-year-old boy who was suspended and accused of sexual harassment for kissing a female classmate on the hand, it stirred something. My son kisses my hand all the time. It's one of the gestures I cherish most because it feels so chivalrous, something we don't see much anymore. First-grader Hunter Yelton was sitting in his class reading circle, grabbed the hand of the girl next to him, and planted a wet one. I think it’s a bit much to suspend him, but that doesn’t bother me as much as accusing him of sexual harassment. According to the school district’s exaggerated definition, school harassment is defined by unwanted touching.
If that is true, then I was just sexually harassed while in line at the grocery store when the gentleman behind me kept bumping into me. I found it annoying, it was unwanted, so surely that constitutes sexual harassment, right?
Wrong. I’m an adult, I know better, and sometimes those checkout tabloids suck you in so hard you don’t realize you keep bumping into the person in front of you. The school should know better, too. Hunter Yelton is six, and presumably, his beloved is right around that age, too. Some kids at that stage say they’re boyfriend and girlfriend without any idea of what they’re talking about. Other kids are simply sensory creatures who, like my Javier, strive to spread love and friendship wherever they go.
By taking it so far as to call this sexual harassment, the school has introduced a very heavy term to a group of first graders who are far from ready to understand what that means. “What is sex?” Hunter asked his mom immediately after getting in trouble. I’m willing to bet she didn’t have an answer ready, and neither will the parents of his classmates when they come home and tell mom and dad that Hunter was suspended for sexual harassment. I think that’s a much bigger problem than reminding a 6-year-old that he needs to keep his hands to himself.
Kids try things out to see how far they can go. If Hunter or any other child repeatedly touches the hands or face of another who has clearly made it known they do not like it, then by all means, call his parents, revoke recess privileges, suspend him if you have to, but don’t call it sexual harassment. If no private parts are involved, the word sex shouldn't even enter the conversation. If I had a daughter and a kid was driving her bonkers kissing her hand, or even touching her hair, I'd say something to the teacher, then the other mom if I had to, but I wouldn't accuse her suitor of sexual harassment.
My son may be a touchy feely kid, but he’s never been in trouble for making anyone uncomfortable (whew!). If he did, I’d be the first to scold him appropriately, but I would never tell him he’s sexually harassing anyone. That’s just bad parenting.
What do you think? Did the school go too far calling it sexual harassment?