Do we always have to share ?
Inspired by a particularly riling twitter thread the other day, I have been pondering the concept of sharing, guilt, and whether it is a learnt behaviour. In particular, I wanted to look at how we were taught as children to share, and how this, in turn, impacts what we then teach our own children.
So is ‘sharing caring’, or does the lesson come with a cost?
The Guilt Trip
On Twitter the other week a mother made a comment regarding ice cream. Basically her teenage daughter bought herself a box of ice creams – I am assuming individual ones, like Magnums or something. The daughter was munching away on her treat when the Mum in question asked if she could have one. The daughter pointed out that she only had one left and she had bought them herself and didn’t want to give it away. The mums subsequent twitter rant centred around how selfish the daughter was as she had been taught to share and how annoyed the mum was by this behaviour. The comments appeared to endorse this mother’s belief that sharing is the same as handing over your stuff to whoever demands it. In fact, many of the replies suggested refusing to share anything with the daughter in the future, with one going so far as to recommend the mother remove the remaining ice cream from the freezer and leave it on the side to spoil because ‘if she won’t share, why should you share the electricity that you pay for’.
Let me just clarify that : an ‘adult’ suggested to another ‘adult’ that they destroy their childs property, out of spite, for not being given something, that wasn’t theirs to have.
This is why Twitter makes me sad sometimes.
I am pretty sure that a large part of the guilt we receive from parents is connected to this concept of forced sharing we inflict on children. Parental guilt is a massive topic, so I will return to this ponder and pad it out in the future.; I could write for days on that subject!
For this lunchtime though, I wanted to focus on how we teach our kids to share, and whether there is actually a better way.
Sharing is taught
As a general rule, we all like keeping what is ours. I once helped out at a toddler group that was short on supplies so I raided my Guide cupboard, where I store all my crafty supplies that I use with my Girl Guide unit, and bought along some felt tips, stickers and tissue to use on the craft table. I was on edge the entire time, witnessing the disrespect the parents allowed their children to wreak upon my stuff! At one point I conviscated the pens from one particularly destructive child, who, instead of drawing was stabbing the paper by bashing the pens down heavily, pushing the nibs up into the pen, ruining them.
“Let’s not treat the pens like that” I gently suggested, fighting the urge to gather up my belongings and go home. Why is it always at this point the Mother rocks up, not there when her child is trashing the gaff, but the second someone sounds like they are reprimanding them they magically appear.
“He’s just playing, they’re only pens”
I have enough social awareness to appreciate that shouting back :
“I know! They’re my pens! Can’t you stop Scribble Macbreaky Face here from ruining them!”
Would probably be frowned upon, but I have seen so many children that expect things from other people who should ‘share’. I have seen an adult go up to a child who is sat playing happily with a toy and declare that they have had it long enough and that it is their child’s turn now… Usually in a room full of other toys. How about, no? How about, your kid can play with it when I am finished? I have never heard a child say this, obviously, we are conditioned to be polite to adults even when they are bring unreasonable.
I still hate lending out things. Even now, when someone asks to borrow one of my pens, I feel obliged to point out that they are fine liners and they need to be really gentle with them, and ‘put the lid back on because they will dry out’; I actually find lending stuff out stressful.
Why should I be made to feel bad or be put in a position where we have to justify not wanting to share our belongings.
Why do we teach are kids to hand over what we have, purely because someone else wants it? An adult is not expected to do that. If I went up to my brother as he ate a cake and I asked for some, he would tell me to sod off. If I then whined to my mum that ‘Luke isn’t sharing’, she would tell me to go get my own cake if I wanted one so much.
Do we demand our children share because we want them to be kind, giving, potential door mats with broken pens, or because we don’t want other people judging us and our parenting skills because they perceive our kids to be rude, purely for standing up for themselves.
How does this play out in older children?
My 17 year old was on the bus home from college, munching on some food as she hadn’t had time to eat earlier, when a woman sat next to her. She first started tutting dramatically, then turned to Han and said ‘How can you eat on a bus? ‘
Now you or I may have said ‘like this’ and stuffed our remaining food in our faces… Or maybe just me!
Hannah, however, was mortified at being called out in front of all the passengers – most of whom would have sympathised with her – and put her food away. She is conditioned to be polite to adults, and had she said the truth ‘I’m hungry’ could have possibly have opened herself up to accusations of rudeness.
Why do we expect higher standards of behaviour from children and young people than we would receive from other adults.