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November 24, 2012


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My oldest son (age 8) has spent the better part of the week teaching his youngest brother (age 2, minimally verbal) to say "Leo dork" to middle brother, age 6, so my family seems to agree with your assumption.

Also, in high school most of my friends were the math team guys and they seemed unable to speak without sarcasm, so my memory of high school boys agrees with you too.

Oh Jamie, LOTS of putdown- and sarcasm-based verbal jousting goes on among my 3 sons, ages 14 to 8. I used to try to enforce "no putdowns" as a general rule but stick to it now only for recognized offensive epithets ("retard" and "gay" are absolutely off-limits, for example). They *will* keep coming up with creative insults and hey, if it was okay with Shakespeare's mom, who am I, etc?

I agree that this style of interacting seems to be hardwired in adolescent (and tween?) boys, just as good guy - bad guy roleplaying with weapons seems to be hardwired in their younger selves.

I would be willing to believe that it is harmless, innate, and necessary even in groups of young male friends.

I think it is poisonous within a family (except brothers close in age) or as part to a male-female relationship.

I grew up in a family with a father who seems incapable of relating to other people except by constant mocking and putting down of others. He is the life of the party, of course. Everyone thinks he is hilarious. If you ever express discomfort with anything he says, it's "You need to get a sense of humor."

I developed a style of preemptive self-deprecation against it. It was many years after I moved away before I understood that it does not have to be that way among people who love each other.

I think that as long as young guys understand that this kind of banter is a way of relating to some people, but not to other people in their lives -- if there is a man in their lives who can show them how they should treat a woman, a child, an elder, a stranger -- it is probably fine. That is, we shouldn't assume that they will banter with others the way they banter with the bros. but we also shouldnot assume that they will understand kindness and thoughtfulness and tact without modeling and direction from us.

What I sincerely hope that I do not teach or model for my children is a callous disregard for people, or animals, or property. That particular sort of verbal jousting and digging at one another? ... Personally, I don't have much use for it, don't excuse it, don't believe it is hard-wired, and for certain, steer all of my children (regardless of gender) away from it. I do not feel that there is any need or place for it. It is very, very easy to slide from lighthearted jockeying for position into abusive and bullying behaviors -- especially when it is dismissed as being "just boys" (for example) and allowed to run unchecked, during these formative years, by one's parents, teachers, mentors, and peers.

I have two sons, ages 23 and 10 (with a daughter in-between): both are social and sociable; neither behave in this sort of manner. It is unchristian and I won't allow it (okay, obviously the 23-yr-old is a bit beyond my discipline: I mean, as they are growing up, I am very strict about not allowing this). Neither have friends (of either gender) who do this either, which helps. My elder son does have and has had bosses who are like this. It is pure poison in the workplace.

If boys (and girls) are not taught in the home, in school, at church, in scouts, choir, sports, &c. that this sort of behavior damages human relationships -- with family, with friends, with coworkers -- where and when are they supposed to learn?

Well...I have noticed a tendency for Tay to assign himself the role of "good guy" and tell others they will be the "bad guy". Not much other of that behavior verbally thus far. I'm sure I'll be looking for it more though.

The weapons thing drives me nuts and I am very close to caving that it's natural. We bought magnetized letters yesterday and tried to get him interesting in talking about spelling, rearranging letters etc. We left him on his own and soon the letters we fighting and stabbing each other. This morning again too.

Hmm...I'm wondering if it's something that happens especially when there are a lot of boys jockeying for position, as in a family where there are a lot of brothers close in age. I've often wondered what family dynamics would be like for us if there were either more space between the boys, or a few girls interspersed in there. As it is, there is a near constant contest over who liked or wanted something first, who's the funniest or the ____-est.

Is it good? Not really. It drives me crazy, for one. And even if it starts in fun, somebody always gets their feelings hurt. Is it inevitable? If there is a way to divert it, I wish I knew what it might be. They've been lectured, punished, separated, yadda yadda, --I've expressed to them again and again that there is no hierarchy in their father or mine's affection for them--and the competition rages on with as much vigor as ever.

This is not how their father and I relate to each other or to them, but for some reason, it's how they relate to each other. And I have to say, I would not know how to respond if I ever saw them showing tender affection for one another. You could push me over with a feather.

I'm willing to believe that every family has its own charism, based on number of kids, birth order, and the sex of the children. Having just returned home from sixteen hours in the car with all the kids maintaining a near-constant undertone (sometimes overtone) of conflict--I'm wondering if conflict is not our charism.

I just re-read your post to see if I had any new insight. I don't but the next to the last sentence has prompted me to sing that song by The Who "I'm a boy. I'm a boy but my mom won't admit it..."

On the weapons thing- my husband and two of our close male friends were all forbidden weapons as a child. One friend collected sticks that looked like weapons as a kid, and now has an impressive arsenal of varied pointy things, my husband started kickboxing in junior high and is now a third degree black belt in ancient Japanese weapons, and the third has been taking Russian Special Forces fighting for close to ten years.

It doesn't work, in my experience. Besides, if they can't play with swords, how are they going to ever be King Arthur or King Peter and King Edmund, or Sir Galahad?

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