Cops and robbers. Cowboys and Indians. Every boy has played these children's games at one point. They are part of growing up. Now they can land you in the principal's office.
The Newtown, Conn. tragedy has school administrators on high alert. Understandable. No one wants a repeat of that horrendous day. There is a line between vigilance and common sense and right now it seems to be tightrope for some.
This week a Mount Carmel kindergartner was suspended for 10 days -- a suspension later reduced to two -- for making "terroristic threats." Her crime? She told a friend at the bus stop she was going to shoot the friend then herself with a Hello Kitty Bubble Gun. Be sure to read that entire sentence, right up to the "Hello Kitty Bubble Gun" part.
In today's environment, it is not an isolated incident. Twice in the past month, elementary school students in Maryland were suspended for similar acts. Two 6-year-old boys were suspended for pointing their fingers at each other as imaginary guns during recess. That came on the heels of another boy who was tossed from school after firing an imaginary gun on several occasions.
They are kids playing the way kids have for centuries. To many of them, using a bubble gun is the same as playing with a Barbie or G.I. Joe.
Mount Carmel's school handbook notes three levels of discipline in the school, ranging from infractions to serious infractions to egregious infractions. The last includes bomb threats, physical threats, possession a weapon and threat to harm others.
Because everyone can understand an abundance of caution these days, it is only right to give school folks a pass on guessing extra hard for safety.
But keep it real, Mr. and Mrs. Grown-up Administrator. Acknowledge the rights and vulnerabilities of childhood. You can invite the little ones to the office. Plunk them down in a comfortable chair. Offer a piece of hard candy (if that is still allowable). Call mom or dad or caregiver or guardian.
Even if it is a Hello Kitty Bubble Gun, adults speaking on an equal plane with each other can understand how talk of killing -- even from the mouths of babes -- is something schools prefer to avoid, for obvious reasons.
Let's avoid intimidating talk of detaining, charging, threatening and imprisoning. To a 5-year-old, that may be terrifying.