I want to share some thoughts about Georgie Porgie, the beliefs children learn from the messages adults unconsciously give them, and how times have changed.
The nursery rhyme Georgie Porgie is still widely published and shared with children, even though, like so many nursery rhymes, it is socially inappropriate by today’s standards and has a controversial and, depending on what version you believe, possibly disturbing origin.
Younger children don’t care much about origins. They can only work to make sense of stories by drawing on their own immediate life experience. They often take words literally, and the subtext of the seemingly innocent stories, songs, and rhymes we repeat to them can shape their world view. Taken literally, here are some possible harmful subtexts for this playful innocent rhyme:
Georgie Porgie, Pudding and Pie (teasing, sizism)
Kissed the girls and made them cry (Unwanted touch!)
When the boys came out to play (possibly sexism or homophobia?)
Georgie Porgie ran away (possibly bullying or revenge?)
As adults, we might enjoy repeating rhymes, stories, songs, and games from our own childhood to our kids without thinking about the underlying values that they represent.
It’s important to pay attention to the messages that we learned growing up that we might unconsciously pass onto our own kids. Most of us had limited information about safe, positive, healthy human interaction, and we likely learned messages that were cryptic, incomplete, or even destructive.
We can think about the material that our relatives and teachers passed on to us and that is being marketed to kids today, for better and for worse, and update, revise, and explain it as necessary. What is worth keeping? What is worth revising? What needs to be thrown out or undergo a serious rewrite? Or beloved stories can we keep but explain as being from “olden days” and use as a way to educate kids?
One way or another, we can change Georgie Porgie’s story to one that is more emotionally safe and socially positive. For example, perhaps after some adult intervention and some Kidpower skills for all parties, the story might become:
Georgie, Georgie, strong and kind,
Safe with his body and his mind,
Respects other kids when he wants to play,
Has fun with everyone, every day!
Okay, this rhyme still needs work– and you can make up your own or find a better one. The point is that, as adults, we have tremendous power to choose and shape the messages we give our children.
The wonderful news is that most people in our society think that kissing girls to make them cry is wrong. I am often asked if kids are less safe today – and whether child abuse, bullying, and violence are worse now than they used to be. My answer is that our awareness and our values about keeping kids safe have changed. Destructive actions towards at least some people has been – and sadly, still is in many situations – accepted as normal. It often didn’t – or doesn’t – have a name. It was just the way things were – or are.
Thankfully, today, many more people are much more likely to recognize harmful behavior for what it is and to try to stop it. Technology has given new tools to call attention to oppressive and dehumanizing treatment. Yes, many problems remain, and we have a long way to go, but far more people are at least going in the right direction – and by being willing to read, use, and share our Kidpower resources, you are part of making this happen.
I’d appreciate any thoughts you have on these issues. Remember that as a reader, you can send us questions and suggestions about child protection, personal safety, self-defense, or positive communication, and we will answer you personally.