'Kids Will Be Kids' Is No Excuse

Julee Newberger
June 5, 2000

In the seventh grade, all the girls loved Mr. C. He had freckles, sandy hair, twinkly blue eyes and two adorable little girls whose pictures he kept on his desk. The most popular and best students among us got to baby-sit for his daughters on weekend nights. Mr. C was a social studies teacher, a graduate of the local high school, and the girls' track and soccer coach. He was everybody's favorite.

In Mr. C's class, I hung out with a group of girls who liked to think of ourselves as Mr. C's favorite students. We had designer jeans with pinstripes, we matched our socks with our purses and we got good grades, too.

But we were not always nice—to other kids, or to each other. Maybe it was because we were making the transition from elementary school to junior high, each trying to hide our acne and baby fat under the shimmering purple eye shadow and fruit-flavored lip gloss we saw in teen magazines. Maybe it was because boys were suddenly becoming more interesting to us than field hockey or soccer. Instead of competing for points on the field, we were competing for boys in the hallways by acting tough or cool.

Whatever the reasons, we often had fights among us, and every semester, one girl would get "kicked out," left to find new friends to sit with in the cafeteria and on the bus, not to mention to hang out with after school.

When it was my turn to get "kicked out," my semester to find new friends or spend my weekends reading Seventeen alone, I longed for an adult at school—like Mr. C—to sympathize.

But as my friends continued to visit his desk during homeroom, talking about their weekends, talking about me, I knew that Mr. C had taken sides with them, and turned against me, too.

He didn't joke with me in the halls anymore. He didn't ask me to baby-sit for his kids. Apparently Mr. C did not feel the need to intervene, or to show disapproval for my friends' behavior. Instead, he went along playing favorites. Only I was no longer one of the chosen few.

Do Kids Just Have to "Get Tough?"
Like some adults, Mr. C probably believed that adults need to step aside and let kids fight it out for themselves. The strong survive. Better to teach them that now. We did, after all, read Lord of the Flies in English class that year.

My overprotective mother, on the other hand, believed in swift intervention. Once, she called the mother of the girl down the block when she learned that the girl had physically prevented me from sitting where I wanted to sit on the bus. I thought the incident was no big deal, and my mother's phone call embarrassed me. But she was determined to make sure that this would not happen again.

The other girl's mother was less than accommodating. "Well," she told my mother, "girls will be girls." Obviously, this mother felt that she had no obligation to stop her daughter's behavior. Her daughter was only doing what normal kids did, and I was the one who had to "get tough" and deal with it myself.

But getting tough can be hard for kids, especially when they are up against a group of their peers—tacitly encouraged by adults who see no need to step in. For some reason, I saw evidence of this particularly during my transitions between schools.

Kids Will be Kids is No Excuse
My first year of high school, I recall my heart racing and my stomach turning inside-out every time I walked through the Commons—a hallway outside the cafeteria. In the Commons, the surfer kids played hacky-sack; the "fun bunch," or popular kids, sat on the bleachers and talked; and the jocks stood on the bleachers, holding up signs with numbers 1 through 10, rating female students as they walked by.

It wasn't enough that I had a body maturing in all different ways and a set of emotions lagging behind, or that I spent hours despairing over my inability to look like one of the models in the teen magazines. Now I had a bunch of lacrosse players who had the nerve to reduce me to a number based on my looks.

I wondered why some teacher or administrator couldn't make it stop. Didn't they see what these boys were doing? But I had learned that this kind of thing just happened. Boys would be boys, girls would be girls, and there was nothing I could do about it. So I didn't walk that way anymore.

Today, we have news reports of tragedies that occur when disgruntled kids feel pushed too far. We also have psychologists and other experts telling us that whether in the halls or in the community, adults have to guide kids—their own, and others—in finding ways to get along. Can we still afford to excuse kids from treating each other with kindness and respect because "Girls will be girls" or "Boys will be boys?"

Maybe, like that little girl who could not sit with her friend on the school bus, or the adolescent girl who avoided an entire hallway (and the ridicule that took place there), I still need to "get tough." Even if this is the case, I don't believe that I am the only one who can remember a time when kids were "being kids" and adults did not intervene.

So what could Mr. C and other adults have done? They could have remembered what it was like to be an adolescent, and reached out. Or they could have become better educated about teaching kids to get along. There are resources available for adults who want to help kids become more sensitive and supportive to one another right from the start.

Maybe when Mr. C was in school, adults took a hands-off approach to conflicts among students. Maybe he didn't realize that he was only making things worse. But until we start saying, "Adults will be adults," that's no excuse.

  • PBS's In the Mix TV series offers "Cliques: Behind The Labels," which examines the truth behind high school cliques.
  • It's About Time for Kids provides ideas, resources and training to schools, parents, businesses, faith communities and youth and family agencies who want to learn how they can support children and teens.
  • In Taking the Bully by the Horns author Kathy Noll sheds light on how cowardly bullies really are, and offers smart, empowering solutions for their victims.
  • Facts for Families by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry helps parents deal with the ups and downs of adolescents.
  • New Moon Network is a bi-monthly publication for adults concerned about nurturing and helping girls stay strong.
  • 10 Things Each of Us Should Know About Adolescent Boys, a checklist from A Fine Young Man by Michael Gurian, Ph.D., offers some surprising statistics about the vulnerabilities of adolescent boys.


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