Thursday, 21 May 2009

Crime and Punishment

Crime and punishment – how far do you go? This morning we were listening to the news and a MP saying that the mood in Westminster was tortured and ‘unbearable’.
‘It’s getting a bit McCarthy-esque,’ I muttered through my muesli.
‘It’s like a McCarthy witch-hunt,’ echoed the radio. Whoah, that was a bit Big Brother-ish. Is someone listening in?

The breakfast table was swathed in gloom. Not because we are particularly anxious about our tortured MPs but because of a case of crime and punishment much closer to home.
Last night James came in from school as I was on the phone to a mother from school. Yes, Ben would love to come for a sleepover, yes I could pick him up from school and they could go to the cricket nets and muck around in the den and generally have a heck of a laugh. We haven’t had this boy to stay before; he’s a bit of a ‘new best friend’ and James was virtually dancing as I got off the phone.
‘Oh, thank you, THANK you, Mum. You’re the best Mum in the world.’
Yeah, well…..
Off he went to climb into the hedge and spy on the neighbours, practicing to be a deep cover M16 agent. My boy was happy: I was happy. The sun was shining (rare and beautiful). I sipped a glass of wine and thought all was well with the world.

Twenty minutes later the phone rang. Same mother. Er, change of plan.
What, in twenty minutes?
Another younger boy, it transpired, had accused James, Ben and another friend of calling him, not names (the typical playground taunts) but, bizarrely, name (that of another boy in his year – still shaking my head over that one). The small boy’s mother was threatening to complain to the head. Ben had been dispatched round to apologise profusely but his mother felt further punishment was necessary and the sleepover had been cancelled.
What could I say? It seemed a little steep but if the boys had been mean then obviously something needed doing. I said I respected her decision; maybe we could reschedule another time, and came off the phone with my unhappy mother face stuck firmly on.

James was genuinely incredulous. A small stunned and indignant face poked out from the top of the hedge.
‘What did we do? We didn’t do ANYTHING.
I believed him. James can be a little sod but he’s an honest little sod and if he’s transgressed he will hold his hand up and take what’s coming. But this was clearly unfair in his book and he totally lost the plot.
The head disappeared and the bush heaved with sobs.
‘Twenty minutes?’ he managed to splutter. ‘Twenty minutes ago I was really really happy; now I’m totally miserable.’

What can you say? That’s life. Sometimes, no matter how good and innocent you are, crap things happen. I suppose it’s a good lesson for later life but my heart went out to him. We’ve always tried to be scrupulously fair with James and he respects that privileges are taken away for misdemeanours. But being punished for something that he felt really wasn’t his fault unleashed the flood-gates. He lashed out in every which way – grief turned to anger turned to incredulity.

Finally, exhausted, I got him into a bath (laced with soothing lavender) and managed to calm him down.
‘Honey, these things happen. Nothing’s achieved by taking it out on the cricket bat.’
‘But it’s so unfair.’ He shook his head sadly.

This morning I’ve been wondering about it. As far as James was concerned it was all part and parcel of playground banter. He said that everyone gets called names at some point and that you just take it on the chin and get on with it. I could sympathise. As a child I was called ‘willy’(from my surname I hasten to add), ‘carrot-top’, ‘spotty’ (freckles let’s be clear) and never thought of complaining. When James has moaned that so-and-so did this or that, we’ve told him that he needs to ignore it, or just deal with it.
‘What am I supposed to do?’ asked James. ‘How am I supposed to play with kids if at any moment they might take offense and run off and tell tales?’

Interesting point. How far should children ‘snitch’ and how far should parents take it on themselves to interfere in the playground? When does teasing turn into bullying (which I think we all would agree needs stamping on firmly)? I suppose it depends on the degree. But I do wonder if phoning up parents and threatening to go to the headmaster actually benefits the child in question. Will this boy grow up expecting that, every time something rotten happens, that someone will dive in and sort it out? Are we breeding a tell-tale culture?

I really don’t know. All I do know is that the atmosphere in this house has turned horribly sour and sad. Much like the corridors of Westminster I suppose.

