Not the Heifer My Mama Talked About
Statement of the obvious: It’s not nice to call people names, especially when those names are hurtful and mean. And while being the offender of a name-calling episode leaves a bad taste in my mouth, the idea of my kids being on the receiving end of some pejorative word or phrase makes me want to manhandle somebody else’s child and force an apology. The overall unhealthiness of fighting my kids’ battles (and a profound fear of being Big Bertha’s bitch in prison) keeps me from doing anything that might land me on the wrong end of the law, but suffice it to say that the mama bear in me wants to protect and shield my kids from any and everything that may cause them hurt or harm.
Because I’m not prone to name-calling, at least not within earshot of my kids, and without proper provocation from some jerk (oops!) who obviously got his license as the free prize in a box of cereal, my girls’ only real experience with verbal insults have been from television. And because I typically monitor everything my kids ingest, I haven’t had to worry much about this type of behavior infiltrating their consciousness. So imagine my surprise when a seemingly innocuous and wholesome episode of The Berenstain Bears (remember them?) opened up a can of worms I wasn’t prepared to deal with yet. Sister saw a television show where one of the kids called another a “fur-ball.” In the overall scheme of insults, this one isn’t even close to the worst, but I guess if I were a bear, it might really piss me off. Needless to say, taking her cue from the show, Sister later called her friend a fur-ball, and the friend decided that playing with Sister was no longer a desirable option.
The princess, who happens to be quite sensitive to verbal nuances, wanted me to explain what was so bad about Sister calling Lizzie (the friend) a “fur-ball” when bears do, in fact, have fur that sometimes gets clumpy forming balls. I tried to explain the idea of tone and how anything can be or sound mean depending on how it is said to another, and how although sometimes words may not seem bad on their own, they can be said in a mean way to hurt people’s feelings. [Take it from me, a high school English teacher, teaching tone is hard even for older kids to comprehend.] She seemed to get it, though, and when I told her that name-calling was a form of bullying she really took it to heart.
Too bad the pirate wasn’t all that interested in that little lesson in rhetoric! Later that evening, when the princess came running to me with tears streaming down her face, I realized how powerful television really is.
“MOMMY! D. is being a bully. She called me a fur-ball, and it hurt my feelings!”
“But M., you don’t even have fur.”
“I know. But that’s why it’s so meaner!”
I guess there’s some truth to that, huh?
What lessons has television forced you to teach to your kids?