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EDUCATION: With Peter Clague, Kristin School

Fear of the Feral Boy

Kristin School’s Executive Principal, Peter Clague, reflects our fear of unpredictable threats like spiders, lions and teenage boys.
Fear of wild animals is a normal human response.  Nature has given us three simple instinctive choices when confronted by a large salivating man-eater: fight, fright or flight.  

Admittedly there may not be a lot of ravenous lions roaming the streets of suburban Auckland, but we still react the same way when confronted by our own local fauna. Growing up in New Zealand I’ve been bitten by dogs, chased by bulls and dive-bombed by magpies. I also saw Jaws at a very influential age and even now have to be coaxed just to get into a swimming pool.  Generally, I’ve found flight tends to be the best option when threatened by hostile beasts.
But some creatures are so benign that I simply can’t fathom our irrational fear of them. Specifically, why are we frightened of spiders? Or mice? Or teenage boys?  Sure,like lions, all three species are unpredictable and sometimes startle us. They lurk in the dark corners around our own homes or dart out of the pantry unexpectedly. But do they really warrant such consternation?
For a start, if we run away they couldn’t hope to catch us.  A mouse reaches exhaustion after three minutes and a spider moves at a top speed of one kilometre a day.  A teenage boy is twice as slow as a spider and tires after 90 seconds (or 10 paces beyond food, whichever comes first).  And even if they did suddenly feel inspired to chase you, a teenager would tangle in their low-riding jeans and be braked by their billowing boxers long before they got up speed.
So why do some people find them so intimidating?  Certainly they sometimes roam like a marauding band of lions on a hunt.  But lions move in a pack for a kill; boys loiter in groups for a thrill.  Lions camouflage themselves for a surprise attack; boys hide behind hoodies, long hair and tinted shades because they aren’t yet sure of their place in the jungle. More often than not, they hide their eyes not because they’re about to pounce but because they think you might be.
When Spring exerts it’s powerful forces on the animal kingdom, teenage boys, like bears, awake from their Winter hibernation, their dormancy broken by the as yet unfathomed demands of mating season. As the Summer has worn on, they have grown more confident and the pursuit of a mate has become almost as important as the search for their next meal.
Normally nocturnal, you may even catch a glimpse of one in the morning, shuffling in search of food as the longer daylight hours offer extended opportunities to eat. Should you encounter one, or even a pack of them, stay calm.  If they were once your own, take heart that even feral boys can be domesticated once again.  And if they’re not, don’t judge them badly or be intimidated.  I’ve worked with hundreds of them over the years and have very rarely been bitten.  
Remember, they’re more like spiders than lions.  If you find one inside don’t scream and crush it, just open a door and shoo it outside.

by Peter Clague