A 5-year-old girl chats up classmates while waiting for the bus after school. The topic is playing with a Hello Kitty ‘bubble gun’ that with a flick of a finger, blows bubbles everywhere.
“I’ll shoot you, you shoot me and we’ll all play together,” the kindergartener says.
The next day, that remark-which was made innocently, according to the lawyer for the girl’s family who related the story, landed the young central Pennsylvanian child in the principal’s office.
The story began around 3:15 p.m., January 1oth, outside the school in Mount Carmel, a community of fewer than 6,000 people about 60 miles between both Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. That’s where the girl and her friends, whom she ‘loves’ began talking about a ‘princess’ bubble blower and a Hello Kitty bubble gun. The reason, she told the counselor, was that one of her friends likes princess toys and the other likes Hello Kitty.
During this conversation, the kindergartener admitted she talked about shooting the ‘bubble gun.’ Then she went home happy, positive and outgoing, just as she’d gone to school, her mother told the counselor.
The next day, the girl was called in front of the teacher, according to Flicker. Then she sat down with the school administrator and eventually the principal.
The subsequent suspension form issued that day lists another girl as a ‘victim.’ It doesn’t elaborate on what happened, but it does mandate a 10 day out-of-school suspension or ‘medical/psychological evaluation given the nature of the offense.’
Therapist Letter Post Evaluation-
The child was described as having ‘typical 5 year old by temperament and interests’ with no history of mood swings, irritability, depression, attention deficit disorder, learning issues or other problems. The therapist wrote that he found no evidence or history of behavioral issues or poor parenting and determined “it appears (the kindergartener) engages in positive peer relationships.”
Also, according to the counselor’s letter, the girl had ‘no play guns or play knives’ either in the bus line or at home, where the mother prohibited them.
“It would appear that (the girl) does not have those risk factors identified for violent behavior,” the therapist wrote. “It would seem that (she) had no harmful or predatory intent in the comments she made to her friends about the ‘bubble gun’ but did not recognize the heightened sensitivity and awareness of her friend and the response that may result from her comments.”
On January 14th, the Mount Carmel Area Elementary principal issued a second suspension letter, which superseded the previous one. Noting no criminal complaint was made, ‘due to (the) ages of the children,’ she cut the suspension down to two days while changing the categorization of the incident from “terrorist threat” to ‘”threat to harm others.”
Edited excerpts from CNN story can provide additional information.
In a day and age when there are so many school shootings, so many crimes where children, adolescents and teens are the victims and also the perpetrators, there is of course the need for caution. I can understand the need for rules, regulations and set ways of functioning, but must wonder if in the process of ‘protecting children’ that we aren’t eliminating childhood.
As a small child, I remember playing Dukes of Hazard with my sister and cousins (I was always Boss Hog because I was the youngest and thus the shortest). What this game consisted of was glorified cops and robbers where we ran around with toy guns ‘shooting’ each other by yelling “Bang.”
When I was in the 5th and 6 grade my best friends and I split our time between playing war and playing video games where we threw fireballs at innocent bird-turtles as Mario, swung swords and shot arrows at giant spiders as Link and shot particle weapons at a giant brain in Metroid.
There were also the fights at school, it didn’t happen much when we were in grade school, but someone was often fighting in Junior and Senior High. When it did, we were sent to the office and most times 2 or 3 days on in-school or out of school suspension (personally, I always liked out of school, it let me sleep in).
We played with guns, we got into fights and that is what helped us learn wrong from right. We established lifelong friendships by ‘killing’ each other with toy guns. We settled differences with fighting because we hadn’t yet reached our maturity level where we could express how we felt and the other understood or empathized. More than that though, it was us being…well, kids.
This 5-year-old got suspended for 10 days for saying she was going to ‘shoot’ her friend and wanted her friend to ‘shoot’ her. Our suspensions were only 3 days. She was sent to a counselor for evaluation before she could go back to school. They say it was a terrorist threat. Did the principal, teachers or anyone for that matter truly think this was some murder-suicide pact or plan to murder each other between two kindergarteners? What was the plan-to drown one another with bubbles?
During my undergraduate internship, I was a Juvenile Probation Officer in a diversion program. One of the cases I had was a 10-year-old boy who was placed on diversion. What was he on diversion for you ask? Getting into a fight. The child shoved another boy and they wrestled around before they were pulled apart by a single teacher. One child ended up on probation, the other ended up on diversion. I guess we should count this girl lucky they didn’t call the cops for having a weapon in a no gun zone.
So often we want to limit that which makes a child a child. We work to eliminate what every generation before, including our own, did as children in the name pr protecting them. A child with a ‘bubble gun’ is not a crime; a child with a ‘bubble gun’ is a kid playing with a toy.
I totally agree that we need to protect our children; what happened at Sandy Hook was one of the saddest events I have ever watched unfold and wrote several articles on it for different publications and organizations. I most assuredly believe that we need to prevent that type of thing from happening, but justice must always be tempered with mercy and in this case common sense.
If we take the innocence that gives such great worth to being young, we are hurting those same children whose rules and policies are designed to protect. Once the innocence of childhood is lost, it can never be regained. We cannot protect our children by killing their childhood.
*Written by Justin Nutt, LMSW*