View Full Version : Need some advice - sensitive topic

01-19-2007, 04:39 PM
My oldest boys (turning 11 in Feb.) have made school friends with an older boy who is in their class. I've never really met the boy, just his parents a couple of times at school events, but the twins are around him during lunch, recess, and after-school things. In the last couple of weeks, they've been using terms for women, Arican-Americans and Asian-Americans that I won't repeat and certainly won't tolerate my kids using, even if I have to wash their mouths out with soap and cut off their allowance for a year. I sat them down and had a VERY strong talk about why those words are hateful and unacceptable, and learned then that they had learned the words by hearing this kid and his father using them. I'm pretty sure the twins won't be using those words in front of me anymore, they know how much trouble they would be in, but what do I do when I'm not around to supervise them? Tell them they aren't allowed to be around this boy at school, talk to his parents, talk to the school? This boy's father volunteers to help with sports activities at the school, which gives me some serious heartburn when I think about him passing his particular brand of racism and sexism on. I don't want to stir up a hornest's nest here, but I also don't want my kids, or any one else's, exposed to a bigot. It's not just the words, it's the whole attitude they represent - it's like toxic waste and I don't want my children contaminated. Ideas, anyone?

01-19-2007, 07:06 PM
Ugh! I would imagine there are a couple of concerns. First, there is what your boys are hearing and (possibly)repeating when you're not around. Second is the fact that this unenlightened neanderthal is exposing young children to his caustic drivel during school activities. I'll bet, Marycain, that you and your husband provide strong role models for yours kids. As long as you keep doing that, and make them accountable, I don't think you'll have to worry about any long term damage. I wouldn't encourage a relationship between your twins and this boy, but sometimes forbidden fruit is more tempting. Let's face it - kids are going to be exposed to this stuff no matter how hard we try to shelter them. The other concern is more troubling. Even as a volunteer, this guy is going to be looked at as representing the school. Kids are going to look up to him; listen to him. Is there anyone at the school that you can go to, discretely, and warn them that they have a potential problem? They might make an effort to have someone from the school keep an eye on him, maybe confront him. I understand wanting to avoid stirring up a hornet's nest (I really dislike confrontation - not my best thing) but this guy should be stopped.

01-19-2007, 07:42 PM
That's a good idea, Jody, thanks. I know the superintendant of schools and a couple of the administrators fairly well, so I might drop a word in their ears about this. I go to a lot of school events, but not many of the sports activities because of the sun issue. And I also worry about the "forbidden fruit" - if the boys are anything like my brothers were, telling them not to hang around with this boy will just make him seem more attractive to them. I've never really had to deal with this because I always knew most of the boys' friends and I was never uncomfortable with them or their parents. I'm not too worried about the boys continuing to use those particular words - they know sooner or later it would get back to me or their Dad, and they would be in major hot water. One of the advantages of living in a small community - you hear about everything your kids do, good or bad. But I don't want them absorbing the attitude that makes it even possible to use those words. We try to teach our children the "three Cs" -compassion, conscience, and courage. But how do you teach a child not to model a behavior when he sees an adult doing it? I know you can't shelter your kids from everything, but right now I'm feeling like a bad parent.

01-19-2007, 08:01 PM
Marycain, the only bad parenting that I can detect in this story is the father of your son's friend. He should be ashamed of what he's doing to his son. You're doing all you can to provide your boys what they need to be caring young men. I hope your contacts in the school district can help you resolve this.

01-19-2007, 09:51 PM
I don't think people like that realize they have anything to be ashamed of - that's the really scary thing about bigotry. I guess what makes me feel guilty is the sense that if I were going to all their practices and games, I would have known this guy was a bigot and kept the boys away from him. Realisticly, working would make it impossible for me to go to every single school activity, but it's the lupus and the osteoporosis that keep me from being really involved in their outdoor sports.

01-20-2007, 12:42 AM
Hi Marycain,

I was a single mother in the 70's, and it was a crazy mixed up time. I'm not sure how old this man is, and if you or your husband (?) feel comfortable talking directly to this man....it would provide an opportunity for you to get acquainted and see what's really going on around that family. I can't believe I'm about to say this, but there are men who live by how their fathers behaved, sad but true. It's a shame that this father doesn't value himself or his family in such a way; that he truly is contributing to his son's future by his behaviors today. It sounds sad to me. What he says in his own home may be his business, but what he says on public school grounds is EVERYBODY's business....and EVERY parent has the RIGHT to hold him accountable for his behavior. The school needs to know this behavior is not acceptable to you or for any of your family members.

