Monday, 20 October 2014

So, How Can I Tell If My Kids Are Weird?

I am stinging a little at something that just happened over on Twitter.  Here's a little background - I was catching up on Style magazine from The Sunday Times today, and reading the second extract from India Knight's new book, which is about how to cope with middle age.  Very topical, in my case - I am about to turn 46.  Anyway, I was struck by a small part of a section about how to deal with kids - and surprised by the way the writer expressed herself.  She basically said, nobody likes kids who are weird, lots of kids are weird and if yours are more than ordinarily weird you shouldn't delay in getting a diagnosis for reasons of social embarrassment or stigma.

I mean, what?  Hang on a minute, I thought.  Does she have someone particular in mind - or, lots of someones?  Who are all these kids she thinks are weird?  Is it just kids or does she think lots of adults are weird too?  What sort of diagnoses is she referring to?  And the whole thing kind of jarred, because I have a book by India Knight and I read her columns and articles regularly and she had always previously come across as kind.  Not a pushover - a straight-talking, no nonsense, sort of person, but kind.

Anyway, I put it to the back of my mind.  I stopped subscribing to The Times a month or two ago, because I realised I could get the paper free from Waitrose.  Waitrose is an indulgence for me, but I have grown to like the routine of going there every day, getting my free cup of tea and paper, browsing the aisles to buy a few bits and pieces.  I read an article a while ago about how the regular, old-school Waitrose shoppers are upset by the likes of me, just turning up for the freebies and lowering the tone, but the staff certainly don't give any indication of thinking like that.  It's a really pleasant shopping experience. 

My point is that if I had still been subscribing to The Times, I would have commented on the website, underneath the article, and I am sure that Ms Knight would have explained her thinking.  But I don't subscribe any more, so I couldn't. 

I had forgotten all about it by this evening, when I was browsing Twitter.  I was on Twitter to link to my latest HuffPost piece, on the subject of pet therapy (here's the link by the way  And then I noticed India Knight promoting her new book, so I took the chance to ask her (by tweet) how I could tell if my kids were weird.  Silence.  I expanded.  I was asking because, I said, as far as I was concerned, anyone who thought my kids were weird would be weird.  Especially me.  Still silence.  So I realised she might be feeling attacked, and sent another tweet saying that anyway, I would buy the book, I was sure it would be an excellent read.  No reply.  Now, meanwhile, Ms Knight was still tweeting about her book and replying to others who were saying nice things about it.  And within a few minutes my tweets had been removed from her timeline (not sure if timeline is the correct term, but basically my comments had been edited out of the conversation). 

That hurt.  Mostly because I was really not trying to be unpleasant and she clearly thought that I was.  And I really have never deliberately provoked or hurt anyone in my life, and don't intend to do so.  I really just wanted to understand what she meant.  But I suppose Twitter is not the place for that sort of a conversation.

So I thought I would just air my thoughts here.  And what they amount to is this - a lot of damage is done in society by some people branding other people as weird.  I guess they do it because of fear or lack of understanding - but why they do it is not really the point.  It's wrong. 

One of my sisters often refers to other people as weird.  The funniest time was when she told me how weird she thought one of my friends was (they had just met, at a party in my garden for one of my children).  'She is a consultant psychiatrist,' I told my sister.  I thought that would stop her in her tracks, but she persisted, 'Well, she's really weird'. 

The thing is, my friend was not, and is not weird.  My sister is not an unpleasant person either.  She is just freaked out by people who are not like her - and she fails to realise that actually none of us are like anyone else in this world.  We are all different.  Society dictates that we form groups, and if we happen to be outside the group we are in danger of being ostracised.  But society is now so fragmented that the groups are increasingly small, and instead of trying to be more inclusive they tend to be getting exclusive.  And society is becoming less cohesive as a result. 

Does this make sense.  Or am I becoming incoherent?  What I am trying to say is that we should not call each other weird.  It makes people feel bad to be set apart.  And we really should not call our children, or anyone else's children, weird.  Children are different, people are different.  They can still be good, and valuable and worthwhile.  We do not all need to be the same.

I honestly think that it would be very, very wrong of anyone to consider their own child weird.  All they are really saying is that they do not understand that person, that they are different from themselves.  But they are saying it from a position of such power because they are the parent, that the child will almost certainly believe them and internalise the message.

