Georgina Guedes

Learn to love the different children

2014-02-10 07:00

Georgina Guedes

There was a boy that I was friendly with at my Apartheid government public primary school. For the purposes of this column, I am going to call him Rob. Rob was smart and gentle and he had lots of He-Man and Star Wars toys, which should have made him cool, except that he was “soft”.

The other boys gave him a hard time. Of course they did. They were a bunch of ruffians, parented by ruffians, begat by ruffians right back through the ages. The girls liked him because he was fun and he had cool toys and was unlikely to try to lift their skirts.

I left the school and didn’t hear from Rob again until I had matriculated. Then a friend and I bumped into him. We got chatting, and at some point she said, loyally, “You know, Rob, I never believed them when they said you were gay.”

He turned to her with his hand on his chest and eyes wide. “I’m not gay?” he said, aghast.

So there you have it. He was different. He was into action movies and toys. He ultimately ended up enjoying roleplaying and Indian mysticism. And he was gay. And he’s a lovely human being with a great sense of humour.

I don’t know what happened in all the years that I didn’t see him, when his “otherness” would have become more apparent to the boys around him. But I am glad that he made it into adulthood as a sensitive and creative soul with a sense of humour and a place in the world.

Some are not so lucky

The same cannot be said for Michael Morones, an 11-year-old boy from the United States who has reportedly attempted suicide after being bullied by school mates for an interest in the TV show My Little Pony.

Morones was clearly different. He had ADHD and an intense interest in a television program. After attempting to hang himself, he is in hospital, unable to breathe on his own and possibly brain damaged and blind.

Now, here’s the thing. I know that children can be vicious and cruel. But I don’t think that those traits should be overlooked or dismissed as “kids being kids”. It’s that kind of behaviour that adults should be trying to work out of the way that children interrelate, rather than those of a boy who has a touching, if unusual, interest in a television programme.

What we should be doing

The big difference between school and life-after-school is that at school, success is almost entirely dependent on how much like everyone else you can be. As soon as you leave, your success as a person is defined by your uniqueness, your individuality, your creativity and by just about everything that makes you different.

As parents, as teachers, as caregivers and as humans, acceptance of others from an early age is one of the most important things we can teach our children. And it starts from the moment that their language starts to develop – and even before.

We should be teaching them to admire unusual dressing choices, to see the good characteristics in the kids that don’t behave like all the rest and to be kind no matter what they think of someone. We should never let little incidents of cruelty or exclusion slip, laughing at the expense of others to be funny, or moments of judgement to go uninterrogated.

That’s what we owe to the next generation, and to ourselves, so that stories like the one of Michael Morones do not weigh on our consciences.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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