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On The Fence

April 1, 2011

There are always kids playing in our street. Very big difference from living in the Tenderloin, where children are caged up in fenced urban playgrounds. Today I was taking my camera out for a spin before sunset and these guys were all like, “IT’S PICTURE DAY!!!!” I obligingly took some photos and tried to display them on my tiny screen (this bored them almost instantly), and then felt awkward when they resumed their (very normal) punching games. Do I tell them to stop, or just let them do what kids do? I’m telling you, the pressures of social construction in childrearing are way too much for me. (And I’m only half joking.)

To clarify, he is holding her there to be punched, not protecting her

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Crunch permalink
    April 1, 2011 8:40 pm

    This cute. Except for the punching part. That wasn’t cute when I was little (mostly cause I was the punchee).

  2. April 1, 2011 8:47 pm

    I know — so cute, and yet so vicious! I actually felt really torn about it. Sigh.

  3. Roger permalink
    April 2, 2011 6:36 pm

    I don’t recall that punching games were at all the norm when I was a kid, nor when my kids were kids.

  4. Huli permalink
    April 3, 2011 7:33 am

    Wrestling, play fighting, imaginary gun-play – all pretty much par for the course for my kids and their friends.

    I’m not saying it’s ideal, and if there are adults hurting each other in the home, or if kids are being physically abused, the play fighting can turn all too serious later on. But if kids are being raised in loving homes, my guess is that the play fighting is similar to the kind of playing that all young mammals seem to relish. Just watch puppies and kittens play – it can look pretty vicious! But kittens and puppies are hard-wired to play like that because they learn how to hunt and defend themselves by doing so.

    My kids are almost grown now but they still wrestle and “slap fight” with each other and with their father. What bugs me most now is that they’re so big that something always seems to get knocked over or broken. But I know them well enough to know that they would never use their “skills” on anyone unless it was in self-defense or defending someone else.

    I’m not trying to make light of your concern but I thought I’d raise an alternate way of looking at it.

  5. April 4, 2011 10:18 am

    Huli, I’m feeling your point about the young mammal play-fighting. As a pretty “structured” only child, I didn’t do a lot of unsupervised free play as a kid, so there wasn’t much actual “ow-that-hurt” punching, but I did love learning to pseudo- box with my dad, and in my tomboyishness I loved to play-wrestle when I got the chance. I think the difference for me is that the play-fighting I like is sort of a test of strength and skill (in my mind, and in the minds of my adversaries), whereas the kind of punching games these kids were playing seemed to be about punishment, doling out licks, and enjoying watching other people get punked. But I did only see a few minutes of it, so I could have been reading it wrong. Thanks for complicating the question!

    ps: I’m cracking up imagining your kids and their dad “slap fighting” and knocking over lamps and bookcases. ;)

  6. Sycorax permalink
    April 7, 2011 6:16 pm

    I think context and relationship are important. Just like rhetorical play-fighting, i think play-fighting probably takes shape in the context of already established codes of conduct. Me and my sisters call each other “Stupid” or “stoop” (for short) as our affectionate petnames for each other. Granted, we definitely all have trouble expressing affection for each other cuz’ we grew up in a pretty dysfunctional environment, but either way, Stupid in our house is an endearing name for one another. We laugh at our use of it with each other.

    Also, not to be disrespectful but aren’t there aspects of “pleasure out of punishment” that can be consensual and not necessarily damaging? Like S&M type activities? Is this an inappropriate parallel? Apologies in advance if so!

  7. April 8, 2011 11:31 am

    Yeah, I hear you Sycorax — it’s not like we have to be all flowery and earnest all the time! Personally, I’m cool with friendly teasing and kind of laughing at ourselves, but I tend to dislike even affectionate put-downs and anything that could be construed as passive aggression hiding behind a joke. I wouldn’t universalize that preference to everyone, though. Although, I do think it takes a very strong and skillful person to be able to recognize if and when routine teasing happens to hits a raw nerve and produce resentment…

    In terms of consensual pleasure from pain, though, I think it’s tricky with kids because there’s so much pressure to fit in and be liked that (at least for me, when I was little), that the whole ‘consent’ thing doesn’t operate in the same way. Does that ring true for you? When I was little, I might ‘consent’ or go along with some game I didn’t like, just because I didn’t want to seem like a wimp or a loser. Now, that could apply to non-punching games, too, but I guess for me the hitting and ‘punking’ makes it stand out more. Could be my own sensitivities, though….

  8. Sycorax permalink
    April 9, 2011 5:30 am


    As an adult who still finds herself feeling like the kid pressured into punching games out of wanting to fit in/be liked, I must say it sure is nice that you know and are aware of your own sensitivities. That, I can definitely respect.

    Much Love.

    P.s. if we were a couple of kids on the playground I’d defend your right to opt out :) <33

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