Turns Out It’s Bad Guys


You guys, the inevitable slide into peer influence has begun. I always thought it would be words we don’t use* or some sort of violent swordplay, which we could handle. There have been hints that this was coming. For example she said, “hey hey hey lemme see lemme see” when she noticed I was reading something unfamiliar. She also tried out some version of nany nany boo boo and, when asked who said that, blamed it quickly on another little girl. I know we can’t keep the outside world at bay (and we don’t want to) but then bad guys showed up and with it my personal line in the sand.

I didn’t even know it was a line, you guys. But then there it was, it turns out the line is bad guys. Frankly, I might prefer fuck.**

I even know where the exposure came from. Not school, but my dad. Not local hoods leaning up against trashcans and flicking ash in the street, but friends.


It’s not like she doesn’t get exposure to what we’d all agree are bad guys. For example, I have a video game she loves to watch and while a part of it is gathering lovely purple flowers another part is sticking an arrow in folks who are out to get my flower-gathering guy. For awhile we had her sold that I was simply putting them to sleep (as they silently crumpled to the ground). Now she clearly gets that some characters have malicious intent and we’ve got to manage the situation. Debra and I have spent some time explaining why flower-gathering-guy has to do this without relying on good/bad. Flower-gathering-guy has issues, obviously, since he’s storming into other people’s castles and breaking open their safes. He is not all good. And those other guys have a short fuse, which is why old flower-gathering-guy sometimes ends up falling down and starting over. After all, they are protecting their shit, it’s reasonable that they’d be upset. Talking about motivation with regard to characters in a video game seems bizarre but it works for us.

I know, some of you are aghast that I’d let my child watch something on a screen, let alone a video game. I’m pretty sure if I were a good parent I wouldn’t have a blog at all and RR would be potty-trained. So that’s settled.


All this is to say that my dad – totally naturally, I might add – referred to flower-gathering-guy’s opponents as bad guys. And then we hung out with some kids who were quick to show RR who the bad guy toys were and demonstrate how they should interact with the good guy toys. At that point I realized I wasn’t ok with a no-shades-of-grey view of morality. It was also when I realized that I overthink things (I’m just saying it so you all don’t have to. I have flaws.). Debra and I just aren’t down with the idea of categorizing every toy in black as a bad guy. We don’t dig the fact that good guys are invincible, infallible champions of right. We don’t like TV shows geared to kids that feature villains with no redeeming qualities.


I want her to think about people and things as a whole without relying on a flat characterization given to her by someone else. That’s asking a lot of my almost four-year-old but, since she isn’t wasting time on the potty, she’s got time to work on this concept. This hamstrings us a bit. For example, we can’t tell her that people who pull up next to her and offer her candy are bad guys. We have to tell her that she cannot approach strangers in cars at all (unless they are in uniform and in public – and dude, even that isn’t safe).



We’ve got our own shades of grey here, of course. So she plays with kids who are/have bad guys. That’s not different from coming home having played princesses. It’s just kids. It’s why we’re parents so that we can live with these small people and bring them up in line with our family’s values. But we’re biting the bullet and asking our most frequent houseguests and promoters of bad guys that when they stay over they join us in steering the kids toward other kinds of play. I’m pretty sure that makes us total assholes. We’re not scolding the kids, or asking anyone to make grand proclamations, we’re just hoping for an alliance that turns bad guy play into sandcastles, tag, and that weird game where they slam doors and shriek.

Chalk this up to another parenting surprise. Who knew?


*Except that recent weekend where a car pulled into a parking space we were headed for and I emphatically said ASSHOLE and RR repeated it, turning it over and over like a shiny rock and saying it loud and clear. We convinced her that I said A SOL – and that I was really calling noting that the man driving looked like our cat, Sol***.


**Yeah, not really.



38 Responses

  1. You’re smart. I intellectualize bad guys and good guys when I’m reading literature or watching movies, always grateful with the “good guys” have flaws and the “bad guys” have hearts (think: The Wire, only the best TV show ever). I never thought to teach our kids that lesson though – that good and bad are not as distinct and easy to choose between as Disney might have them believe. You have given me a teachable moment here, Meridith. Thank you.

    • I’ve never seen The Wire! Clearly I’m missing out! I hope she doesn’t end up on a milk carton because of this (do only children of the 80s get that?) but I have confidence she’s smart enough to overcome her mother’s failings.

      On Tue, May 20, 2014 at 2:59 PM, Counting Chickens wrote:


  2. In my college Child Psych textbook, there was a chapter on the development of morality and rule-following. When children are young, they are quite rigid and NEED clear-cut rules, and gravitate strongly toward good guy/bad guy dichotomy. Around the time they’re teenagers they are more able to see shades of grey. Please don’t worry about your preschooler using “bad guy” to characterize a person who does bad things. She will grow out of it.

    I do try to discuss deeper issues and “grey areas” with my 6.5 and 4.5 year-olds, but I keep my expectations low and hope a little sinks in.

  3. Interesting parenting concept. She probably won’t understand today, or even when she’s 10. You’ll probably have to wait until adulthood to see results from this training, but I hope it works out for you.

  4. I think 4 year old kids are generally capable of understanding that we all have the ability to do bad things and that some people are better at controlling their actions. The creepy stranger in the car is not a threat to properly supervised 4 year olds. Most abuse children suffer is from someone they know not from a stranger so teaching children that everyone is capable of doing bad seems to be a better way to prepare them for real life.

  5. Its very thought provoking.I must say that kids don’t often understand the subtleties of human behavior; ergo they have to directed in a disney-esque fashion till the time they can begin to comprehend this for themselves.

