Guns, paint, and hyperactivity

June 7, 2001
Most of my childhood friends and I grew up in households that had guns.

Editor's comment June 7, 2001

None of the firearms were kept under lock and key. Except when adults were hunting or target shooting, the guns were brought out only on special occasions, at which time children were allowed to handle them under supervision.

The children knew where the guns were kept, and we could have handled them surreptitiously had we dared. But we didn't dare. We knew that guns were dangerous in the hands of kids, and we were kids. Everyone treated guns with respect, and we children knew we would be vigorously punished if we were caught handling a gun without parental permission.

I don't remember these rules being spelled out for us. They were just something everyone knew. I'd be hard-pressed to explain why, but one reason I can offer is that we kids knew we were second-class citizens in the household hierarchy. Mom and dad didn't spend a lot of time telling us they loved us. Instead, they spent a lot of time telling us they expected us to make something of ourselves. And that wasn't going to happen unless we obeyed the rules both at home and at school. We were afraid to misbehave because we knew that would bring dire consequences. At the same time, adults behaved, too. In the town where I grew up, nobody ever turned a gun on anyone. They knew they would go to the electric chair if they killed someone. It was guaranteed.

We lived in houses where every bit of paint was lead-based, but none of us ever got lead poisoning. Kids get lead poisoning when they eat peeling paint or breathe lead-laden dust. I think we never got lead poisoning because our parents kept our houses clean. If the paint peeled, they swept up the flakes and repainted. In addition, mom ran the vacuum cleaner or mopped the floors every week. I wonder why there is so much concern about lead poisoning today.

We kids didn't have much self-esteem. We knew that self-esteem was something we would get once we grew up and made something of ourselves. We knew that kids who had too much self-esteem were cocky, and adults didn't like them. We wanted adults to like us because then they would give us good grades in school, pay us to do chores, and buy us BB guns or other stuff we wanted.

I went to an elementary school with approximately 240 other students. Not one of us was hyperactive or had attention-deficit disorder. Not one. Our teachers had a way to keep us settled down. It involved an escalated response. The first level was a reprimand before the whole class. The next level was being sent to stand in a corner. If that didn't work, corporal punishment was administered.

The corporal punishment didn't hurt. It was only meant to embarrass us, just as the two less severe steps were meant to embarrass us. The thing we feared most was being embarrassed in front of classmates, and that was a powerful inducement for us to behave and keep focused.

School wasn't fun. But we knew that dad didn't have fun at work, mom didn't have fun doing housework, and our teacher didn't have fun trying to teach us. We understood that fun was something doled out in small doses and for brief periods of time. Despite this, we were almost always content. Well-defined rules and predictable circumstances made us feel secure. We were never bored. Maybe today's kids would enjoy that kind of structure.

-- Ronald Khol, Editor

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