Written by Doctor G

Insults in the family

Dear Dr. G., My question revolves around a situation that arose among two cousins while they were fishing (ages 8 and 9) and how a grandparent and parents responded. The scenario was, the 8 yr. old was casting his line farther than the 9 yr. old and he began to laugh and said I’m casting farther than you. The 9 yr. old left and told his grandmother that his cousin was teasing him about his fishing. The grandmother told the boy to go back and tell his cousin he is an “asshole”. When the parents of the 8 yr. old heard the story they were in complete shock, and the father so angry that rather than be tempted to slap the grandmother or get into a screaming match, he simply told her that was the most immature thing she could do and walked away. Both parents though are still steaming over this and not sure if they should just let it go or try to have a discussion with the grandmother about it. What do you say, at this point is it best to let it go and just try to stay away from that side of the family? It’s no wonder so many children today have little to no respect when parents and even grandparents are TEACHING behavior like this!
Thank you,
The other grandmother….(and I’m having a hard time biting my tongue on this one too!)

A: I would be willing to bet that this the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”  It seems likely to me that this grandmother or whole side of the family has been acting in ways that seem disrespectful to you and yours for a while now.

This particular situation seems to boil down to profanity.  I agree with you that she handled this badly.  However, if you replace the swear word with “brat” then the situation changes dramatically.  If 9 yo’s grandmother had said when he came to tattle, “Well, go tell your cousin you think he’s acting like a brat and to stop bragging,” then I would agree with her.

This isn’t a criticism of your 8yo grandson, all kids are bratty sometimes.  For sure mine are.  It is important to call them on this behavior so they see that it is not acceptable, it can be hurtful, and to practice treating others with more respect.  

She lost that moral high ground though (and took it from her 9yo grandson) by using a curse and encouraging him to use it also. 

If this is the first such situation in the family, I think a meaningful conversation would be of benefit.  The parents of the 8 yo can say to her, “We’re glad you want to hold our son accountable for his behavior, so do we.  But we are not OK with him hearing this language in the family or thinking that it’s acceptable to call someone that.”  I hope, by the way, that his braggy behavior about the fishing didn’t get completely lost in the bigger picture.  He should still hear from his parents that he wasn’t treating his cousin respectfully.

If this is not (as I suspect) the first such situation between your families, I think you need to consider the bigger picture and what you want the boys to learn from it.  To teach respect it is sometimes necessary to turn away from people who treat us badly.  However, family is important and there is a lesson of responsible communication that he could learn if the breach could be mended with some honest conversation.

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3 thoughts on “Insults in the family”

  1. Dr. G. also has a great post about discussing swearing with children, that might be a good talking point with at least one of the children, if not all involved.

  2. Thanks Christine! Though I wonder if the parents of the boy who repeated the curse word really have any wiggle room when the boy looks back and says: “But Grandma TOLD me to say that!” A real conflict between Responsible Behavior and Respect Your Elders!

  3. Dr. G, I’m consistently impressed with your advice. (And thankful I don’t have to deal with such issues. …yet?)

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