Bad (But Inexpensive) Decisions

There are few things quite as bewildering as the decision-making paradigms of small children in groups. For some mysterious reason, when they congregate together, children lose their common sense. (An argument could be made that this phenomenon is also demonstrably true of adults, too, but I’m focusing on the junior members of society today.)

My kids all had friends over for various portions of last weekend. The weather was beautiful and children wandered in and out of my house in ever-shifting permutations for much of the afternoon. It wasn’t until evening that I discovered one of my kitchen mixing bowls in the upstairs bathroom, filled with decorator rocks, water, and bright purple paint. Acrylic paint. The kind that doesn’t wash out. The kind that I keep stashed in my craft room, away from the children’s readily-accessible art supplies. There was also a gelatinous ooze in the bowl that I ultimately identified as Neosporin gel.

It only took a few minutes of questioning and some sternly-raised eyebrows to identify the culprits: my five-year-old daughter and her playmate. But I never did manage to figure out exactly where they discovered the purple paint, nor why they deemed it necessary to whatever activity they were undertaking.

Then there was the moment when my son appeared in the kitchen holding a sharp paring knife that he and his buddy had taken outside and “hidden” in the backyard. What? Why? Have I taught you nothing in my eight years of raising you, child? Why are you hiding knives in the backyard?? I swear my conversations about the state of US politics have not been suggestive of a coming Armageddon. (At least not in front of the children.)

Kids make weird choices when they are with their friends. It’s like the presence of co-conspirators gives them license to ignore established rules. And it’s never their fault, of course. Little Timmy is the one who suggested taking all the Halloween candy upstairs to the bedroom. My sweet angel child didn’t eat any. The wrappers under the bed were planted! Honestly, mom!

When my oldest daughter was about six, she and a buddy glued her curtains to the wall of her bedroom. They were these beautiful, gauzy purple curtains with flowers on them that we had hung in an alcove of her room, rather than over the windows. The girls decided they wanted them to stay open, rather than covering the alcove. And, obviously, what would work better for this undertaking than an Elmer’s glue stick?

My children’s antics this weekend left me exasperated and perplexed more than angry, but their behavior also worries me. Unfortunately, as kids get older they often continue to make poor decisions when in the company of their buddies, whether due to peer pressure, mob mentality, or just the limiting reality of group-think.

Thus I don’t let them off the hook when “their friends” make bad decisions at our house (even if I am secretly somewhat amused). We talked a lot this weekend about the responsibilities of friendship, and about how my small housemates should absolutely expect to get in trouble for failing to counter a friend’s questionable suggestions for fun activities.

It probably didn’t really sink in. They’re kids. They learn by screwing up. I just hope that the lessons learned when they’re young through purple paint and rogue glue sticks help prevent larger, more costly lessons down the road.

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