Last night one of those opportunities arose, and I'm not sure I passed. Well, just being there for him I'm sure most people would consider sufficient - but then again, I'm not most people, I'm his father.
BrainyBoy v9.2 has just enough of his dad's personality in him to be able to appreciate some of the quirkier and retro things in life (old Saturday morning TV, old Sci-fi movies, etc). I've also (I thought) fairly successfuly helped him "resist" some of the more popular kid-oriented
Add to the fact he's not the fastest kid in the world - while he's the biggest kid in the class (height and bulk, mostly) he's not thin and wiry like some of the other kids and hence not nearly as quick and athletic. Some of his friends tend to run circles around him, and not want him on their team.
So this came to a head last night, as we were reading a devotion about "sowing what you reap". The conversation turned to how kids who made fun of other kids, or were mean to them sometimes got mean things done in return, or had had things mean done to them in the past. Or a variety of other things - the point being that if you are kind, expect to receive kindness. Standard father/son advice, we'd been through it several times before.
I then asked him if anyone ever makes fun of him - he named a couple of kids, one in particular he's been pretty close to for several years - that make fun of him because he doesn't know about this particular hot new video game, or a movie they've all seen, or airplanes or some other subject they have an interest in, but he doesn't. Similarly, his interests are still in Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh cards and action figures, dinosaurs, and other fairly typical 9-year-old stuff. He seemed a little distant at the end of our conversation, but I thought little of it and wished him a good night.
As I walked down the hall, I could hear him crying softly to himself.
I went back in and sat on his bed. Between muffled sobs, he said nobody would be his friend anymore at school.
How in the world do you counsel that? You can't make his friends like the things he does. You can't make him, or really even suggest that he conform to their interests if he doesn't like them - or more importantly, they're inappropriate. I've recently relaxed my movie restrictions to include things like the Jurassic Park movies, Lord of the Rings, Back to the Future and others that have a higher level of violence and some language, but still all firmly under my guidance. And he knows, and appreciates it. We don't own a gaming system, partly because we have a nice PC and have, and do, purchase games he enjoys playing on there...and partly because we see the effect gaming systems have on other kids' physical and mental acuities. I see the gamer slugs occasionally, and I don't want him growing up like that. Hey, I had my Atari 5200 growing up and played it a lot but that was a different world then - a non PC-based world, where the highest end game was Pac Man, not Grand Theft Auto IV: Maximum Body Count.
So he tells me a rambling stpry how yesterday he was "refereeing" a game of BattleBall at school, then teams changed and he was odd man out. Two of his classmates were playing nearby, but didn't want him to play with him. So he ended up swinging by himself. It's an image that breaks my heart, seeing him by himself with no one to play with....
So what to say? I told him when I was his age, I only had a couple of really close friends. He does acknowledge his church friends are closer to him than his school friends....but the point is I don't want him to start doubting his own worth or relevance at one place he needs as much self confidence as possible - school.
In the end, I just hugged him tight and told him not to worry about it. He seemed to calm down and got ready to go on to sleep.
I came in an talked to Laura a bit about it, wondering why it's so difficult to be fighting an almost proxy battle with other parents over the things they let their kids do and watch... how we not only have to compete with the media for our kids attention and values, but other parents through their kids.
I'm sure I'm over-reacting a bit in the particular. I've known these kids and their parents for almost four years now that he's been at this school, and they're all good people. Good people who care about their kids - not just the education, but their character. I've written before how that even though the kids all wear uniforms, their individuality and creativity is readily evident in all of them. They're good kids. But they're kids, and these things happen. I just need to be aware of what's going on, and there for BrainyBoy when he needs me.
UPDATE (04/20/05): Logtar has some comments.