Over at my other blog I have posted on downshifting and also on watery ways to enjoy the summer (ho ho ho). Click here to be directed.....


Laura - Are We Nearly There Yet Mummy? said...

I'd like to think that my own children will be able to battle these sorts of things out in the playground. Surely it's all part and parcel of growing up and socialising.

What will they do when they are older when someone picks on them at work? Run and tell Mummy?

I too was a 'Willy' (Wilson)

Faith said...

It does seem a storm in a teacup. Do I understand it right that James, and Ben called another boy yet another boy's name? e.g. James and Ben called let's call him 'Tom' Fred or Harry? Well, it wasn't very kind, especially if Tom dislikes Fred/Harry but I think 'Tom's' mum would have done better to have said to him, well you turn round and call them xxxx and xxxx. Such a shame that Ben's mum felt the need to cancel the sleepover. Even when my youngest was only about 8 and a horrible kid at school was telling her 'I'm going to make you die' I just told her that it was impossible for a silly girl to do that, and let her get on with it. Poor James, life is sh*t sometimes, but I suppose all situations and actions have consequences and he's finding this out.

Unknown said...

My little one had a friend who's mother is never off the phone ringing other parents about this that and the other. What she's failed to realise is that it's her little brats that are the main problem, the biggest bullies and quite frankly the kids nobody wants in their houses. So far I've refrained from telling her that her kids have 666 on their foreheads.

Edward said...

I'm sorry but I have to disagree, at least in part.

Calling children names might be part and parcel of playground life, and if it happens to you and you have the temperament just to shrug it off, then fine. Some children don't; some children are hyper-sensitive and take being called names very seriously; they don't have the wherewithal to fight it. Once the name-caller gets even a hint that they've touched a nerve, then the teasing is likely to continue, increase and can become utterly unbearable. There is, of course, a balance to be struck, and a child that leaves school having been unable to come up with a strategy to deal with the occasional spat will be ill-equipped to deal with life's brickbats.

Of course, it's unfair if James didn't call this boy names, or a name, and of course a single isolated incident of handbags in the playground is not the cue to call the Health And Safety Police. However, learning that life isn't fair, or just, is also a valuable lesson.

Ian Newbold said...

Threatening to call the head teacher? Without knowing the full story seems OTT to me. And I don't believe it will do the kid in question any favours, it certainly wouldn't when I was at school.

Intervention has its place when things escalate and schools don't deal with things satisfactory, but there are times when people just don't understand that protection, or perceived protection, is the best remedy.

Milla said...

do NOT talk to me about the iniquities of the playground! Yes, they have to handle it, but the world of middle class mummies is divided into the "yes, ok, it was a bit mean but ignore it, make sure you don't do it yourself, keep away from him in future" and the "helicopter parents" micro-managing and thereby stymying their kids' chances of learning to assess situations for themselves. Then there are those whose swamp-roots barge in all elbows and outrage. I have had to become the latter because of F10 being systematically picked on by one particular little *hit as documented occasionally in splenetic rages on my blog (!) Even on Tues at a hockey thing, I saw the oaf run at F10 from nowhere and shoulder barge him. I'm afraid I broke the rules (rather than going to teacher) and said directly to him (shaking with suppressed rage but trying to sound merely advisory and kindly [hidden snarl]), "Never do that to my son again" and he had the grace to blush. When he mentioned it to F10 10 mins later, he hadn't even remembered it, "he always does it" he said. I don't believe that this should be his norm, his expectation from his peers.
Now we are in Y5, my only comfort comes from nursing tender fantasies of the little &astard truly getting his comeuppance come secondary school. This school is too touchy feely to put the frighteners on this partic oaf plus his goat mother is a governor. (you can tell, imagine, we're just like Neighbours, swapping tips and giggling over wine. Not.)
OK, rant over, I have to share, welcome or not.
In James' case, maybe there was a sense of just not realising the hurt you can cause. If you haven't experienced it, it's hard to imagine the level of hurt. If you are always in the "in" crowd, like my older boy was, then you just don't see to the same extent the slings and arrows of casual indifference or brusque carelessness. It might have been a sort of final straw thing with this boy and poor James got the brunt unfairly. I think that sometimes T12 was off hand with people - it was because he felt crowded but I could see that it could have an effect on those clamouring to be near him but too immature to know how to manage it effectively.
It can breed a circle of unhappiness stemmed from uncertainty, larded with feelings of being excluded, round and round and getting worse. Yes, the "big boys" (James and Ben) won't at all, of course, have meant harm, but it doesn't mean the other boy didn't feel it.
Or of course he might be an obnoxious little wuss who needs thwacking with a wet Barbie.
*loody exhausting the whole business.
Shut up, Milla, this is Jane's blog, not yours!
(CLASSIC - word verif is uckme!!)

