Care and Feeding

My Kid’s Friend Is Infecting Him With All Kinds of Bad Behavior

A 7-year-old boy laughing and pointing his finger.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Vadym Petrochenko/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 7-year-old son has a best friend who we’ll call “Jake,” and they’re in the same class in elementary school. Jake is an overall nice kid, but to say he has a potty mouth would be the understatement of the year. The kid drops F-bombs around me and my son in our house and doesn’t think twice about it. I’ve dished out my share of bad language as a former fraternity boy in college, so I’m not a prude when it comes to this, but something seems wrong about a second grader talking that way. I also don’t want my son to pick up on his language and start to think that’s OK to use in public. Is it my place to say something to the parents about Jake’s cursing? I wouldn’t want another parent trying to raise my kid, so I’m wondering if I should just let it go and coach my son on what to do instead.

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—Cursing Jake

Dear Cursing Jake,

I also was a former fraternity boy in college, and I curse like a sailor with a toothache whenever it’s appropriate to do so. Sometimes a good F-bomb is the best way to articulate one’s feelings.

However, I don’t think it’s ever appropriate for kids to swear. Yes, I know that may sound hypocritical based on what I just said, but I believe it’s just another item on the list of things adults are able to do that children shouldn’t. Maybe I’m old school, but I think it’s incredibly disrespectful for kids to curse in front of grownups who aren’t their parents. There’s no chance I would allow any of my daughters’ friends to come into my house and talk like that.

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What other kids do in their home is their business. The main point is that what Jake does in your home is your business, and you have every right to lay down the law if he steps out of line. If I were in your shoes, I’d reach out to Jake’s parents and tell them something along the lines of, “Jake is a super nice kid, but lately I’ve noticed that he’s using the F-word around my son. I’m not here to judge how you raise him, but curse words aren’t allowed in my house. Can you please relay the message to Jake? I want the boys to continue to hang out, but I have to draw the line when it comes to this.”

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Maybe I’m naive about this, but I would like to believe most parents would be mortified by learning their 7-year-old used those words in front of other parents, and will do their part to correct the behavior immediately. Hopefully that should be the end of it, but if Jake uses bad language at the next play date you host, then you can offer him a warning on his first offense. But this ain’t baseball — it’s two strikes, and he’s out.

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Last, but certainly not least, you need to let your son know that those words are not to be used by him, and in doing so, you should tell him why it’s not OK. Don’t pull the tired “because I said so” line, but instead tell him that he can get in trouble in school or other places by cursing, or provide whatever personal reasons you have. Once he understands the potential consequences, he’ll fall in line.

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Your little dude has his whole adult life to curse like a frat boy, but he shouldn’t start now.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Please address the issue of parents who assign “cute” (ugh) names to grandparents. For example, one grandmother is “Grammy” so the other must be “Nana” or “Babushka” or “Grinchiver” (yes—I made that up). Meanwhile, one Grandpa must be “Grandpa” but the other cannot also be Grandpa, he must be “Granddaddy” or some such thing. This is all done under the guise that the brand-spanking new baby won’t be able to tell “Nana” and “Grinchiver” apart. Is it possible to let the child figure this out over time him or herself? What in heaven’s name is wrong with Grandpa Sam and Grandma Sally and Grandma Jessica and Grandpa Tom? The control is real and obviously putting a knot in my knickers.

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—Grinchiver In Granville

Dear Grinchiver In Granville,

On the list of low-stakes questions I’ve answered, this could win the prize for the lowest. Is this really something worth getting upset over? As long as my kids’ grandparents are kind people, I couldn’t give a rat’s rear end about the nicknames they roll with. Anyway, this clearly struck a nerve with you, so I’ll indulge.

The rule of thumb I followed in my family is the grandparents chose the nicknames they wanted to be called, and the kids fell in line. If there are two grandfathers, for example, they could choose to be called Grandpa Steve and Grandpa Joe—or they could use other names like Papa and Daddy Jay. What I’m saying is the elders who raised their adult kids to the point where they have their own kids should be in charge of their nicknames, not the grandkids or parents. They earned that right. Heck, I certainly don’t want anyone else deciding how my grandkids will address me when that time comes in the extremely distant future.