And I do know that Ms Knight did not say 'weird' without a certain irony, or tongue-in-cheek intention.  She means - what?  Disturbed? Strange?  Different?  Not normal?  Whichever way you look at it, it's wrong.  The kids who are outcasts in the playground now will almost certainly be outcasts in adulthood.  The ones that are diagnosed - with what? - ADHD? Aspbergers?  - are marked for life.  Some children are now diagnosed with worse - schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder.  Some are medicated from a very young age.  It happens more in the USA than here, but what starts there usually follows on here, within a few years. 

And these kids are not, in fact, inherently different to anyone else.  They are simply reacting to their experience of the world.  If they are having difficulties of any kind, they need to be helped.  And the best way to help them is to make them feel safe and loved and normal.  Not to make them feel wrong.  Or different.  Or weird. 

It makes me so sad.  We need to be kind above all, and to teach our kids to be kind.  We need to be understanding, inclusive, to help others, to be non-judgemental.  I will always reassure my children that they are normal, I will always love them unconditionally.   I will do my best to be non-judgemental towards other children and adults.

I am not looking to start a witch hunt against India Knight.  I am sure she didn't really think about what she was writing and hasn't had personal experience of stigma.  Lucky for India Knight, really, if she has no knowledge of mental health issues.  I mean it.  And I know how it feels to have negative comments about something you have written so she was probably just freaked out by my comments on Twitter and that's why she didn't reply.  But I really was making a serious and very important point, so I thought I would just come and make it over here, where there is nobody to silence me.

Readers, I do hope you understand.


  1. Hi, Louise,
    Excellent post, and congratulations, by the way, on your blogging career at HuffPo. I didn't want to log into the style section to read the article, but here are my two cents worth on weird children. You have made a very good case why children should not be singled out as weird, and you are correct, up to a point. I think India Knight should have explained what "weird" is to her. I have run into clearly troubled kids (troubled is not weird to my way of thinking) when I was raising my own in a Canadian suburb. They were already "in the system," meaning they were seeing psychologists, psychiatrists, and were probably already being medicated in order to stay in school. I know a thirty year old man with a diagnosis of Aspergers, and I know his parents, and believe me, his parents tick all the boxes for Asperger like behavior, but they don't have the label, their son does. They are "weird" but just more flamboyantly so than the rest of us.
    In my experience, children often have big persons personalities in little person's bodies. They can be murderous, vindictive, judgmental, talk too much, flaunt authority, be catty, rude, etc. etc. That's not weird, though. Schizophrenia, IMO, is different. Children do not have schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is something adults experience. (I know, I know, there are rare children……but they will already be in the system.) Based on what I know about my son, he would have passed under the radar as a child. He was good, thoughtful, kind, a bit quiet, very intelligent in an un-showy way, and he never rocked the boat. NEVER ROCKED THE BOAT. Never asked for anything, never expected anything in return, was self-effacing in the extreme. Nobody takes a child to a psychiatrist for this behavior. Can you imagine me dragging him to a psychiatrist and saying, Doctor, he's just too perfect! (No, I took his boat rocking brother in for being hard to handle.) I figured one day my older son would actually begin to stick up for himself, but instead, he completely crumbled when he was starting to become independent. So, he got a label when he was older. The stigma kicked in then. Knowing what I know now, I would have taken him to a child psychologist and explained that my child was weird because he was too good and undemanding, and this will be a problem in later life. Could you help clue him up a bit, please? Not sure it would have worked. I would have been told there was nothing to worry about, he's a lovely child, blah, blah, blah.

  2. Hi Rossa, thank you, that's a really helpful comment. Troubled - that's the right word. But I suppose India was writing a lighhearted piece, not thinking about it deeply. In the cold light of day, I see that perhaps I should not have let my feathers get ruffled. I am going to email you in a moment, because I just want to run something by you in connection for a HuffPost blog I am working on now, on this subject.

  3. I was just thinking about the Asberger's thing you wrote about though. Out of interest, do you think it has helped the thirty year old to have a diagnosis of Aspberger's? Or are his parents better off, because they don't have a label? And does he have a condition, or has he just adopted their unusual behaviour traits because that is what he has been exposed to? The more I look at these things, the more it seems to me that there is no easy answer to any of it! I do think that environment plays the predominant part though.