My oldest son is a wonderful little boy. Just shy of eight years old, he's a very bright kid who follows instructions pretty well and is showing us every day how helpful he can be around the house. My wife and I have worked very hard to teach him to be honest and to adhere to the Golden Rule. He's still just a little kid, though, so he tends to be self-centered, but by and large he's ended up being a delightfully meek little boy, intellectual and kind.
He struggles, however, with relating to other children his age. Most of the children who live around us (and there's quite a few that are the same approximate age as my children) come from families that are either single-child homes and/or where both parents work. Consequently, the children are doted upon by their parents, who also do not share our same standards for child discipline. Often times, the children spend all day in daycare only to come home and be essentially ignored by their parents. (It sounds pretty dramatic, but this strong and general statement is a pretty close approximation of the truth.) As a result, nearly all the kids in the neighborhood could be classified as "hooligans".
Well, with summer being in full swing, our children are not oblivious to the fact that all the kids in the neighborhood run amok late into the night. During school, my children were pretty consistent about getting to sleep by 7:30 or 8:00 pm so as to ensure they got enough sleep -- the results of this was clearly shown in their school performance. However, as summer has progressed, we've been allowing them to stay up a little later, my oldest especially, and nearly every night they hear the shouts and yells of the children out on/in the street. It is natural that they are jealous and want to go join the fray.
So, like good parents who don't want their children to be miserable, we've been allowing them, on occasion, to go out and play. This has wreaked havoc on their normal bed-time routine, so they don't get to bed in an orderly or timely manner, but most days, they have a great time and come home happy and exhausted.
Except last night something odd happened. I had been resisting allowing my oldest to go out and play (being two years older than his sister, his bed time is somewhat later) for reasons that I can't really describe, and after exhausting all of the reasons and delay tactics I could come up with, including assigning him many chores to do before he could go out (which he did with unprecedented speed and exactness), I finally allowed him to go and join the others.
So, out the door he went. He was back in 5 minutes, sweaty and crying.
Apparently he had gone up the street to join a group of kids, and they didn't welcome him. They whispered about him and soon they were tackling him to the ground and teasing him. With his injuries from the local water park (see earlier post) still healing, he was sensitive to the state of his arm -- expressed this -- and they were so cruel as to actually tackle him to the ground and then step on his hurt arm. Now, I'm not positive that it went down as I've described here, but this is what I was able to extract from him between sobs.
Clearly these children are not his friends. To make matters worse, apparently some of the parents of the children were sitting in their driveway and saw the whole thing -- not once interfering. It could be that the boys were simply wrestling with him -- the boys are known to be involved in karate, ride motorcycles, and be involved in other "manly" things -- and my son completely mis-interpreted what was going on, but clearly he was unhappy about it all and literally ran home in tears.
I spoke with my wife late last night, and it was so very much more evident the difference between my children and the children in the neighborhood. There are some things about our family that make us different from the rest:
1) My wife is a stay-home mother, so she is there all day, every day with the kids.
2) We are devout members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and follow the commandments as best we can, and are actively involved in the religious education of our children.
We teach our children our standards and are deeply involved in their lives. We spend time and read with them every day. We teach them to avoid harmful drugs and other harmful substances in any form, and to treat their bodies with respect. We rigidly encourage them to give service, to be honest, to be kind to one another, and to show love to one another. We maintain standards of modesty, never swear, and restrict the access by our children to violent or otherwise immoral media. We do not have a console game system in the home (though do have computer games), and limit how much television/computer time they have. We are regular in our habits, always eat meals together at approximately the same time every day, attend church weekly, and take time to read the scriptures with our children, and we pray as a family every single night.
None of the neighbors, as far as we can tell, do any of the above. This makes my family quite unique compared to them, and this makes my oldest son different from the rest. He has been blessed with many skills and abilities, circumstances and talents that set him apart from his peers. I believe he has been blessed with them for some great purpose that I can not even fathom at this time. He has a great mission in life to fulfill, and if it takes the neighbor kids beating him up to realize that mission, then so be it.
Nevertheless, my heart aches for him.