I have brothers, and yes; they all want to be tough and rumble at that age....and we know they'll get plenty of exposure in too many places we can't control; however - I felt so strongly about preserving for my son, an environment that was good, clean....and so much fun. There is nothing in this world more worthy of fighting for....than for the health and well-being of your child. There is not a soul standing on this earth that I wouldn't stop from corrupting the morals of my family....(can you tell, I'm more than a little passionate about this subject?). I suppose it comes from watching so many parents who dropped their kids off at little league, soccer...or whatever sport; so they could have their "own" private time and were never interested in participating in these events. I can't tell you how many boys we had over, who would have done ANYTHING to have a place to belong with friends....who were nice, encouraging, appreciative...and yes, even caring. I cherish that my son was able to bring his friends over after practice, and play ping pong, or go swim at the YMCA..... (yes, and I did keep my job). Employers were a lot more lenient in those days.

Go with what your heart knows best, listen to that still small voice inside of you.....you will do the right thing. Perhaps not now, but down the road the kids will be able to see and know for themselves that the choices you have made and the actions you've taken were in their best interest...we as parents have the right and even more so; the responsibility to provide an environment that keeps our children safe (as we possibly can).

Wow, I better put a lid on this.....I'm ready to stand on a soap-box somewhere and start preachin'.....whew looooooorrrddd!! Somebody stop me, now (smile).

I wish you the best Marycain, keep us posted.

Much love,

01-20-2007, 06:05 AM
I am sure the boys got the message that this is unacceptable language and behavior, and will not be using it around you anymore, but what tools did you give them to deal with it when they encounter it again (and we all know they will) when you are not there? It is unfortunate that this had to occur, but since it did, use it as anopportunity to help your boys learn how to deal with situations where they disagree with their peers. You might be supprised at how well they conduct themselves outside of your presents if they know they can say 'I don't agree with that'. And you will probably find that if this kid and his family continue to use language and exibit behaviors that your boys know are shameful and against your (and their) moral values, they will probably pull away from him on their own if they understand that "just because he does it, doesn't mean I have to do it" We all know how hard it can be for kids to deal with peer pressure, but it can build confidence and be very empowering for them to have the opportunity to stand up for what they believe in at their age. And who knows, maybe this kid willl learn something from their example.
Keep in mind that they also need to know how to deal with the dad. We teach and teach that kids need to obey adults (especially teachers or coachs) and respect their elders. What do they do when an adult is doing or telling them to do things that they know are wrong? The challenge is how to teach them to say "no" (or at the very least just smile and nod) without being disrepectful. Let them know that you expect them always to be polite, but that does not mean they have to always agree with others. And definately let them know that if put into a situation where they are forced to pick between doing what an adult says, and doing what is right, you will always support them and back them up for doing the right thing.
While on the one hand you may as well turn this into a good learning opportunity for the boys, I also agree that it is inappropriate for the dad to use that type of language and behavior at school functions (or anywhere), and it is a good idea for you to discreetly give administration the 'heads up' about your concerns.
Look at me spouting off like I am some sort of parenting expert :oops: . I, like you, and just trying to turn my three boys into the wonderful, caring, responsible people I know they have the potential to be. Good luck with this situation.

01-20-2007, 08:18 AM
You have been given some very good advice. It is unfortunate that these types of people are able to get positions where they can influence many young minds. I just wanted to give you a little "heads up" on the African-American slur which may cause your boys even more confusion. It is very disturbing that this generation of young African-Americans toss that slur around to one another as easily as if they were asking for a phone number. Our own African-American youth have forgotten (or perhaps have never learned) the dark, demeaning, inhumane history surrounding that word. Your boys will undoubtedly hear them calling each other that word and will ask you, "Why is it ok for them to do it but we can't?" and the standard response has been "Because there is no hatred in the word when we use it, but there is hatred in the word when others use it!" That may be true, but the word itself denotes inhumanity, degradation, abasement and disrespect, so how could it not denote hatred when ANYONE uses it? That boggles my mind!
Quarterhorse asked you what tools did you give your sons to help them deal with these situations when you are not around" I believe, like everyone else has pointed out, that the example of the most important people in their lives (you and your husband) is the greatest tool that your sons can have. In addition, however, you could, perhaps, give them the history behind each slur and how they were used to demean an entire race of peoples and how many generations of "minorities" have fought and died to prove their worth, demand respect and to merely be able to participate in basic human rights and freedoms.
Also, have you had an opportunity to meet and speak with these boys? You may have an opportunity here to be an influence upon them. If your boys like them and/or want to continue to associate with them, it might behoove you to invite these boys to a function with you and your boys to expose them to an environment of tolerance, caring, courage and compassion. You can use that opportunity to point out how using those terms actually causes more harm than good. They are still young enough to suppose that they are mimicking what they see and hear and that they are not yet true bigots themselves. Perhaps you and your boys can teach them something new so that they, themselves, can begin to see the bigotry in their parents (or, at the very least, see that there is a different way to think and to be).
My daughter once befriended a young girl whose parents were racists. I invited her to join my daughter and myself to several outings, one included a visit to the museum of tolerance in Los Angeles. I could see that this young girl had never before put true human suffering behind the slurs that she had been hearing at home and we talked about it on the entire visit and the drive home. Of course, her parents were outraged at what I had done until one of their daughter's teachers told them that it was one the best experiences that their daughter could ever have participated in and subsequently took the entire class to the museum.
Anyway, this may be an opportunity for you and your family to be the teachers. Just a thought!! :lol:
Peace and Blessings

