Boys and fighting

“I think my son is going to get in a fight,” my friend, Teri, confided in me the other day.

“Seriously?” I asked her. “How would you know?”

“He told me.”

She then explained the very honest conversation she shared with her son a couple days ago.

There’s a kid in Derek’s 4th grade class who is bigger and tougher than all the other kids. We’ll call him Big Turk. And he is constantly challenging the other kids to a fight. Apparently it was Derek’s turn the other day. One of Big Turk’s friends walked up to Derek and got his attention.

“So, do you think you could beat Big Turk in a fight?” And to this, Derek just shrugged his shoulders.

“Mom, I think I agreed to a fight,” Derek said in a small voice as he relayed the story on the way home.

Teri was floored and didn’t know how to react. She wanted to drive straight to the school and report this kid to the principal. And privatetly she wanted to corner this kid who was potentially bullying her son and his classmates.  But in reality she knew she couldn’t. First of all, there was no proof that this kid had challenged her son to a fight. Second, any meddling she did to protect her son would ultimately end up targeting him even more. Third, he was at an age where he needed to learn how to handle this without having his mom there to save him.

“Couldn’t you just tell him that you have no problem with him, so you don’t feel the need to fight him?” she asked Derek.

“But I do have a problem with him,” Derek said. And that’s when it suddenly occurred to Teri what was going on.

“Did you shrug your shoulders because you’re curious about what it would feel like to be in a fight?” she asked her son. He nodded “yes” sheepishly.

Why do boys fight?

At 9 years old, kids are experiencing more peer pressure than they have in the past. For many boys, there is a need to be seen as the coolest, the strongest, the one not to be messed with. Basically, they want to be the Alpha Male, the top dog among all the boys. The rewards to this position (in their minds) is that they won’t have to worry about being pushed around anymore, that girls (yes, they are starting to notice the gentle gender) will crush on them, and that they will become popular.

After all, brawn equals power.

But how do you stop the fighting? I asked one of my guy friends about this recently, and he relayed a story from his youth about a time when he was challenged to a fight by another kid. The teacher caught wind of the impending duke-out, and told the kids that if they wanted to fight, he would play ref. The result was something like a small-scale boxing match, complete with rounds and a crowd waiting to see the action. My friend and the kid got in a couple punches, and stopped by Round 2. By organizing the fight, the whole thing became stupid. And both boys had lost their feelings of anger.

Of course, what the teacher did was not only an incredibly unique (possibly brilliant) way to fizzle out a heated situation, it was potentially dangerous. And it was reminiscent of the case earlier this year when two teachers were charged with child endangerment for setting up two kids in a wrestling match because of a fight over pencils, instead of teaching them to handle it peacefully.

Teri handled it a bit differently than my friends’ childhood teacher, talking to Derek about what the reality of getting into a fight really is.

“What do you think will happen if you get into a fight?” Teri asked him.

“I don’t know,” Derek said, executing his famous shoulder shrug. “I don’t think it would be that bad.”

“The first thing that would happen is that you might get hurt. You could get a bloody nose, some scrapes and bruises, or even worse. And so would the other kid.” Derek looked unimpressed. He said he knew that he and the other kid would get hurt, and that was ok.

“And do you know how I would feel if that happened? If you got hurt, my heart would be broken. I would hate for someone to have hurt you so badly. I would be really upset with this other kid, and would have to talk to his parents about this. And what if you hurt him really badly? I don’t want you to be the cause of someone else getting hurt, and we would have to answer to his parents.” Derek looked a little more concerned, but didn’t seem convinced. “And then what do you think the school would do if they found out about this?”

“We wouldn’t be on school grounds,” Derek said. “That way we couldn’t get in trouble.” (Dear God, Teri told me, they already had it planned out.)

“Actually, that’s wrong. If you are on your way to or from school, this is still considered a school issue. The principal would call both of your parents in, you two would be in a lot of trouble, and would get suspended, if not expelled, from school,” Teri corrected him.

“I would accept whatever the consequence is,” Derek said. Teri fought the urge to shake him.

