Now that he's in middle school, your son is being picked on for not loving sports. How can you help?
(from our panel of staff contributors)
First, determine the level of "picked on" and teach your son the appropriate response. If he's being taunted for his lack of knowledge, a simple "Why do you care what I like?" might do. If it's because he's not participating in sports, steer him toward activities he does enjoy, where he'll meet like-minded peers. If he's archly declaring his distaste for sports (some kids do just that), advise him that taunting begets taunting. Which he may have figured out by now.
Help him find a pursuit or activity where the measures of success are different, and one that, importantly, he thinks is cool. If he can be a Risk champion, best rocket builder, even the best video gamer, he'll have a lot of help deflecting those judgments from the other kids.
Steer him (with help from teachers, perhaps) toward other interests at school. Music? Art? Drama? Chess? Yearbook? Surely there is an activity or club that better suits him — and others. It is easier to ignore those picking on you when you are standing with friends who are like you.
"Parents need to let their kids know that the world may think all boys love sports, but sometimes the world is wrong," says child and family psychologist Janet Sasson Edgette, author of "The Last Boys Picked: Helping Boys Who Don't Play Sports Survive Bullies and Boyhood" (Berkley). "As adults, we have a responsibility to begin debunking this whole mythology around sports and boys."
You can start by letting your son know that you love him exactly the way he is and that you've got his back.
"Let him know the expectation that he must like sports is wrong and together you may not be able to change the world, but you'll help him respond to it," Edgette says. "Tell him, 'This is not about you. This is about the other person.'
"Kids draw so much from a parent's ability to say, 'I know other people think you should like this instead of what you do like, but that's them. That's not you,'" she adds. "It's a really important distinction. You don't ever want your child to disguise his genuine self to be accepted or avoid being bullied."
It's a shortsighted fix, and one that will leave everyone feeling lousy.
"It might seem like a good idea at the time to just pretend you like something to get the bullies off your back, but the message is you have to somehow contort who you are in order to avoid being hurt," Edgette says. "Better to tell him, 'You be who you are, and we will take whatever measures we need to keep you safe.' "
The appropriate measures will depend on the level of harassment. But the underlying message is key: You don't need to change. They do.
At the same time, be sure to emphasize your pride in your son's other endeavors.
" 'I love how much you love your music.' 'Your ability to relate to animals is extraordinary.' 'The way you treat other people is one of the things I love about you,' " Edgette suggests. "Search inside to find what you're genuinely proud of or impressed by or just really like about your child.