Boys will be boys?

Another day, another ticking off for inappropriate and generally thuggish behaviour. Not, i hasten to add, my own. Though its not hard to end up feeling as though the dressing down is personal. Not so much him on the carpet as me back in the Headmaster’s study.

Playground incident

No. I arrive to pick the boy up from school (friday evening) to be informed that the previous day, whilst i was queuing up to speak to someone in reception or his class teacher (i forget which) he had hied himself off and inflicted serious physicality on another in his class. For this, he has now been generally spoken to, seen the Head, and lost various privileges.

In the evening, he appears abashed, and we have hopes that, even if a new leaf is not turned, some light is dawning.

And to contextualise, lest anyone think he is some sort of lone thug, terrorising the rest of his class: sadly – or happily? – not. His school year contains a number of boys who seem to have internalised values that would not be out of place in a medieval fight school. So if it is not our boy in trouble for flooring so-and-so, it is our boy complaining that such-and-such classmate has kicked him “in the peanuts”. (a horrid piece of current juvenile slang).

He’s not, as it is hard sometimes to remember, much worse – or better – than his peers. He is pretty average for his year. He is also kind to kittens and younger children – and was seen earlier this week hand in hand with a female class member, of whom he appears to be reasonably fond. Perhaps this will have a civilising influence.

No. On the whole, it seems that he is not that out of the ordinary: that his class teacher and other mums are aware of the general issue as it affects MOST in his class; and progress is being made – not least thru a strict regime of rewards for good behaviour, and rewards withdrawn for bad.

Line drawn?

Sons vs. feminism

Almost. However, the episode is front of mind as two women, from slightly different perspectives, question whether we aren’t too harsh on boys. The first, raised in principles of fairly strict feminism, but now herself mum to a boy of similar age, bemoans the way in which girls (or “young madams”) now seem to think they own the world: how they dominate in school conversations; how boys are made to take a back seat next to them.

Olde worlde values

T’other, our very own boy’s mum goes a little further: she questions whether we aren’t over-interfering. Because, she suggests, left to their own devices, boys tend to use fighting not as a means to some fatal end, but as a simple tool for sorting out pecking order. Leave them to it and they will scrap and get over it seems to be the thesis. Whereas over-interfere, as with caged animals, and the result is long-term simmering resentments that never quite get fixed.

I have some sympathy. The world has moved on since my youth when accepted wisdom was that boys out-performed girls and the “gender gap” was about the problem of girls failing to do as well as boys. We’ve not just closed the gap – but reversed it, possibly by the simple expedient of switching from male-friendly modes of schooling to female-friendly.

Its an ongoing debate and one where maybe in time we need to admit that the styles of teaching and examining may need to be more closely adapted to gender than they are now.

On the violence thing, i am less sympathetic. Again, i would agree that the genders “use” violence differently: that violence is not a thing in itself, but a tool, with a function and a purpose and a perceived value – and boys (and later men) all tend to place different values on each of those categories compared to girls.

But…no. I am not persuaded. Violence, i fear, all too easily becomes habit. Sure, there may be circs where the participatns in violence are mutually consenting and therefore the action is that much less problematic. But once learned, it becomes far too easy to apply it in other circumstances: in all circumstances.

Boyish violence then does become precursor to adult violence: because it teaches a lesson that when in doubt or when in dispute, it is OK to resolve a disagreement by force. And that, it seems to me, is universally bad.

So much as small boys might like to fight, i think i for one will remain supportive of teachers’ efforts to persuade them not to.



8 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    I was constantly in fights at primary school, but they weren’t very serious – they were understood by my peers and I as a part of play. Had anyone been seriously hurt (beyond scrapes and bruises) we would have been horrified. I never understood why the teachers made such a fuss about policing fights like that, and I’m not sure I understand it now, except that I now realise teachers have probably forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. I think a lot of fighting at that age really is harmless. A clear line needs to be drawn when fights are intended to cause harm. The difference might be tricky for adults to discern, but kids pick up on it, and their mood changes accordingly. We need to look to them for cues as to what is mere mischief and what needs to be dealt with more seriously.

