This weekend it came to my attention that my 14-year-old son has some friends who use racial and homophobic words in texts messages to my son and online. They say it’s ok because “they’re just words.” They say these words while joking but also when they’re angry.
My son has mentioned before that some of his friends use words he doesn’t like. We’ve talked about the power of words, the pain that they can inflict. I have not told him “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me.” That’s a lie. Words hurt. Words can break a person. They can shatter a heart and take up residence in a mind, living there for years after they were put out into the world.
But here’s the thing, I’m NOT telling my son he can’t be friends with these boys and I’m not telling him it is up to HIM to educate these boys. I am not going to punish and ostracize my son from his friends because of what they do. I have no proof my son has said these things, only that his friends have. I’m having a tough time because my ex believes these kids are “bad” and that the way to handle this is to tell my son he cannot be friends with these “bad” boys UNLESS he can convince them not to use this language anymore. I don’t believe these boys are “bad.”
My son is 14. It is not his job to educate, parent, or school his friends in anything. Here’s the point I know people will shut off and begin to comment about how that is not true. How we have to teach our kids to stand up to what is wrong, to fight for the right, to tell these kids this is WRONG and BAD. If you can stick with me, I’ll explain.
People (kids AND adults, maybe mostly adults) don’t react well to being shamed and scolded. People do not like to look at their faults and admit to them. People will cover that feeling of having done something wrong (because let’s face it, we know when we do something wrong) with anger. They’ll lash out, defending their actions to the end. We see it every day on social media. Preaching to someone about why you are right and they are wrong works how often? How many times have you started to school someone on how their way of thinking of their actions are wrong and they’ve listened and then said, “Holy cow, you are RIGHT! I’ve been doing it all wrong and thank you so much for setting me straight.” I’m going to guess most people don’t have many examples of this.
My son’s job is to uphold his own values. To do what is right in his heart. To make the best decisions possible based on what his dad and I have taught him is right and kind. My son’s job is to model the behavior he would like to see in others. And the thing is, I know he won’t always do what he knows is right. He’ll bend at times to peer pressure, he’ll act without thinking, he’ll make mistakes, simply because he is HUMAN. My plan is the first time he makes a bad decision and I find out about it, we’ll discuss it. Thoroughly. I will give him the opportunity to make amends with the situation or person and learn from it. Hopefully, he won’t make the same decision next time. If he doesn’t, that’s when the punishments will happen.
It’s up to parents to know better, do better. One of these boys lost his mom to cancer. His dad is remarried and according to him, travels all the time and he’s left with his step-mom who doesn’t care what he does. I don’t know if that is true but I imagine this “bad” kid is dealing with more pain than his 14 year old psyche knows what to do with. This “bad” kid is hurting, lashing out, and doing it in the way that might get him the most attention. I asked my son to imagine what he would feel like with me gone, a dad who travels a lot, and the feeling that his step-mom didn’t like him. I asked him to think about his words carefully, to show empathy for this boy, and to simply not engage with them when they start to spout these hurtful words. He doesn’t need to reprimand them outside of a simple, “Ahhh, not cool guys,” and move on. I also suggested he could let this boy know he’s there if he needs someone. Personally, I want to have this boy over, make him a home cooked meal and make him feel safe for a bit.
I don’t plan to sit and do nothing. I am reaching out to the school counselors because I’m positive some of these words are uttered at school. I’ll ask if they can do a sensitivity review with students, maybe send home something to parents. But my main goal is my son and working with him to create a ripple affect of kindness in this world. I do this with my words but more so, with my actions. It’s all we can do, combat ugly with beauty, hate with acceptance, anger and fear with love.
The awesome thing about love and kindness is they can never hurt a person and there is always plenty to go around.