Sometimes, advocacy just creeps right up on you.
The other night at dinner, we were talking about silly names, and Andrew said he should be called “Mustache McGee”. That made me snicker and recall some ridiculous moment from what I remembered as a scene from Saturday Night Live (I later learned that it was actually from a Will Ferrell movie, but whatever). When the kids asked what I was smiling about, I told them it shouldn’t be mentioned at the dinner table. Andrew immediately thought I was referring to something with a swear word, and I then had to explain to him that while some words aren’t “bad” like swear words, they just aren’t nice and shouldn’t be used.
“Like ‘retard’, or ‘retarded’?” asked my daughter, her eyes wide.
Whoa. Until then, I naively thought that my kids were just oblivious to that word. They know some swear words, sure, but we don’t use the r-word and I didn’t think they were really exposed to it. I was wrong.
Addie and Andrew proceeded to tell me that they hear the r-word used on their playground at school. From their stories, it doesn’t sound like it’s used in a name-calling way, but more like an “Oh, I missed that goal, that’s so retarded!” kind of way. I probably shouldn’t have been, but I was stunned. But, the kids kept talking.
They told us that they correct people when they hear them use the r-word. We also learned that the accessible playground equipment is monitored by our kids, and when they see someone not using it properly, they speak up.
I was so proud to hear of my young advocates speaking up for what they know is right. But, I was sad to hear that this awful word is still so prevalent among young people. Why aren’t more adults standing up against hurtful language?
I think it probably comes down to a few reasons. Topping that list: people still don’t understand that the language they choose is important. When I correct someone for throwing out the r-word, I am usually immediately told “I didn’t mean it that way”. Do yourself a favor, and start paying attention to any derogatory language you use, and then make a real effort to discontinue it. This isn’t something you do just for yourself; other people are listening to the words you choose, including your kids. If a child hears their parent saying something, then they probably won’t hesitate to repeat it. Most times, they don’t know any better, but the adult in this scenario should. This is a difficult transformation to make, but let’s give it a try, shall we?
Beyond that, there are probably people who just don’t care, and we can just hope that through our advocacy we can continue to change those mindsets. There are most likely others who think their kids would never say such awful things so they don’t address it with them. This is a big issue, far beyond language choices. I don’t think my kids would ever bully someone, do drugs, or steal from others, but we still have discussions about why those things are wrong. Why aren’t we doing that when it comes to issues of respect? Even if you don’t think your kids would ever use the r-word, it’s still worth a conversation so that they know why it’s wrong. This is how we build advocates.
I don’t think this is something that will easily go away. Too many people think it’s funny to use the r-word, and too many people find it acceptable to disrespect anyone who is different. This will not keep me from spreading awareness, though. From our dinner time conversation, I now know that my kids are on board with me, and for now, I’ll take that as a win.