  2. 2

    whats wrong with ‘in the peanuts’? Most juvenile slang is intended to seem ‘horrid’ to adults, especially parents and teachers. That’s the point!

    I think you are pathologising boys and assuming that boys fighting ends up as and translates into ‘male violence’ whatever that is. It’s almost as if you think ‘women’ are superior to ‘men’ because they are less ‘vilolent’ (according to you).

    I agree with whoever said the world is full of little (and big) madams.

    • 3

      janefae said,

      Oh. Quite the contrary.

      I’d say that a great deal of boy fighting does NOT end up as “male violence” – and yes, probably would have been better to talk about adult violence. The point i am trying to make is that boys and men tend to use violence differently and that the ways in which they do so is sometimes…often (?) misinterpreted.

      However, on balance that does not bring me down on the side of saying let it all hang out and no worries…because unfortunately the same behaviour can lead in differenet directions: in some cases into harmless jostling for position and sputtering out in later life; in others to domestic violence. And unless we have the mechanisms in place to channel it toward the first and away from the second, it makes all such play quite difficult.

      As for the phrase “in the peanuts”…dunno. I’m not shocked especially by it. Merely consider it clumsy …or not even that. just don’t much like it.


      • 4

        I still think you are making this link between boys fighting and growing up to be ‘violent’ as men, as a causal link.

        In my experience of domestic violence, on the receiving end, I have no idea if my ex partner got into fights as a kid. I think some bad things happened to him as a kid, but they happened at home. Many children’s main experience of damaging violence is from their parents.

  3. 5

    Shirley Anne said,

    Our two sons were never involved with fighting even though there were others about that did. Maybe it was the Christian upbringing I insisted they had. They both grew up to be sons I could be proud of.

    Shirley Anne xxx

  4. 6

    kerri ( Australia) said,

    He is being picked on and it looks like from what you say jane he is handling the best way he knows how,,why arent the teachers having a word to those litttle bullies that are upsetting him,,poor little fellar, andrea is correct in what she says, however he should be able to go to school and be safe in his environment not under threat, because one of his parents have had a sex change…give him lots of cuddles,,whats wrong the parents,,of these kids…? he is a gorgeous boy and doesn ‘t deserve this treatment,,you can see he is a gentle little fellar…makes me angry…sorry..

    • 7

      Emma said,

      Sorry what a load of rubbish. Kerri in Australia i find your reply offensive and completly wrong.
      The Boy is a young man who along with others in the class is experiencing many different changes at school causing anxieties and issues that we are all trying to work together to resolve with the childrens best interests at heart. Please stop making out that he is bullied because of Jane, it is so unfair to him and to Jane and to his friends and teachers and the parents of most of the kids in the class who support jane and family through this time of change. Not everything in this childs life is related to Jane and her choices . Lets give the boy a chance to have individual needs ,wants,and issues that may just be about being a 6 year old boy and growing up.

    • 8

      janefae said,


      Sorry if anything i posted gave the impression that this is personal to the boy: i thought i hadn’t; maybe i did.

      As Emma has also responded, i don’t see this as anything to do with what i am about: there is a gaggle (?) of boys in this school year who have grown up with a sense that bashing one another up in play time is somehow a noble thing to do. I really don’t think it is serious, in the sense of there being any real animosity there: and from what i picked up at the weekend, the child our boy laid into on thursday was back as best friends with him on friday, and plotting nefarious plans to carry out against others.

      This doesn’t feel like bullying: just a few boys whose values are a little bit loaded towards the values of video games and Batman and Robin. I am not at all worried about how our own boy is being treated: rather, the whole point of my open-ended post was to ask, because i am not myself terribly sure of the answer, whether it is best to let the little darlings sort it out amongst themselves, come down like a ton of bricks, or adopt a position somewhere in the middle.

      Also, because i like to think about such things, i asked another open-ended question, which is whther this sort of laddish play contributes towards violent behaviour in later life.

      The situation is that the boy’s class teacher dealt with it. Most of the mums concerned talk regularly and somewhat wearily to one another about the waywardness of their sons: and we all hope they will grow out of it soon.

      All the best,


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