“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?