Monday, September 17, 2012

When Your Kids Use the "F" Word

  
I thought about this post a lot. At first, I decided not to discuss this because it’s a conversation I had with one of my children. Then I realized I could present the scenario but not attribute it to anyone in particular. That didn’t seem the way to go. I then was going to write about another topic altogether like how Paul Ryan “forgot” his marathon finish time or the Times article that concluded organic foods are no better. But why waste time on lies? I’m going to tell you something truthful.

My boys were away at camp for seven weeks this summer. We can email or occasionally call them but their only means of communication with us were letters (no technology, love it except the spelling errors).  One son would give us the date and time and a maximum of two sentences. His brother, on the other end of the information spectrum, told us everything. I would’ve been fine without knowing every score of every game or when they were “robbed” but my sentimental side comes out while they are away. One letter in August talked of a visit to a girl’s camp. “They had a carnival with rides and delicious food.” Interesting. “And all the girls thought I was cute.” Whoa, did he write “girls” and “cute” if it weren’t for the handwriting and abundant sports scores I would’ve thought this was written by another child. His lack of modesty aside, I was happy he shared that information and I didn’t say another word about it until he came home.

First night home (within an hour of seeing him) I couldn’t contain myself:
“So you mentioned girls, they thought you were cute?”
“Yes, it was strange, I’ve never heard that from girls my age.” I let the age thing go and skipped to “and did you think they were cute?”
“No mom, they were all fat.”

I wasn’t prepared for that. Especially with my profession, “fat” is not something he’s heard me say. I may say way worse words, such as the original "F" word especially when I cut myself cooking or get cut off while driving but not fat. I may say I feel “gross” or “bloated” or many other not-so-positive things but I stay away from fat.

“You know it wouldn’t hurt somebody’s feelings if they were called that.” I said. “Mom, I didn’t call them that and I’m not being mean, they were fat.” Some people are fat and some are thin.” My head started to spin. This poor child was enjoying his first hour home in his house and I was thinking of a frat house with him surrounded by older versions of his camp friends as they discussed various females and their appearance. Was I raising one of “those” guys?

I went off. I told him that girls develop sooner than boys. He had learned about puberty at school or as he said “when you get hair in all sorts of places”. I added it’s what’s on the inside that counts. I gave alternate words for fat such as large and overweight and rotund. My mother always pinned everything on my friends so I told him if others were saying hurtful things about girls, he shouldn't join in. And then I realized this kid will never share anything with me again so I said “I’m happy they had good food at the carnival, it sounds like a fun day.”
We spend so much time working on girl's self esteem and body image do you think we neglect speaking to boys? We are all influenced by appearance how to we make sure boys get right message? What would you have done in this situation? And if you'd like to chime in about Paul Ryan or organic food that's fine too.

24 comments:

  1. Lindsay @ The Lean Green BeanSeptember 17, 2012 at 3:36 AM

    such an interesting point! i definitely think we sometimes focus so much on building up little girls and working with them that we very well could be neglecting the boys out there.

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  2. Jess @ Keeping It Real FoodSeptember 17, 2012 at 4:08 AM

    Great point—I was actually having a conversation with someone yesterday about a woman I know who talks about raising her sons to be feminists. I think conversations like the one you shared above are really important to have. It sounds like you handled it really well!

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  3. Oh boy, I can't WAIT to have kids :)
    That's a tough one. I do think we focus way too much on girls when it comes to topics like this, and we forget that often times it's the guys who make the girls feel so bad about themselves. Case in point, I will never forget when 1) my first boyfriend told me I had a fat stomach (I think it was just a coincidence that I became anorexic that same year) and 2) when a guy told me I didn't even need to be wearing a bra (sort of the opposite of the "Fat" comment, but still....ouch!). Yes, I think it's important to have this talk with boys, and it sounds like you handled the situation well (and it sounds like your son is going to break some hearts with his charming good looks!!) :)

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  4. I cannot tell you how many clients repeat one or 2 comments from growing up that stick. I never want those comments to come from my boys. However, I also can't expect them not to "judge". Right? Thank you for sharing that Gina, too many of us have examples.

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  5. I am so in touch with developing my boys softer side via music and art. I am so on top of manners and behavior but hadn't delved into girls and all that territory.

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  6. Yes and we need to build boys up too but also work on how they approach these issues of size, body etc. Mothers of sons aren't off the hook.

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  7. Whoa....my head is spinning from this one! My boys (younger than yours) are in the observing stage "that lady has a big stomach" exclaimed aloud in a crowded elevator. Hard enough to explain why thats a hurtful thing to say.... but Fat as the opposite of cute...tough one! Thanks for getting me thinking.... I think we need a forum on this one. Hoping others chime in with some wisdom.

