Children Aren’t Really Assholes

When we first started taking Miles to the playground at about 11 months, he had no notion of things that were too big for him. The kid hadn’t even mastered walking, but if there was playground equipment he wanted to be around it, on it, under it, and trying to fall off it. In these days, my sister (hardly bigger than a kid herself, at 4’11″ and pretty lean) was a boon, because she could go down all the slides and squeeze into these made-for-kids nooks and crannies with him.

I find this just slightly more difficult. My fat ass has to stand back a little, hover around the gaps and hold to catch him if he falls — and I usually do.

I usually went during the day when I wasn’t working, and usually only encountered kids in the 1 – 6 age range. As can be imagined, Miles was generally run over, and occasionally scolded by slightly older children for being a baby. (There was one kid in particular who meant well — he was so alarmed by Miles’s presence, and kept trying to stop him from climbing by pushing him, yelling, “No, you’re a baby!” Miles was unperturbed.)

And while I generally don’t think that kids are assholes, no matter how often I swear my child is a jerk, I do think that people in general — and kids especially — tend to be less aware of their actions as they relate to others. Empathy is a hard concept.

I have a hard time at playgrounds — I’ll bring a book, but then spend so much time staring at Miles, waiting for something to happen, that I end up not reading anything. Or I’m terrified that I’ll lose track of him. Today we went to a small, only-one-exit-to-my-back indoor play area; I spent time on my laptop finishing up some work, and I can’t count the number of times I had to stop and focus on where exactly my child was. (Tunnel-vision, thy name is Ashes.)

The other day we went to a playground, and there were a couple classes there — from school or from daycare, I couldn’t tell you — with something like two dozen 8-10 year olds enjoying the first warm day of the year. As you can imagine, they were rowdy.

These kids were like cultists, the kind of kids people imagine when they talk about rowdy, uncontrollable kids that are ruining our culture one temper tantrum at a time. (No, I don’t believe that.) At one point there were something like 15 of them all clustered on these small stairs leading up to a slide, screaming at the top of their lungs after another little girl: “ALISHA! ALISHA! ALISHA!” For ten minutes. I don’t even know why.

The thing is? They kids were all darling with Miles. They weren’t rude when I encountered them, they always made space for him to get down the slide, they made sure that they didn’t run into him or knock him down — one little girl actually let him hold her hand and lead her around for a little bit. A couple kids mentioned that there was a baby, but they weren’t bothered or at all inconvenienced by his presence in their space.

These bizarre, slightly terrifying children weren’t actually all that bizarre or terrifying — they were just being kids. (That said, I feel for poor Alisha, whose name is not actually Alisha.)  This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered this in the last couple weeks, and it’s so refreshing. It’s like when you think something is going to taste bad, and it turns out to be delicious.

Children aren’t actually assholes most of the time, they just look like it in large groups.


Edit June 30th, 2011 to add: Followed up with Teenagers (Also) Aren’t Assholes

  • Alicia C.

    I love this! So glad Hobo Mama posted the link on Facebook – I'm now your newest follower!

  • Violinwidow

    I've always found that the girls want to lead my son around and add him to their group and mother him, and the boys are cautious about hurting him. It's funny to see a group of rowdy boys in full run part around a smaller child. In general kids are kind to my smaller child and forgive him for being in their way.

  • Thomasin Propson

    Hah! *snort* I'm not completely convinced. Well, okay, so I wouldn't characterize any of our playground encounters to date as being asshole-ish, but I'm keeping my eyes on a couple of the neighborhood girlies. 6 years old and already too cool to even say hi to my 2 year old when she walks to up to them to give them a hug? Breaks my heart. It's the way of the world, perhaps; she's already learning. And I've got plenty of hugs for her. I just don't remember the park being the place where everything gets "real," you know?

  • Momma Jorje

    Wow, this is a tough one for me to swallow. Sasha is 1½ and I've not had very many situations where I've had to worry about older kids (probably because I avoid those situations), but… children around smaller children or babies make me SO NERVOUS!I love your tale and I hope things go as well for us when out paths cross with others. Thank you for sharing your refreshing experience!

  • Laura Bangerter

    The other day we actually had a group of kids playing tag in the cul-de-sac. :) My daughter was the youngest (just turned 4) and the smallest by far. A 7yr old boy who was playing at a neighbors house let my daughter tag him when she was it, because she was slower and didn't quite get the game. It made me really happy.

  • hobomama

    I was putting my Sunday Surf post together last night and got around to sharing this! I'd read it on my phone when I was out so am just now commenting. I needed this reminder not to assume kids — particularly strange, older kids — are potential hooligans. I mean, there have been times when Mikko at 2 years old was shoved aside by a 4-year-old — but then I had to remind myself that a 4-year-old is still pretty dang young and to have compassion rather than seeing a seemingly hulking preschooler as Attila the Hun.What it really made me think of is how I'm always leery (and so is Mikko) of the hordes of teens hanging out in front of the community center when I go to drop Mikko off for preschool — but then they nudge each other to move out of the way and hold the door for us.

  • Ashley

    Thanks! :D

  • Ashley

    I think it's interesting that at a certain age, the kids get protective of the younger kids. (I also find it really interesting how different he looks to other kid's eyes. I hardly imagine him as baby anymore, but kids just a little bit older than him are "HOLY CRAP BABY!")

  • Ashley

    6 years old and already too cool to even say hi to my 2 year old when she walks to up to them to give thIm a hug?Aww, that is sad. :( Miles is incredibly huggy and affectionate, but thankfully it's the rare child who denies him. We live in a pretty touchy-feely area, and I think that helps.

  • Ashley

    Thanks for your comment!I think there's a bit of an age thing; it seems like when they're close to his age (the 2-3 range) there's still a lack of understanding that his actions cause harm. And a lot of the time I see him treating other children without proper respect for their personal space — it's hard to explain over and over again, because even though I know he's not being malicious, at the same time the end game is still the same to the poor kid he was trying to hug/move.Hopefully you meet some rad kids in the future! :D

  • Ashley

    Aww! That's darling. It's really great to see kids treating each other with respect and caring. <3

  • Ashley

    Oh, I agree! At a certain point these large groups of kids tap into this part of me that is still remembers being the dorky kid in elementary and middle school — they look really threatening through that filter.It's nice to be reminded that on the whole kids are not malicious little devils out to devour the lands before them, but rather just learning about how interact and treat each other with respect.