Tell Me About It: Nothing good about classifying kids as 'good,' 'bad'


Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Question: My soon-to-be first grader is in a small camp. There is a handful of boys a few years older that he has taken a liking to, and he's been picking up bad things. The other day he told me, "Girls drink Pepsi, so they can get sexy; boys go to college, so they can get knowledge."

I know he doesn't get exactly what he's saying, but he knows it's a put-down to girls. My husband and I have talked to him about hanging out with good kids, not emulating bad behavior, and that girls are as smart as boys.

I know the road ahead is long, and he'll be exposed to much worse than stupid sayings. But how can I help him tell the "good kids" from "bad kids"?

Answer: You can start by staying away from the "good kids"/"bad kids" mindset. It's just a branch of the same messed-up tree that produced the "girls-are-sexy / boys-are-smart" howler in any of its forms, rhymed or blank verse.

So your message to your 6-year-old (and then 7 and then 8 and on and on) needs to be that it's not right to put people in groups. Everyone's different and everyone deserves the chance to be what he or she wants. Boys can be sexy and drink Pepsi! Heck, girls can drink Pepsi, be sexy, and go to college. I just caution against going to Jupiter to get more stupider.

You do have to be careful not to take every little thing too seriously, lest you become easy for him to tune out. But the consistency of your anti-stereotype message is what's going to make it stick, and, conveniently, just about everything you experience with him is a teaching opportunity for this.

If he's handed a kids' menu at a restaurant, assure him he doesn't have to eat what people assume kids like. Or, ask him his opinion of things instead of just sending opinions parent-to-child. (And ask him to define "sexy" for you. Reminding kids not to use words unless they know what they mean can save you both some red faces.)