Are Bad Guys in Real Life?
Kai has been all-consumed with talk of bad guys and good guys and superheroes lately.
He is three, after all, right?
He asks me all the time, in his sweet, innocent voice:
“Are bad guys in real life, mama?”
“Do superheroes get the bad guys in real life, mama?”
“Can I be a superhero when I grow up so I can get the bad guys, mama?”
These questions became especially poignant over the past few days. You see, there is some drama on the preschool play yard at his school. Apparently, there is a “gang” of three year old boys who are taking their pretend play to another level, frightening some of the other children, bullying some of the kindergarten kids two years older than them, and making bad guys seem awfully realistic…in a three year old kind of way.
So the response from the school has been to cut out all pretend play related to superheroes, ninjas, bad guys and the like. The boys are also restricted from wearing clothing featuring their favorite superhero.
It all feels very Footloose-ish to me. Without the dancing. Or Kevin Bacon.
I am certainly not an advocate of bullying or violent play (my son plays toy “fire hoses” instead of guns, because we force it down his throat) but I am also not comfortable with his experience with play, physical and dramatic, being stifled and controlled because of the actions of another group of kids. Shouldn’t those actions be dealt with directly, between those kids, their parents, their teachers and the school?
Should my little “good guy” pay for the mistakes of the bad guys?
We consciously teach our children about boundaries and respect – both on the playground and not – and reprimand them when their behavior doesn’t meet our personal interpretation of right and wrong. We expect other families do the same, within their own parameters, and certainly expect our school to enforce similar boundaries. But at what point does an interpretation of “bad guy” or bad behavior, in this case, become so subjective you can’t define it? And how does it translate to the real life concept of bad guys and bullying and the true dangers that are out there in the world…just far enough beyond these sheltered little preschoolers’ grasp?
So the lesson of the week for my son was this: yes, there are bad guys in real life, Kai. There are apparently bad guys on your sweet little sun-drenched play yard. And on your pajamas. And on your favorite hoodie. And you will keep meeting bad guys – some far worse than the ones you know now – for many years to come. And sometimes they will stifle and control your life, even when they shouldn’t. And some people won’t think they are so bad. And some people will. And some of them will eventually stop being bad guys. And some of them won’t.
I just hope that amongst them all, you remain a good guy. And that you dance like Kevin Bacon.