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  8. Agree michelle, "raising boys who aren't _______" ? What's terrible is I was shocked with my own tactic. I have always used variety and factual information to comment on size. Large person taking up 2 seats on bus...some people are big and some small and some short and some tall. However, somehow when talking about young girls I didn't like it (even if accurate). And then using weight as a reason to not think cute, where did that one come from? This is a child who wants to help save endangered animals, so it's not just a mean boy...

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  9. Ouch words! We talk to our kids at school about "ouch words", words that seem innocuous but in context can cause someone to say "ouch". I'd say that Fat is way up there on that list.

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  10. My friend, also mother of two boys, was playing Apples for Apples years ago (her kids are now college/late high school) and i think (i've never played) she played a card that said Fat and one of her sons said, "Boobs." And she was all angry, like where did that come from?! Until she realized that they had just been hearing her, for years, link feeling fat to her boobs being too big.

    Unrelatedly, your flash-forward to a frat house gave me pause: My friend's fratty friends collected "deucers" in college--conquests with girls who weighed at least 200 pounds. So horrible!

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  11. the boob thing interesting. I have a skinny friend who went on BC pill. Her boobs grew and her son said she "looked fat" there. Rory, the deucer thing shouldn't be an issue (though exactly the grossness I am scared of) since my son is fat-averse.

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  12. but is it an "ouch word" if you don't say it to someone?

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  13. This is a tough one. I don't have any kids so it's difficult to say how I'd handle the situation, but it definitely gets me thinking. We definitely focus most of our attention towards girls and self-esteem, and I agree that something should be done about the boys. I think so long as he never vocalizes a hurtful comment to the person, the next important thing to do is simply have him understand that being overweight isn't a choice and that friends can come in every shape and size. And especially, that to be healthy, friends need support from other friends, not judgement. You did an awesome job.

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  14. good points vanessa, this is so hard. I talk to my kids about making good choices in order to be healthy and energetic. In turn, I think kids are judgmental or confused when they see people smoking or eating fast food "why would they want to do that?" Maybe they see weight as a choice. I don't know about "awesome job" but I definitely gave him material to think about. I hope he heard me versus Mom going crazy about something food or health related.

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  15. Vanessa, I like where you're going. My oldest son goes to school with many children with learning and physical disabilities. The "friends come in all shapes and sizes" is part of the culture, as well as the idea that "we all have things that we're good at and other things that are harder for us". Funny thing is he gets it relative to his friends but always comes home talking about the cute blonde teachers!

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  16. Maya knows that the "F" word is off limits. I think it's important to convey this to any kid, regardless of sex.


    I think you handled it really well! There are no easy answers to these questions...

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  17. Glad you shared this Lauren, and, yes, I assumed before I read the post, that it would be about girls and body image. Honestly, my son is very considerate of other peoples feelings, but I have on at least one occasion heard him use the F word, referring to a very large man he saw walking in the parking lot. I vaguelly remember telling him that word could be hurtful and that people come in many shapes and sizes, but also that being that size could possibly be unhealthy for the man. Perhaps I could have handled it better-great reminder that we should also be talking to our boys too about body size and image.

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  18. And probably need to talk to boys about their body image too, I've been focused on how it relates to girls. For all the positive aspects of cooking with good ingredients, maybe there's also a bias created about those who aren't healthy.

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  19. Certainly. I do think there are so many issues with women and more of a focus on female bodies in the media (though I think men now cannot escape weight-related commentary). And it may be a word choice, "large" doesn't sound as bad although these girls at the summer camp probably wouldn't love that if they heard it.

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  20. I've been speaking to my two boys about this for a long time. I was always heavy growing up and it can be really hurtful. We've had the discussion many times on how hurtful words can be and how it isn't nice or respectful to tell people that they are fat...

    That said... hard to hold back feelings that someone might not be attractive if they are overweight to some... that's ok too, so my message to my boys is that it's what's inside that counts... hopefully they learn that. We also have some topics that we are only allowed to discuss in the privacy of our own home and the four of us, and anything that might be hurtful they should keep inside and save it for a private discussion amongst ourselves...

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  21. Thank you for sharing this. You handled it well. I love that he was honest about the way he felt .

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  22. I think you did a great job in responding. I mean, given that you weren't prepared for that at all. Gosh, being a parent can be such a difficult thing. You don't want to say the wrong thing. I remember boys growing up though. It was the "cool" thing to do at times to pick on or be rude about people, girls in particular. I think the important thing is that he didn't make fun of them, he was simply using it as a way to describe them. And like you pointed out, there are other words to use. You are a great mom.

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  23. thanks kristin, never feels like you can get it 100% right.

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  24. it's so tricky, yup and I didn't want to squash that honesty.

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