Cruelty and the Culture of Boys

Jason a slightly built seventh grader was in the school bathroom with several other boys. Ben an aggressive classmate nudged his friend Dave and gave a smirky grin. He then bumped Jason causing him to get urine on his pants and get a look of terror on his face. Ben and the other boys doubled over in laughter while Jason felt humiliated. How could he go back to class, everyone would be laughing at him. He knows that if he tells the teacher he’ll be in for it with Ben. So he splashes water on his shirt and pants and tells the teacher he sprayed himself getting a drink. He’s learning to do anything but express his real feelings.

David Blicken everyday goes to school and gets chased or tormented by taunting classmates. He is called “Blicken the chicken”. David tries to pretend he doesn’t care but the truth inside is that it hurts. He doesn’t talk about feeling hurt but secretly inside he tries to stuff away feelings he has. Sometimes he teases other children calling them other names. Sometimes he laughs to disguise his feelings to others. He tried to make others think it doesn’t bother him or gives a pretend cry to show other children he’s unaffected. Sometimes he lashes out and other children tease him all the more. David is learning to deny his feelings.

Bobby an eighth grader has not reached his growth spurt. Most all the girls are taller than him. Many of his peers, boys in his class have begun to change. Voices have become deeper, one or two boys even have some lip hair. Leg hair is becoming more noticeable for some boy as well. Some boys all around him are getting more muscular and taller. Bobby’s body hasn’t changed. Classmates have begun to call him “squeaky” and “Soprano boy” (because of his high voice) and the “hairless wonder”. Bobby knows that each day the same name or other names will be used. He begins to doubt himself and his lack of changes as he not only hears the torment but also compares himself to friends and classmates. He fears what the girls will think of him and may believe that no girl could like him. When he comes home at night, mom asks him, “what’s the matter?” he says “nothing”. It’s obvious to his parents that he has become moody and more withdrawn, sharing his feelings less and less.

Cruel yes, but so goes the culture of boys and how they often mistreat one another. These and many other experiences often teach boys to not be vulnerable, to not open up, to stuff and deny their feelings. It isn’t that boys don’t feel feelings in their life, but the culture of boys often serves to teach them that being open will hurt. That shame and embarrassment comes from allowing yourself to be open with friends.

How can parents best insulate and help boys through these types of difficulties, especially around the Junior-High years? Help boys identify and understand what they feel and differentiate their feelings from the feelings and treatment of others. The more secure a child feels about who and how they are the more a child will be able to differentiate someone else’s mistreatment from who they themselves are. This will not only stabilize their own feelings but help them see name calling and cruel jokes as a problem about someone else not their problem. Express your belief in your child for who they are. Be specific; give lots of opportunity to share openness in the family.

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