We took the kids to see "Fred Claus" last night. It earned the title of "My Least Favorite Christmas Movie Ever". I never do expect much in the way of plot, acting or dialogue in the usual seasonal offerings, but this really disappointed. To me, there was no charm, not enough humor (or maybe just too little of my kind of humor) and a few too many adult themes for a movie I would take my kids to.
But that's not my point. There was a message, buried under all of Vince Vaughn's showing-off and slapstick scenes. In the movie, a parentless boy, spending the holiday in an orphanage after CPS finds out he lives with no legal adult guardian, gets into a fight with some other orphans after saying there's no such thing as Santa. He's a good kid in unfortunate circumstances, understandably losing faith in Santa after being disappointed by life many times. The message was this: there really aren't any naughty kids, and every kid deserves one toy at Christmas.
The reason this struck me was because of a boy in our neighborhood - I'll call him "Joe" - who has been labeled a "bad" kid. Joe is only in the second grade, but has done/said some things to the other neighborhood kids that have not helped his reputation much. From what I've heard the kids say, his behavior to them has sometimes indeed been very inappropriate (swearing, hitting, general meanness), but apparently is capable of good - in certain situations. (After attending his birthday party at Peter Piper Pizza a few weeks ago, where all the parents were invited to stay, my son's comment was, "You know, Joe's a pretty good kid when there's adults around.") True, he has said things that have shocked me - he once described a movie to me that he watched at his grandma's which sounded frighteningly similar to something with Hannibal Lecter in it - but I think he may be somewhat of a victim of his circumstances. I heard him say once that his dad is his stepdad, and that his mom used to be married to "a bad dad" but now he has a "good dad." He also has no brothers or sisters, so he may have missed out on some of those opportunities to learn how to get along with other kids that come with being a sibling. As you can tell, I kind of feel sorry for the guy. Half the neighborhood kids either aren't allowed to play with him or else he's not allowed in their yards. From what I gather, he wants to play with them, but because of his lack of social skills, their play easily erupts into fights. The others, because of his past behavior, almost expect it from him, and any indication that it's coming turns them hostile to his advances, and pretty soon meanness is coming from both sides.
Now, is Joe naughty? Yes, he does ultimately have the choice between good or bad behavior, and is old enough to take responsibility for those choices, but if he really doesn't know any better, or if his situation at home is such that he has had few chances to learn kindness, does he deserve that label? Is he nice? That's debatable as well. He seems to be trying to be good, but if all his attempts are met with unkindness as a retort, it will only be harder for him.
My kids are involved in this, and although I know they're not entirely without blame, I can tell that they aren't the main provokers of Joe's wrath. I have a hard time because I try to encourage them to set examples - for Joe and for the other kids - but at the same time, if he's really being a bully, they have the right to refuse to play with him, and they should avoid him.
So what's the right answer?
Are there really any naughty kids? What do you think?