“Ok, think about this. Right now you are 9 years old. And any fight you have with another kid is most likely only going to just involve your fists, right? But do you think the fights are going to end with this one?” she asked him. He nodded “yes”. “Wrong,” Teri said. “You are going to be known as a kid who fights. And you will get into even more fights. What do you think these fights are going to look like at 14, 15, or older?”

“They’ll probably have weapons or something,” Derek said, suddenly looking scared.

“You’re right,” Teri said. “Fighting is only going to get more and more serious as you get older, and as you fight. It’s better to just not fight at all.” Derek told her that maybe he could say something at school to try and get out of it.

In the end, Teri knew that she couldn’t really stop Derek from getting into a fight if that’s what he wanted to do. She couldn’t even guarantee that her talk with him would have any impact. But all she could do was give him enough information to help him make an educated decision on which way he’d go, and hope that he would choose to take the appropriate path.

Why DO boys fight? And how would you handle something like this?

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4 thoughts on “Boys and fighting”

  1. No, no, no. Once any parent learns of a bully at school, the school administration must be informed and action must be taken immediately. A huge liability exists here for the school and the bully kid’s parents. That bully must be called into the principal’s office along with his parents and a warning of expulsion must be given prior to anymore fisticuffs. The message must be sent loud and clear to the bully kid and his parents. In our litigious society, many parents would be quick to file a law suit against the school district and the bully’s parents should any harm occur. I, for one, would drop a dime on any bully that I learned of in an instant. There had better be quick action of the next call might go out to an attorney, maybe even the cops.

  2. Actually, I think kids are going to fight anyway, so adults should just give them the gloves and mouth guards and let them duke it out. I mean, they’re going to do it anyway, right? So they just do it safely and -oh wait, we’re not talking about condoms here…

    Seriousness aside, if parents know about the fighting they should intervene. In this particular case it actually seems relatively harmless. That is, no one is trying to seriously harm anyone (no weapons or ganging up, etc). Here in Japan the fights often involve 5-6 kids beating up one to the point of hospitalization. Here is seems almost like an elementary school version of “Fight Club”, with less blood.

    But someone should put a stop to it before someone actually does get hurt. So far it’s probably just been bloody noses and bruises, but someone who loses a fight might show up the next day with a weapon and punish the winner. This needs to be stopped. Boys will be boys, but they also need someone to step in and tell them why they can’t do this.

  3. I am 34 years old male and I have only fought one time with my fist when I was 11 or 12 years old. The boy was about my height and size, he kept taunted me about how my last name rhymes with a bad word. At first, I ignored it for the longest time. I remember the teacher intervened him and told him not to say it anymore. Well, he ignored it. Somehow we across path in the hallway and slow motion his mouth with the bad word and I punched him right in the mouth that he really deserved it. When he was floored, I kept on punching him like crazy until a teacher pulled me out. I was not suspended from school however I was prohibited from outdoor activities with the students and so was the suckered punch boy. What was my lesson of all this, fighting is not the answer. I realized I could have kept on walking that day but I need to defend in my name and honor of my last name. When I was in high school, I encountered bullies and boys who couldn’t control themselves wanting to fight so they can prove their manhood. I simply walked away. I have heard good and bad when I walked away. So I hope this boy just simply walk away and do whatever makes him. Fighting is not the answer.

  4. So, I don’t agree with fighting, on any level. In general, it solves nothing and well…it’s dumb.

    However (and keep in mind that I am, in no way, supporting fighting), one of the questions raised here was as to WHY boys fight. I mean, it’s all well and good to say that fighting solves nothing, but the fact remains that the male sex in particular has a tendency to brawl. Again…not encouraging fighting in any way here, but it is natural for males — especially adolescent males — to deal with issues in somewhat…physical…ways. And yes, we are a civilized society that is beyond the need to settle things with punching, but especially as puberty begins to set in with all it’s confusing chemicals, and before they have gained an adult level of maturity and self-control, the possibility of schoolyard fights is very likely.

    I would think that the best thing that a parent can do is to talk to their child about fighting, bullying and violence, so that they understand early on WHY fighting is a bad idea…but if your boy’s got a volatile temper, or is under a lot of stress or constant harassment, as previous poster Robert R. was, violence may ensue. Depending on the circumstances, especially on a first offense, it might be as important to talk before hand as to talk after, instead of simply freaking out and jumping on the punishing wagon.

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