01-20-2007, 09:24 AM
We've talked about peer pressure in the context of things like drug, alcohol, and school bullying, but I never imagined I would have to discuss it with them about race or gender of all things. Although this part of Kentucky is very rural and "bible belt", it's always been a tolerant, easygoing area where Mennonite farmers live down the road from Hmong immigrants, and the high school "shop" (Industrial Arts) teacher is openly gay and lives with his partner with no hassles from the community - it's always been live and let live. I guess that's why this caught me by surprise. The twins aren't 11 yet, but I think they would stand up to other kids with no problem - just being twins makes it easier because they care more about each other than other people's opinions. But you are right, they do need better tools for resisting adult pressure. We've talked about "bad" adults, we have a family password, etc., but they need more to deal with this type of adult.

Browneyedgirl, I don't think either Michael or I would be very good at bringing this up directly with this man. From the little I've seen of the family dynamics, his wife is a quiet obedient mouse, he does the thinking and talking for both of them. DH doesn't get angry often, but when he does, he's really mad, and he's already perturbed enough. And I strongly suspect that this guy would be very hostile if I approached him- he's clearly not comfortable with anyone different from him, and while I'm not African-American, I'm pretty obviously not "white like him" either. My genealogy is anything but WASP, I'm a woman, I have a strange disease that keeps me out of the sun - everything different that pushes his buttons. I've never had to deal with bigots here, but I remember them very well from living in the deep south - some are just petty bullies who retreat when confronted, others just get more entrenched in their hatred and can lash out violently. I don't know what type he is, and as physically vulnerable as I am, it's probably not a good idea to find out. What I may do is invite the son over to our house and spend some time with him- chances are he's never been exposed to anything outside his parents comfort zone. Most of the kids' friends come and go pretty freely on weekends - they know they can raid the refrigerator and the cookie jar anytime they want. He may be a nice kid who just needs a different environment, and it's not his fault - children learn what they live. So maybe it's not too late to show him that being different can be fun.

01-20-2007, 11:22 AM
We must have been typing at the same time - I posted my response before I saw yours. I really appreciate your input. While I know something about what it's like to live as a minority from my mother's experiences as a half-white, half-"Indian" - in the years before "Native Americans" came into vogue with the New Agers and environmentalists who have a very romanticized ideal of what it's actually like to be indian, being a "half-breed" in certain parts of the country was definitely not accepted. When I was younger, we lived for a while in a town that had been predominately settled by several German families - I remember what it felt like to walk into a small classroom full of blue-eyed blondes and be the only one who was different. But I never had to live with the hostility, the discrimination, and outright fear that was the experience of so many minorities in the south. But I also can't imagine what it's like to grow up mistrusting or hating another person because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes, my mom always had close friends of many colors, and one of my aunts by marriage is japanese - when I was little, I paid a lot more attention to which of my mom's friends had a cookie or a donut stashed away for me than I did the color of their skin. And I grew up going to black churches because my mom got disgusted with the churches in the south that preached the love of God but didn't care to practice it. I guess that's part of the reason I love music so much - in those churches, the music lived and breathed, it was part of the worship, not just a way to open the service and kill time during the collection.

When I was in college, T took some classes in African-American literature and history, because I was tutoring several of the college athletes (some white, some black) as a way to earn money, and I wanted to reach some of the kids who didn't seem to know much about their own history. Even then, in the late 70s, the young men used that word among themselves, as a casual insult, although they would have been incredibly angry if someone else had directed it at them. I hated it then, I still do. I asked one of the boys I was tutoring why they used it when it was such a hateful word - he couldn't really explain it to me - I'm not sure he understood himself. But I got the feeling that he thought using it made him sound cool, or tough, or whatever the current "in" thing was back then. It was frustrating, I wanted them to be proud of being African-American, not of being "tough". But I think many younger people don't realize how much power a word or a symbol can have, and how it can be used to oppress and terrorize. You're right, that is sometime I need to make an effort to teach them.

