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Modern Parenthood

Hello Kitty 'terrorist,' et. al: Is zero tolerance suspensions for kids right?

Zero tolerance suspensions of kids is an overreaction in cases like the kindergarten Hello Kitty 'terrorist' who wanted to "shoot" people with bubbles or 6-year-olds pretending to shoot with their fingers. It's adults crying wolf.

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As a parent I have zero tolerance for realistic threats to my child's safety in school. However, I am not convinced that the criminalization of elementary school children and a new form of student shaming by branding kids over their imaginations is where we truly need to be headed right now. I am not getting rid of the Woody doll from Toy Story because it says, “Reach for the sky” when you pull the string either.

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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Over the past 19 years I have run a totally toy-gun-free, parentally-guided home where I limited violent video games. However, despite the hair-trigger on the panic button, I am not taking my son Quin, 9, who has Aspergers Syndrome (sadly an alleged part of the profile of the Sandy Hook Elementary School killer) off his favorite video game site that his teachers recommend for high-achievers, called Math Blasters.

Yup, he's making the world safe for math by “blasting” aliens with his killer calculations. However, I am prepping for the day when he points his invisible math laser at another kid and tells them, “I'm going to subtract you!” and ends up suspended for “terroristic threats.”

My concern stems from a string of recent news reports in which children much younger than my son have been suspended and socially branded via schools' zero tolerance gun and weapon policies that are on such a hair-trigger that we are perhaps beginning to do more harm than good by crying wolf and painting kids with the “bad kid” brush when all they really need is a little guidance.

According to The Associated Press, a Pennsylvania kindergartener waiting for the bus told friends she was going to shoot them with a Hello Kitty toy that makes soap bubbles and was suspended for making “terroristic threats.”

Meanwhile, in Maryland, the AP also reported, two 6-year-old boys pretended their fingers were guns “during a playground game of cops and robbers, and a 5-year-old boy at an after-school program made a gun out of Legos” and pointed while making realistic shooting sounds, I'm guessing, “BANG! Rata-tata-tat-ta!”

Let's look at this from a point of view where we aren't freaking out every time someone slams a car door in the school parking lot too hard (thinking it's a gunshot) and remind everyone that Hello Kitty bubble puffers don't kill kids, kids with real guns and an actual history of issues kill kids.

The Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December was not perpetrated by a young child who openly used his imagination, mingled, or had friends to holler “BANG!” at. Adam Lanza was age 20, a young man who had palpable issues, and went back to a school he'd once attended to do harm. Also, I haven't seen any reports on Lanza ever pretending to shoot people with his finger, Legos, or a stuffed toy.

On the other hand, I do approve of the incredibly brave fourth-grade boy in Spokane, Wash. who heard two fifth-grade boys conspiring to kill a little girl in the elementary school, realized they had real weapons, and reported that to a teacher, according to The Spokesman-Review.


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