Rob-bear said...

Sounds like a bit of an over-reaction by Ben's mom.

Still, we do need to help kids respect one another, and to deal with those who show no respect. Usually a bit of trial and error.

But sometimes disastrous -- demons that dog kids' lives for decades, from which we cannot protect them. I know of a lad who was bullied in high school -- it permanently changed his personality, and not for the better.

muddyboots said...

I think that some parents a] over react & b] over protect their kids. There is bullying and there is BULLYING. Kids, young people, adults all tease / call each other names, have a bit of a banter, youngsters need to learn how to cope with this, it is part of life, part of the learning curve, mummy is not always there to sort out that child that shouts boo. However, for the child that does face serious bullying which is not in the 'banter' category then by all means step in & help. Unfortunately, it would appear that the human psych, from an early age, likes to goad or tease or seriously harass, most can curb it to the tease but some seem to enjoy inflicting pain. As for James, there are loads of new friends out there just waiting to be met. I sympathize with you and think that this Mum has been a bit daft really.

Minnie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Minnie said...

Whoops! Deleted first comment due to error of fact (mine).
Big age differentials at that stage in life, and J + B + A N Other being accused of picking on younger boy (allegedly) would mean 3 squared v. 1, in effect - if true, but why make it up?
The one who I'd really like to know more about is the little boy whose name is used as a term of abuse: who/what/why? Might shed a little more light on this rather murky matter.
Other parties sound alarmingly heavy-handed, morally - v self-righteous (always suspicious!).
Is PC-ness making things worse? Questions posed have always been thorny, though ... you're brave and right to air them.

Tattieweasle said...

I HATE having to be understanding of other people's parents and the things they do...and I'm 43!

Frances said...

Jane, as you know, I don't have children, but I do manage a shop staffed with adults.

Somethings do not change as some folks grow older. A regular part of my day is keeping an eye out for "playground" situations. Not everyone tells the truth about his/her role in various situations.

It is not always easy knowing when to take action, when to let it pass, whom to believe.

Life is definitely not fair. Not everyone has the same generosity of spirit, or understanding of others. I guess that each of us finds a way, as we age to cope with those truths.


Elizabethd said...

Poor you, and poor James too. Othermother sounds as though she has gone a bit too far on the overprotection road. Life is a hard lesson.
I remember that as a teacher I always found children much nicer than parents.

Maggie Christie said...

Commiserations to James. It's awful to be wrongly accused and/or over-punished. I can't add much to the other comments above, but the punishment does seem to have been excessive. That's the trouble with bullying, what seems innocuous to one is bullying to another. It's tough for adults to know where the dividing line is, let alone kids.
PS: I was a "willy" too (Williams) and a "spotty" (freckles).

claire p said...

I worry so much about Jamie being bullied because of his odd autistic ways. But there is a big diffrence between playground noncense and bullying. I was badly bullied, still have the scars (mentally). I doubt the child in question could even remember what had happened the next day!

Calico Kate said...

