A few days ago, I got a PM from a childhood friend that broke my heart. It seems that her teen was completely left out of all the groups for Halloween. Since she had a previous conversation with a parent about their kid's plans, she reached out to the mom to see if her daughter could be included. Since the trick-or-treating plans were to begin at another home, that mom wanted to phone the other mom to make sure it was okay. The response? The girls needed to decide as a group if she would be included. My friend told the mom “no thanks.”
I've written about inclusion before and I'm going to be crystal clear about my opinion when it comes to our kids. We need to teach inclusion from a young age and model it for our kids. It needs to start at the top.
I think most parents do a pretty good job with inclusion with younger kids because of school requirements. Often, if you have a party, they encourage you to invite the whole class. However, we still experienced division in grade school. There was a lot of “you can't play with us” chatter going on and many times the moms did nothing to get the group of girls to include everyone or play nicely. The mere suggestion of including the girl sitting in the corner by herself didn't happen often although it happened at my home.
This got worse in middle school. The girls started to form friendships based on common interests instead of loyalties. Popularity suddenly became important. And, you always had to have the Queen Bee telling everyone what to do. This was the age that I started to see some parents disappear. They had tweens now and weren't needed as much and guess what? That's wrong. You are needed more. You are your child's moral compass.
Inclusion needs to begin at the top.
I was 13 in the 80's. It was a simpler time. No Netflix, SnapChat or cell phones. I would never have considered deliberately leaving someone out because I was taught the more the merrier. I went to a middle school with 60 kids in my grade and we were not allowed to have parties without all the kids invited. Was it forced inclusion? Yes. Did it teach us to respect other kids. Absolutely. Now, I'm not going to tell you that I was never excluded. I was a teenage girl and like every other kid struggling to find themselves, I did feel left out at times but I can tell you this. It was never deliberate.
I think we need to raise teens that can make their own decisions but I still think we have a responsibility as parents to teach our children why inclusion is important. We need to encourage our children to be kind souls that think about others, not just themselves. Allowing girls to vote at a lunch table about whether or not to include a friend does not accomplish this. It sends the message that it's okay to exclude and on some level bully. And, it's not.
What can you do? Be the parent. Start conversations at a young age and continue them through high school. Be the one to model inclusive behavior for your child because that's where they learn how to behave. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree.