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At School, You Just Can't Be Everyone's Pal

February 18, 1993|AURORA MACKEY | Aurora Mackey is a Times staff writer

Thank God children aren't expected to exchange shamrock cards on St. Patrick's Day. Because after laying out big-time bucks for Valentine's Day, most parents probably would have to consider filing for bankruptcy.

All right, a slight exaggeration, perhaps. But if you're a parent, chances are good you know what I'm talking about.

You probably were informed last week, as I was, that your son or daughter was not allowed to hand out Valentines to just a few of his or her special friends at school. If any were to be passed out at all, the entire class had to get them.

"It's so no one gets their feelings hurt if they don't get any," my youngest son informed me, repeating what he had been told by his teacher.

This is the same policy, I learned later, that has been implemented at numerous other elementary schools countywide. But it wasn't the first time I'd encountered the all-or-nothing philosophy.

Last month, in preparation for my second grader's birthday party, the two of us sat at the kitchen table and wrote out seven invitations to a party the following week.

The next day when he returned home, the invitations were still in his backpack.

"If we invite one kid, we have to invite the whole class," he informed me. "So mom, can I invite my whole class?"

Sure you can, I almost said to him. Just as soon as I'm confirmed as attorney general and can afford the help.

But I just smiled and shook my head instead. We'd call the children's parents and get their addresses, I told him. What would be so difficult about that?


"What's Steven's last name?" I asked.

"Steve B."

Onto the first envelope I wrote "Steven Bee."

"What's Cindy's last name?"

"Cindy S."

Onto the second envelope went "Cindy Ess."

OK, I'm slow sometimes, I admit it. It took me three names before I understood what I was dealing with.

All this time, my child had been attending daily meetings of Second-Graders Anonymous, and I'd never even known about it.

Unfortunately, getting the addresses was no easier. Another school policy prohibited children from obtaining the phone numbers of their classmates in front of other children (this too, I was told, could hurt some child's feelings, as well as raise potential privacy issues among their parents).

So I did what any other authority-respecting citizen would do. I told my son to get the numbers on the sly at recess.

"It's awful!" one mother said to me on the phone, explaining that she had been forced to do the same thing for her son's party. "It took me two weeks to track down just a few parents.

"I don't understand all of this," she added. "Don't they think kids can handle seeing one of their classmates have a friend?"


The question isn't an altogether unfair one--especially while we are on the subject of fairness. And what it boils down to seems to be this:

In the name of treating every child the same, and making certain that no child is made to feel less popular or less liked than any other child, are schools robbing children of an important process in growing up?

Objectively, I understand--and to some degree, even salute--what the schools are trying to do. I'd wager there isn't any adult who can't think back to grade school and remember the kid who always was picked last for the dodge-ball game, the kid who never appeared at birthday parties, the kid who always was off on his own at recess.

But hey, didn't that kid eventually get even? Aren't a lot of you working for him today?

Even if that child didn't grow up to be the boss from hell, making certain everyone paid for his lousy childhood, there is another, more serious issue to consider here. It actually is a pretty simple one.

It's about the meaning of friendship.

About learning that as you go through life not everyone will like you the same way, and that--sad, but true--you never will be able to force them to.

"The reality of life is that there are parties I'd like to go to but didn't get invited to," said Bruce Gladstone, a psychologist in Ojai who sees the trend as damaging in the long run. "I may not like it, but that's how it is.

"One of our jobs is to prepare kids for that reality and not to deny it exists," he added. "Our job as adults is to help them deal with the fact that not everyone will like them and that sometimes they will be rejected.

"Our biggest task should not be to shield children from rejection, but to assure them that even when it happens, they are still OK."

Send that man a belated Valentine.

Uh, but don't forget to send one to all the other nice people who live in Ojai.

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