Some other 4th grade boys are teasing my son, especially at lunch. No matter what he eats, he seems to be a target. He is 6th grade sized and it seems like they want to get him mad. Most recently they have been very vulgar, making fun of his cheese stick and saying it is a penis. What can he do?
Ebony, near Detroit, MI
A: Elementary age kids are pack animals. For some reason, your son is currently a target. So what’s the first step? Talk again with your son. Find out if this is bothering him, and what he wants to do about it. He may be telling you about it but not really be concerned about it. If that is the case, let him know that you want to know if it gets worse, but leave it at that.
If he wants this to stop, I have a few suggestions. But you’ll have to think like a 10 year old boy.
Extensive research (for real) of elementary school social interactions show that boys place high value on two characteristics: sports ability and humor. The ability to turn a situation into a joke is highly correlated with high social status for boys. If that joke includes an insult the results are faster. You don’t have to love this to recognize the truth of it.
The next time your son is eating a cheese stick and one of the boys compares it to a penis, your son can hold up the cheese stick by the bottom and let it flop over, look at the cheese stick and the boy who said it and say, “Well, it’s not nearly as big as mine… but I guess it looks like yours!” Or, if he is a more subtle sort, he can say, “Really?! Sad for you.”
These are ways he can deflect the insult with humor and works best if there are other guys around.
I really appreciate that you asked “What can HE do?” This is a great time to help him build some resilience and self-esteem. Offering suggestions and talking with him at home will show him that you know he can handle this. Jumping in to call the school or the boys’ parents will not send that message. Unless you feel this is all escalating quickly and putting him in real danger, give him the opportunity to work it out.
Just a word about gay-bashing. It is very easy for this kind of insult to cross the line. Sadly, the word “gay” or “queer” is still synonymous with “stupid” on most playgrounds. The only way to protect gay kids from the kind of treatment that leads so quickly to depression and suicide is to talk about those issues at home.