Monday, April 6, 2015

Teaching Kids to Share

It's extremely common for children's programs to tackle the "sharing" issue.  And with good reason!  Generosity is one of the most important characteristics a person can have.  I would be extremely disappointed if Nadia turned out to be a miserly person who refused to help others in need.  Helping others who need help is, in my opinion, like 85% of what it is to be a good person.  


The way in which these children's programs tackle the subject leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

The show or book will start off with two characters.  We'll call them Ben and Jerry.

Ben has a really cool toy.  He's playing with it by himself.  Jerry comes up to Ben and says he wants to play with it.  Ben says no, because it's his toy, etc.  Jerry whines.  A teacher or other well meaning adult intervenes and makes Ben share the toy with Jerry.  Together, Ben and Jerry learn that it's much more fun to share the toy than it is to play with it by oneself.  The end.  

Ok.  So Ben has learned that sharing is a good thing to do, and that it can even be fun.  Great!  I fully support this message.

But what has Jerry learned?

Jerry has learned that if he wants something that someone else has, he is entitled to it, or at least to a portion of it.  If Jerry lacks a cool toy, then it is Ben's responsibility to share his cool toy with Jerry.  Jerry is never encouraged to find his own toy.  Jerry is never told that he should wait until Ben is done playing with the toy, and then play with it.  It is always Ben who forced to share, whether he wants to or not.  

Also, it is never, ever discussed that Ben might have a good reason for not wanting to share with Jerry. Maybe that toy was given to Ben by his dead grandmother, and it is special to him, and he wants to make sure it doesn't get broken.  Maybe Jerry is a gross kid who wipes his boogers all over toys.  Maybe Ben simply doesn't like Jerry and doesn't want to play with him.  

I know that I'm moving into morally fuzzy territory here.  After all, it's mean for Ben to exclude Jerry from his game, isn't it?  Shouldn't all kids get along and be nice to each other and like each other?  Yes, in an ideal world.  But in reality, some kids are not very likeable, just like how some adults are not very likeable.  It's never ok to be cruel to someone we don't like.  Children need to know that it's NEVER ok to be mean to another person.  We have to control ourselves and make an honest effort to be kind, even to mean, gross people.  But it doesn't follow that we have to spend our free time socializing with people we don't like.  

I am terrified of the day that some evil little asshole is mean to Nadia.  Of course, I hope that it will never happen, that she will be universally loved by everyone she meets, and that she will never lack for awesome toys to play with, and that her entire life will be nothing but sunshine and rainbows.  But that might be a tad unrealistic.  Someday, there might be a little tyrant on the playground, who has the most awesome of all possible toys, and maybe Nadia will ask to share it.  I hope that the little tyrant says yes, and allows Nadia to play with her.  But if the tyrant refuses, I hope that Nadia maintains her dignity, refuses to whine to a teacher, and finds new friends and makes her own fun.  

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