So recently there was an uproar over a 6 year old who was charged with sexual harassment by his school. His school. Not law enforcement.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that we should brand six year-olds as sexual harassers. Just saying he’s not going to have a CORI. But no I don’t think he should be charged with sexual harassment when he’s only in the first grade. A six year-old is way too young to truly understand the wrong of what they’re doing and so they don’t need to be treated the same as adults.
But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be consequences. If a child is doing something repeatedly that he knows he shouldn’t do then there need to be age-appropriate consequences. Because here’s the thing, this wasn’t the first time this happened. This boy had already been in trouble for kissing this girl when she didn’t want him to. So he knew what he was doing was wrong even if he didn’t entirely understand why it was wrong. And he doesn’t need to understand exactly why it’s wrong. He’s only six. But he is old enough to know right from wrong and when someone tells you to stop doing something, you should stop. Or y’know, you could end up in time out!
So what do you do when a 6 year old repeatedly does something they know they shouldn’t? Especially when that something seems cute now but won’t be cute in ten years? Plus I don’t think the girl in this situation thinks its cute behavior. And I doubt her family does either.
Kids get messages about how to treat others very early on. They learn to respect or disrespect others in elementary school, even based on race, gender and other demographics. So who knows what will happen with this young boy? I think a lot of that outcome will depend on actions by adults in his life. I don’t think any one consequence will do the trick so labeling him as one who sexually harasses is out, as it should be. No I think he, and all children, need to hear consistently the message that no means no and no must be respected. And they need to see adults consistently practicing that message. This, again, is not to say there should be no consequences. Kids need consequences to help them understand and appreciate right from wrong. But if adults in his life aren’t following the rules then any one consequence will be ineffective.
So let’s not label and ostracize our children. Let’s look at ourselves and at each other and make sure we’re all accountable to our behaviors and words. That’s the best way to prevent any little kid from being sexually abused or harassed now or as an adult. And I really wish these points had been part of the larger media conversation on this issue.