  6. I find the whole idea of good guys and bad guys leads into ideas of punishing. Bad guys do something bad FIRST, and then good guys do something bad to the bad guys, and that’s “good,” because the “bad” guy did it first.
    Videogames, comics, TV and movies seem to show us bad killers and good killers, and I gotta say, the portrayal of bad guys doesn’t seem as dangerous to me as portraying this thing, “good” killers. That’s kinda crazy. As much as it may be real-world necessary to fight crime with violence sometimes, I wish we could stop short of calling these crimefighter killer-types “good” and just settle for “necessary evil.”

    This is all a tangent from your point, which is nuanced, complicated teaching for a complicated world, and I approve of your point totally.

  7. Parents who are keen on bring up their children to be good and so protect them from all bad influences and friends do not realise that parents, grandparents and close relatives are the defining influences in the road a child follows. Check out how less than ideal these influences are.
    pS Keep in mind I am 84 years old, not all of them repeated.

  8. “A SOL” ha ha! I guess I am going to have to get a cat and name him/her SOL! Brilliant. 🙂

  9. I see that’s a good thing to try hard with your kids
    Making a methods to teach them the deferent between the good and bad guy .
    Wish you luck with them .

  10. yes love what you said! hi i’m new to this blogging thing so it would mean alot id you check oug my page and even follow me ( i’ll follow back ) and i’ll also be giving out signed books and other cool things soon!

  11. Really enjoyed this post. With an 18 month old, these are issues we have not yet had to face as such, although we have already seen the fear on her face watching a certain kids show with a ‘bad guy’. Except it’s a show designed for the littler folk so he certainly has redeeming traits… that are hard to see when he just looks scary to our daughter. Other than that she lives her life without fear and it is so pure and refreshing. It makes me sad to know it won’t last. I work with ‘bad guys’, in a prison. I hear the worst stories about real life people. Probably a big reason I want out of that industry. It would be nice to live in a bubble of good people and good things. Good luck tackling these topics with your little one.

  12. I so appreciate the grappling you’re both doing as parents. The culture stacks the stereotypes and broad characterizations against you and RR at every turn, yet you both create new ways to slant embedded themes…she’s lucky to have you and we, as a culture, are too. Thanks! Great photo choices too.

  13. Really enjoyed reading your posts. Some cool info out there! Thanks!

  14. Reblogged this on ahc1cha and commented:

  15. Reblogged this on sotonz's Blog.

  16. it’s comforting to know that our children learn more from what we DO than from what we TELL them … isn’t it? comforting i mean? hmm… it’s so hard knowing to what and when to expose them. i have 4 dear little ones. ages 14-4 and so there is a wide range of exposure. things i would never let my oldest see or hear when she was 5 the youngest is fully involved in.
    we have to make sure they understand fair is fair. moral is moral. and bad or evil is wrong. and they learn that from our reactions.
    when i cuss in front of my kids (rarely when about to get hit by a loser while driving) i immediately apologize. it’s important for them to know that we are not perfect. we make mistakes … but we must own up to them.
    not sure if this comment follows the point of your post, but made me think. thank you

  17. I think you are approaching this with good reflection. Your daughter will thank you some day.

  18. Great post! Loved it.

  19. Haha! Brilliant

  20. nice

  21. As someone who will be raising a child shortly, I often wonder about teaching kids about flaws that young. Thinking back to my own childhood, I was never taught about flaws at such a young age, there were clearly defined good and bad guys. But I was also taught empathy and I grew to really like flawed and realistic characters. I’m curious if you grew up with clearly defined good and bad guys, and how that’s influenced your views.

  22. This is basically how I plan on parenting, too – the black and white mentality drives me crazy. I can’t stand villains that are just sooo evil and…that’s it. (That’s basically what my entire blog is about – how to write villains that are, say, real people and not just ‘bad guys’).

    Warms my heart to see a couple of parents who want to teach this to their kid, as well.

  23. Good guys come in all shapes and sizes!

  24. As the mother of two boys, I can relate to your efforts to, let’s say, downplay the violence that seems to pop up in children’s play so often. All I can say is godspeed.

  25. yes nice post and different topic

  26. Wonderfully put! This was one of the best articles I’ve read lately. Thanks !!

  27. Love this post! We’ve got a posse of four so close in age, it looks like I stole a third of a kindergarten classroom (because I sort of did.) And our big reality check is along the lines of diversity. Like when a grandparent suggests to my son that he can’t marry a boy and I yell from somewhere in the house, “Technically, in Massachusetts he can!!” Or whenever they see anyone who doesn’t look like someone they’ve already seen. Short of the opportunities for exposure one only finds in NYC, how do I teach my kids about the grey area that is our diverse world? Talk about redefining “bad guys.”

  28. its hilarious to read..something different and unique from others..great keep going..

  29. My 8-year-old is totally into the good-guy vs. bad-guy and I use it to teach him that we should always try to be the good guy. But I also teach him that bad guys can change, and sometimes it’s better, but also more work, to help bad guys change into good.

    He was especially confused with Jesus. In his picture Bible, he saw how Jesus healed the “bad guy”, even though he was arresting him. He’s like, “Why would Jesus help the bad guy?” Because Jesus said, “Love your enemies (the bad guys)”.

    He’s still a bit confused, but yeah, everything is black and white for an eight year old.

  30. Parenting is definitely not black and white. Morality can also take on the same monochromatic color scheme. I think that in teaching morality it is wise during each teachable moment to be as black and white as possible. That makes it clear what my family sees is right and wrong. And the little ones still taking the course have a clear working definition. And most of the time that clear definition will work just fine.

  31. That was brilliant! Good guys come in all shapes and forms.

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