Such a difficulat one to comment on Jane as I have little experience of mothers - except my own!
However was bullied at school (by a teacher in my middle school and a pair of girls in my senior school) and it certainly has had an impact on my life. But that was serious stuff not the name calling that this sounds like.
"Sticks & stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me" was my parents instruction to shout back when anything nasty/silly/unfair whatever was said.
Do feel sorry for James as this will hang on over the weekend I guess and niggle. Hope it doesn't blow up in to something nasty next week.
This has generated some great comments Jane.

Ivy said...

Well did the boy's mother call you too to complain about James's behaviour? Probably not. Maybe the smaller boy was victim of mobbing in the past and his mum got over sensitive or it's got something to do with her own past? For James it's sad but I suppose it's not his last chance to arrange a sleepover with Ben and maybe your little aspiring MI6 agent should have a closer look at the boy in question maybe he needs the protection of 008?

Mum Gone Mad said...

I tend to keep out of playground squabbles as much as possible, because as we all know five minutes later they are all best buddies and it's forgotten. Of course if my child was causing real distress I would intervene (and have). We did have a problem when oldest girl was in year three, which I did duly ignore for many weeks... however the little darling in question who was torturing my girl would not leave it alone so I then went to the teacher. It was all sorted thank goodness, but back to my point (now where did I put it?) if we intervene for every small transgression they never learn to deal with things on their own and then we're doing them no favours.By the way, poor James, luv Karen x

Exmoorjane said...

Laura: yes, that's my hope....

Faith: no, it wasn't kind and really I don't remotely understand why it happened. yes, he IS realising about consequences, which is good.

Yummy: Love it - 666! Know a few of those...

Edward: I think we pretty much agree actually.

SPD: I just wonder if things are different now and whether that is good or bad?

Milla: love that you can rant on my blog - you go for it, girl!

Rob-bear: yes, totally against bullying..... and utterly agree on the longlasting effects.

Muddy: weird, isn't it, how children seem hard-wired to be cruel in some ways? Thanks so much for your comment.

Phidelm: Yes, think you're right - 3:1 not good. Shall point that out to James as hugely valid. I pondered about posting this and do have my own doubts - but hoped it might provoke a debate, which it clearly has......

Tattie: sometimes I loathe being grown-up!!

Frances: good point - this kind of jostling not just confined to the we ever really grow up?? The truth is very tricky to pin down.

ED: lovely to hear from you. Think it must be a nightmare being a teacher - the parents must be ghastly!!

Mags: we must be relatives!! - I was a Williams too - though not exactly unusual in Wales.... ;)

Claire: horrid, isn't it? I was bullied too and so am horribly sensitive about it. Seems the child was revelling in it today - that the boys had forfeited their sleepover....

Calico Kate: yup, me too (see above)....he's sad and a bit blue but will get over it. Maybe a good lesson.....

Ivy: under normal circs, james would feel as if he needed to protect the other boy but he's so hacked off I don't know how he feels...certainly not benevolent!

Mum gone mad: yes, i'm with you on this.... I too try to stay well out of it as - quite right - things tend to settle of their own accord.

Unknown said...

I am dreading all this when my 3yo goes to school! All my friends agree it is hard to know when to intervene. It sounds like the incident in James may have been blown out of proportion a bit. Do you think you will get to speak to the other mum about it? You will have to let us know what happens...

Anonymous said...

With regard to the kid being called a name, I think there is a bigger issue. as SPD points out, she listens to one side of the story and then reacts. Not only is that wrong, but what will she turn her son into if he thinks the way to deal with things is to cry-baby over being called a name and "Mummy" will clear up the mess? Can you imagine what he will be like as an adult? Plus, how long will it be before he manipulates situations and makes up accusations just so he can get the desired end result?
I see James' frustration here. You have mentioned in previous posts about a boy that seems to give him a hard time in school and he shrugs it off and refuses your intervention thus showing an understanding of the big picture beyond his years. It's a shame the other kid cannot show the same resilience rather than being a ninny.

Milla's term "the Goat Mother" is funny. Sometimes labelling people can be a great leveller when dealing with them. Oh dear, look... I just revealed myself as a bully :)

Anonymous said...

Complain to the Head Teacher?

