Boys, friendships, and bullying

three boys friends imageFriendships

Boys are much more emotional creatures than society, and cultural norms, would have you believe. Friendships and buddies are very important to boys. My research, and research by others, says that boys get more social support from their buddies than from their parents, or from girl friends. The group that your son belongs to will define him: he’s a geek or a jock, not a Smith or a Kelly. This is why boys like being on sports teams, or in skateboarding groups, or gamer huddles.

Encourage your son to bring his buddies home. Provide food and beverage, an acceptable place to play, wear earplugs against the noise if you have to, and encourage them to engage in activities that are not just parking in front of the TV or the game console, unless it’s a Wii game that encourages standing and moving.Take them to the skate park, to a local climbing wall (with good trainers and supervision), to a science museum, to batting cages: any place where they can actively engage with each other in physical play.

If your son isn’t great at making friends, here are some ways you and he can explore the reasons why together:

  1. If you son is shy, and has trouble interacting easily with other boys, get him involved in a structured activity that he likes. A robotics program, or a music program, for example, will include an activity that he enjoys and the opportunity to interact and work with with other children who share his interest.
  2. Is your son interested in dance, or science projects? Look for programs at local museums, performing arts centers, and universities. Specialty summer camps can be a great resource, too, and offer your son a ready group of friends.
  3. Does your son have trouble making friends? It can be hard to realize that your boy has poor social skills, but there are programs that can help him develop them. Look for social skills programs in your area, and enroll your child in one of them.
  4. Some kids have trouble making friends, and there’s nothing to “fix.” One of my students didn’t have close friends in elementary, middle, or high school, and he worried about that. When he got to college, he hit his stride. His dry sense of humor, which kids saw as negative, was a big asset when his peers matured. He told me that his parents were always supportive of him, and that had seen him through his school years.


Middle school is where this issue peaks. Children are old enough in middle school to act on their thoughts, but not yet mature enough that the self-control part of their brain is fully developed. Boys can band together in three to five member groups and bully other children. Make sure your son’s school has an anti-bullying program in place. If it doesn’t have one, help get one started.

If your son is the object of bullying, tell him that ignoring the bullies is the best approach. However, your boy might not think you’ve given him much help. He’ll be embarrassed to be the target, because bullies seem to have an innate ability to focus on a target’s weakness. I highly recommend that you get a copy of Lee Hirsch’s documentary The Bully Project. Watch it with your son, he’ll likely tell you he’s seen the behavior shown in the film himself. This will help open a discussion between you about how to address the problem.

The most important tack to take with your son, if he’s being bullied, is to help build and strengthen his concept of himself. Starting when he was very young, letting him play and work with other children and learn from getting knocked down. If you always rush to his defense, he won’t learn to bounce back on his own, and other children will see him as vulnerable. Because he will be. Help your son by helping him learn to rally and recover from scrapes, from an early age.

Next time, I’ll talk about how you can help your son navigate the transition from elementary to middle school.

In “The Parents’ Guide to Boys,” Dr. James lays out a brain-based approach to encouraging boys toward and through a successful school experience. In this blog post series, she shares some nuggets from the book to help parents learn what’s happening in their son’s developing brain, and guide him toward a love of learning.