At school in the 1960s, I was never aware of any contemporaries self harming – ‘cutting’ as the young call it. It seems to be a very recent phenomenon and a World Health Organisation study that shows that there has been a three-fold increase in the incidence over the last decade. Inevitably I came across it in the last years of my headship and dealt with it in what could have seemed to be a rather cavalier way.
It was usually ‘those sort of girls’ who manifested the behaviour. Generally, I would agree a strategy that parents were usually happy to follow. My approachable but firm female deputy would say to the girls that it was a daft thing to do but that they were too old for us to be able to stop them doing it completely. However, we made it very clear that we would regard it as a very serious disciplinary matter if self-harm happened in school or if they told anyone else about it. We wanted them neither to benefit from attention, nor to influence others. Sure enough, without the reinforcement of attention, self-harming lost the gloss. The behaviour was temporary and limited in spread.
Despite good evidence for the opposite, the idea that if one teaches children about the evils of the world they will be more likely to avoid them is fashionable. Self-harm has not yet a high profile but one can imagine the damage that one could do by giving self-harm a high profile in school. One would ask those with inclinations in that direction to ‘share’ their experiences and feelings. It would all have to be done in an atmosphere of ‘acceptance’, of course. Those who had tried the practice could show the extent of their scars and a pecking order of ‘specialness’ would arise. It would be a disaster. Children are terribly impressionable and far too many would experiment with this particular folly.
I choose self-harm because, even today, I would guess that such behaviour is generally regarded as abnormal and there would be agreement that we should discourage it. On the other hand there are some strange ideas out there. Susie Green, chair of Mermaids, a ‘support group for children and young people…suffering with issues with their gender identity’ is reported as saying that ‘up to 80 primary school-aged children a year in the UK are now seeking help towards potentially changing their gender amid signs of classmates encouraging each other to do so.’
This is all about sex and sexual preference and, under our equalities culture, anything must be allowed to go. But what do we expect to happen if we introduce issues of gender identity into the primary school curriculum? Won’t a good number of the dotty children who want to stand out from the crowd in some way form a trans-club, want to be allowed into the toilets of the opposite sex and bathe in the attention of being ‘in transition…We are finding that where schools are have young people who are coming out and transitioning in school, that is actually kicking off other kids.’ says Ms Green. Are we at all surprised?
She continues ‘We have got four-year-olds, five-year-olds, six-year-olds who are transitioning as parents know more about it and are more aware if they have a child who is struggling and suffering.’
Struggling and suffering? Like self-harm this is a new phenomenon. I’ve known a rare boy who at some time wanted to be a girl, and a number of girls who, tomboy-like, wanted to be boys for a while. But the vast majority of us settle happily into the biological body we were born with and that’s what children need to be told. After all, that’s what normal means. It’s jolly convenient as well. It means that we retain the ability to have our own children and don’t have to have bits chopped off or, I suppose, grafted on. Susie Green thinks that ‘about one per cent of the population is trans in some way.’ Can one imagine what struggling and suffering would be caused if even a tenth of them ‘transitioned’?