Sounds as though the parent's a tad over sensitive, she's not doing her son any favours.


Veronica Lee said...

Hi, I'm visiting from MBC. Great blog!

Norma Murray said...

Unfortunately what is the rough and tumble of everyday playground life is fun for some kids, accepted by the majority as something you learn to put up with and torture for others.

Irish Eyes said...

I think Dave pie in mash and single parent Dad have got it right! When YD or ED were picked on in the usual way kids do I used to tell them to look the other kid straight in the eye the next time they started in on them, fold their arms, and say "ok, happy now? Yes? Good, let's get on with the game then" and it worked - the troublemaker was usually left without a word to say, the others laughed with O/ED and got on with the game. When, on occasions there were incidents of physical bullying I would go, with whichever of the girls was in trouble, to the parents of the perpetrator, and say "Hello, E/YD tells me that your X hit her while they were playing....[or whatever the action was]...I'm sure you'll agree with me that the road is for everyone to play on, nobody owns it". Presented with cool, logical comment it always brought the parent in on my side and even today fifteen/almost twenty years on both the girls say that they often meet one or two of the worst perpetrators who became friends with them after this.

The golden rule I always gave the girls was "if you don't tell me the absolute truth about what happened and your part in it, then I cannot defend you". It worked!

Poor James, that mother was way over the top, and I pity what her child will turn out like.

DJ Kirkby said...

Awwww poor James. School is such a strange place. I never understood playground ettiquette at all, hope it all smoothes over soon.

Fennie said...

It strikes me there are two issues here. First, the name calling; second the behaviour of the other mother who disrupts not only her own son's arrangements but yours as well, without any consultation. You might have changed some important arrangements to accommodate this sleepover. I would find that rude and irritating. On the name calling - this does sound as if the young boy and his Mum is being a bit 'precious.' Maybe I am out of date but the playground in my day was always a jungle and you learned to cope (often tearfully) with minor incidents without blabbing.


Poor James - and poor you - it's so difficult to know what's the best thing in these kinds of situations. While name calling is a fact of life in many school playgrounds, it's true, children do respond differently. Some seem to be able to shrug it off, whilst others take things much more to heart. And what seems like something quite innocuous to an adult can have different implications to a child. 'Ganging up' is certainly something to be discouraged (if indeed that's what it was), but it might have been more constructive if the other parent had spoken to you to discuss what might be the most appropriate response. Hopefully, there's a lesson to be learned here, but it's not at all clear to me - or to James, by the sound of it - what that lesson is. a punishment won't work if the person who's being punished doesn't understand why.

ArtSparker said...

Sort of like political correctness writ small.

martine said...

At the risk of being totally at odds with everyone else I think from experience that there is a **still**, in spite of anti bullying policies being compulsory in schools, a "you just don't tell" culture amongst school children. When people have been unpleasant to my daughter she **does not** want to tell me who or have me complain or do anything about it ... because it will just get worse if I do. She has been systematically undermined and belittled by her form (quote when she tries to join a conversation "shut up M.. no one likes you" and "don't talk to her she's weird" being a routine part of her school experience). This child braved the scorn of his peers to tell his mum that something upsetting happened at school. That she might have over reacted and could have found a quieter way to help him deal with it is another matter, but I for one think it is a good thing that he felt he could trust her to help him when he felt upset.
best wishes

maddie said...

Difficult to get to the heart of the matter without knowing the full picture. For one person minor name calling is nothing, for another it's huge, depending on all sorts of things. But life isn't fair and you were right to respect the other parents' way of dealing with it while comforting your own boy. I pity the poor head, though, having to deal with this kind of stuff on probably a daily basis.

Cat said...

I ordered one of your books, Spirit of the Home, from Amazon yesterday. I can't wait to read it!

Annette Piper said...

Life can be tough on kids. Don't get me started on the school system - they want everything their way and they really don't do a very good job and they'll often listen to the 'golden child' who is often a real rat. We've bucked the system as much as possible and the result is a fairly well balanced child that is showing independence (not following the mob) and responsibility. Well, so far!