There are a lot of things kids are often considered too young to know about. For instance:
The problem is, almost every bad thing kids are considered too young to know about happens to some kids.
The rule that kids should be shielded from these things has some really negative effects on the kids who are most vulnerable.
It hurts kids who have been abused, because they’re considered dangerous to other kids if they ever talk about it. Their peers aren’t supposed to know about it, so they’re supposed to just never talk about it ever. That creates a lot of shame, and living with that kind of shame hurts people.
It also hurts kids who are currently being abused. They get the overwhelming message from everyone that kids are not allowed to talk about these things. That makes it hard to tell adults what’s going on, especially if they don’t quite know the right words. If they try to tell indirectly, they might even be hushed and told that they’re too young to be thinking about that kind of thing.
It hurts kids of color, because they’re often required to put up with racist things rather than have the white kids find out about racism. Because they’re old enough to have to deal with racism, but their white peers aren’t considered old enough to be told about it.
There’s also parents who don’t want their kids to play with disabled kids, because they think their kids are too young to know about disability or serious illness or injury. Or even, to the point that a kids’ show hosted by an amputee actor got a lot of complaints that her missing arm was upsetting to children. This kind of attitude is all over the place.
Preventing kids from thinking about bad things hurts all kinds of kids, all kinds of particularly vulnerable kids. And I don’t see how it does much to protect the safer kids, either.
I’m not sure what the solution is. But I think it is a problem.
The solution is to find ways to talk to young children in the classroom using words they can understand. Children can’t understand something as complex as rape, but they can understand respecting personal boundaries and personal spaces. They can understand that we don’t touch other bodies without explicit permission be it in a rough way or in a perceived gentle way. I have had to stop what we’re doing in the classroom when i hear someone saying but it was just a hug. No it isn’t. Forcing yourself on another person no matter how is unacceptable and having this understanding when young is important. Teaching them that it’s okay to say no is also a great way.
Racism can be addressed when you discuss differences and diversity. There are a ton of books that can address this. It helps to have accurate representation of cultures in the classroom. Make sure you get rid of stereotyped views. When teaching about a new culture make sure you’re treating it as a real thing, not just something to be learned about in a book. Making the associations with real living human beings stops children from being different races as others.
Sexism can be addressed when you hear a child tell another child “ew, that’s for girls!” In my classroom, they know that nothing is for girls or boys. Colors belong to everyone. Clothes and toys belong to everyone. If it makes you happy, you can like it or share it. When I hear children saying that ugh, that’s girly i talk to them why something being girly is bad? And then I give examples of great women. I provide role models and examples.
Violence is a big topic constantly. Guns are not permitted in the classroom. They understand that pretending to use weapons is not allowed in my class. They understand why. We discuss that weapons hurt people. Not just one person but many people. Violence destroys families. Hurting is never okay no matter in what way.
In these examples, the oldest children are 5. And they get it. It’s not hard to talk to kids, it takes effort on the adult’s part. As kids age and mature these topics can continue to be talked about in more abstract ways, but making sure they get the basics is important. Children are so much smarter than most people give them credit for. The solution is to stop treating kids like idiots. They are constantly soaking up everything in their lives, why not let them soak up some good?
I’m ending my rant now. I just have a lot of feelings.
I agree with most of this, but I wouldn’t put pretend weapons in that category. I think there’s a fundamental difference between pretend weapons that everyone agrees are pretend, and actual sexism, actual racism, and actual boundary violations.
I think it’s really important to be clear on the difference. People can agree to play laser tag with pretend guns, have lots of fun, and not hurt anyone. People who decide to ignore no and touch people without permission always end up hurting people. They’re not at all the same.
Even aside from that, I don’t think it’s a good idea to teach kids that weapons are always bad and that it’s never ok to hurt people. Because it’s not true - we live in a violent world, and sometimes protecting people involves hurting people who want to hurt them. Sometimes you can’t protect people without hurting anyone.
Hopefully your students aren’t in a position where they have to hurt people in order to protect themselves or others (although some of them might be), but all of them are old enough to know that the world works that way sometimes and old enough to need to start thinking about it.