There's a historical musuem fairly near us that was a station on the Underground Railroad, and it has some great interactive exhibits, including a hidden underground room where you can hide just like the escaped slaves did in those days. Since the boys adore trains, it might be a great way to introduce them - although it wasn't a real train, it's still a concept they can understand. So we can make a saturday trip there and invite a couple of friends along for the trip. We intended to take them when they were a little older, but this seems like a good time.

01-20-2007, 07:18 PM
Hi Marycain -

What lucky kids to have such caring and interested parents as you and your husband are! Everyone here has given such wonderful responses and suggestions. I think you are right on with inviting kids over to your house. Even though kids want to choose their friends, it doesn't mean they have to go to every kids' house and be exposed to their parents beliefs. I'm so glad you will talk to the school about this, because if I were a parent whose child was in an activity with this parent, and I didn't know he was using this language and attitudes in front of my child, I would want to know.

Good luck and keep up the good work!!!

01-21-2007, 09:27 AM
Yes, we have to start exposing our children, at even earlier ages, to those things that will enable them to be culturally competent individuals who embrace tolerance and who celebrate diversity! And, it most certainly starts at home with caring parents like you and your husband. I firmly believe that if we wish for our children to be culturally competent, then we must be culturally competent ourselves. For this to happen, we need to be like you, accepting of and open-minded about differences.
But, most importantly, I am a strong advocate for actively seeking out opportunities to develop cultural competence in ourselves and in our children!

Here is an excerpt from a training that I did - just FYI:
Ways to Build Cultural Competence:
Below are 20 ways that you and your family can learn more about other cultures and develop cultural competence.
Acknowledge that we live in a society with pervasive biases.
Honor and celebrate the holidays of different ethnic and religious groups.
Bring books, dolls, music, images, and toys into your home that reflect diversity.
Travel to areas in the United States and around the world where you can immerse yourself in another culture.
Explore your own family's cultural and ethnic heritage.
Visit culturally rich art galleries and museums. Attend culturally diverse dance performances, musicals, concerts, festivals, and other events.
Show that you value diversity in the friends you choose and in the businesses you utilize.
Talk about stereotypes and discrimination. Encourage children to tell you if they witness prejudice or are a victim of it.
Get involved with an organization that works in the area of social justice.
Learn a second or third language.
Discuss issues that you hear on the radio and see on TV or in movies.
Be respectful. Create a family rule that makes it unacceptable to tease others because of their culture or ethnicity.
Visit different religious and spiritual places of worship.
Initiate activities and discussions that build positive self-identity and self-esteem. If we feel good about ourselves, we are less likely to make fun of others.
Develop family goals to help eliminate cultural bias and prejudice.
Judge people by their qualities and not their looks.
Dine at ethnic restaurants.
Talk positively about people's physical characteristics and cultural heritage.
Broaden your family's social circle. Provide opportunities to interact with people with different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, religions, and abilities.
Be patient. Change takes time. Realize that transforming attitudes and behaviors can be challenging.

You are on the right track, Marycain, and I applaud you, your husband and your sons!!

Peace and Blessings

01-21-2007, 11:17 AM
Fortunately, even though this is a rural area, there is a lot of diversity in their school - many refugees have been re-settled in this area because there are agricultural jobs available- there are students from as close as Mexico and Haiti and as far away as Sudan, and teachers make an effort to be sensitive to the issue. Unfortunately, some teachers (and many people in the community) tend to clump all "black" students as African-American and all "brown" students as Hispanic, or classify Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese students as Asian - never taking into account the huge cultural and ethnic differences between a student from Haiti and one from Ethiopa - their skin color may be the same but their cultures and experiences are vastly different. The local Refugee Assistance Center helps, but it still makes for some tension at times. The thing that always amazes me is that the children are much quicker to pick up on the cultural taboos and issues than the adults are, and the students often end up teaching the trachers about tolerance and respect for diversity.

I appreciate all the great suggestions from everyone and will try to incorporate as many of them as I can. It's harder living in a rural area where you don't have easy access to museums and concerts to make sure your kids get exposed to a variety of experiences, especially when you have children who get carsick, airsick, and every other kind of motion sick! I should buy stock in Dramimine :) But we do try to take them with us to as many places as we can, and we try to pick events like the International Folk Festival (Memphis in May) for family trips. I love the music and costumes, the menfolk love the food!