Problem: Now that he’s in middle school, your son’s being picked on for not loving sports. How can you help?
Solution: “Parents need to let their kids know that the world may think all boys love sports, but sometimes the world is wrong,” said child and family psychologist Janet Sasson Edgette, author of “The Last Boys Picked: Helping Boys Who Don’t Play Sports Survive Bullies and Boyhood.”
“As adults, we have a responsibility to begin debunking this whole mythology around sports and boys,” she said.
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 said. “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 said. “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 said.
“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 said.
“Search inside to find what you’re genuinely proud of or impressed by or just really like about your child.
“It does such a disservice to overlook our boys’ nonathletic traits and talents and abilities: empathy, compassion, analytic ability, musical ability, interpersonal awareness and sensibility,” she said.
“We’re all compromised by the idea that males don’t have other qualities.”