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Working Professionally with Children and Youth in Care

Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

Normal is as Normal does

Carol Stuart

When my daughters were smaller, 10 and 8 years of age, the oldest asked to colour her hair. I considered her request to dye her hair RED to be a little “ab”normal for a 10-year-old. I had never dyed my hair and I generally disapproved of children and teenagers doing this and thought that the rest of the community might also disapprove.

 Nevertheless, I bowed to the pressure and we used Henna – a natural and temporary product (or so I thought). Thus, the youngest proved that, for some hair types, Henna lasted a very long time and the oldest began a life-long relationship with hair colour. Over the years some or all of her very thick, long hair has been red, pale pink, fluorescent pink, blue, rainbow coloured, jet black, brown, golden blonde, white blonde (usually to better absorb the secondary rainbow treatment) and she has used Clairol, Henna, Kool-Aid, etc. It hasn’t really been a “passing teen-age phase” and I fully expect that at some point in her life she will be one of the 60 year old women that I occasionally see with pink or purple colour in their hair. She says it’s her “inner self” coming out.

So what defines “normal”? When does it become “abnormal” and require “treatment” because it impedes a person’s ability to function in day to day life? When are groups of people part of a “sub-culture”, “counter- culture” or “pop culture” where they feel accepted and their behaviour is seen as normal, by peers, if not be the rest of society?

Culture is the accumulated way of life for an entire society, represented by our life-style, our norms, values, institutions, and artefacts. Therefore, normal is represented by society’s collective definition of the rules and values for living together. Of course there is no everyday conversation about what our rules are. They are passed on through family and friends that we interact with, primarily at an implicit level and often through what we are allowed to do, encouraged to do, or prevented from doing as we grow up.

Halloween is one of those “cultural artefacts” celebrated primarily in the Western World. It arises from a pagan Celtic harvest festival in Great Britain and was adopted in Christian culture. Much of what is represented in a culture has some type of religious or spiritual connection. Halloween, as a celebration, tends to be more a children’s activity though for some adults it is a time to party. Regardless, it’s a time for presenting the self as a fantasy self; a fairy princess; a vampire; a heavily tattooed biker; a favourite cartoon character – hero or villain. The next day, all returns to “normal”.  

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