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At the end of the day, does it really matter, though? Are grandparents across America as upset as you seem to be by this? I get that you may find it all to be annoying, but if you’re being intellectually honest, you know that it’s not a big deal at all.

Take a deep breath and know that at least Grinchiver is a loving grandparent, and that’s by far the most important thing.

Catch Up on Care and Feeding

If you missed Monday’s column, read it here.
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Dear Care and Feeding

My son is an 18-year-old college freshman. He’s also half-Black and is going to a predominately white private college in the northeast, which is about a two-hour drive from our house. A few weeks ago he mentioned that he wanted to seek a therapist, which is a good thing, and he finally found one who was highly recommended by many people in the area. My son called me the other day to say that he just isn’t “vibing” with her because she’s a white woman who doesn’t understand his challenges as a Black man in a sea of whiteness. I’m a white woman and I understand his challenges, so I don’t think that’s a fair reason for him to find another therapist. If she’s so highly respected in the community, she must be great, right? My husband who is Black, is on my son’s side and thinks that he should find someone else. What do you think?

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—Therapist Drama

Dear Therapist Drama,

Yeah, I’m 100 percent on your husband’s side here as a Black man. I wouldn’t care if this therapist won every award under the sun, the bottom line is that your son doesn’t feel comfortable with her, and that’s what matters.

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Not to mention, when it comes to therapy, nothing is more important than finding a therapist who gets you. Many years ago I had a white woman as a therapist, and I told her how uncomfortable I felt walking around my predominately-white neighborhood as the only Black man on my street. She chuckled and said, “Come on, you’re such a sweet, handsome guy with a great smile. I’m sure it’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be.” And that’s when I knew I needed to find a new therapist immediately, because she clearly didn’t get me.

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Think of it this way—imagine if you just delivered a baby and were suffering from postpartum depression. Now imagine discussing your depression with a male therapist who dismissed you by saying, “Come on, you have such a beautiful baby! What is there to be depressed about?!” You would probably look to find a new therapist immediately who validates your feelings and gets you, right? Also, how do you think you would feel if you told your husband that you weren’t comfortable with that male therapist and he responded by saying, “I’m a man, and I understand what you’re going through, so I don’t think the fact that he’s a man is a fair reason for you to find another therapist.” Chances are that wouldn’t go over very well with you either, and the same rule applies with your son.

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Don’t get me wrong here — are there good white therapists providing amazing care to Black clients? Absolutely, and I know that to be the case from firsthand experience. However, you can’t fault your son for stating that he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing his problems about being a Black man in a mostly white environment with a white woman. Instead, why not help him find a therapist of color that he will feel a sense of psychological safety around? Granted, finding therapists of color in America can be challenging, but it’s way easier than it was twenty years ago thanks to the ease of video conferencing. Clinicians of Color is one of many resources available, and a quick Google search will yield many more options.

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The last thing you should do is invalidate your son’s lived experiences. Trust that if he’s bringing this up as a concern, it’s for a good reason.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is in the fourth grade and he absolutely loves basketball. He’s also pretty good at it, but I’m not delusional enough to believe he’s going to receive a Division 1 scholarship or play professionally. The problem is he just joined a new basketball team where a dad of a player “Joey” is the head coach and treats his son like he’s the only kid who matters. If someone other than Joey takes a shot, the coach yells at them. If other players don’t pass Joey the ball, the coach yells at them. Joey is a good player, but he’s not any better than my son. My gut tells me that this isn’t right. Also my son is questioning whether he actually enjoys basketball, which is a shame since he has always been obsessed with it. Should I say something to the coach? Should I tell my son to keep playing on the team, even though the season is only a few weeks old? I don’t know how to navigate this, and I hate seeing my son suffer.

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—Broken Basketball Mom

Dear Broken Basketball Mom,

This makes my blood boil. I played basketball in college and also coached youth basketball, so it’s safe to say I’ve been around the block when it comes to this game. One thing I can say for sure is there are few things more annoying than coaches who obviously favor their own children over the other players on the team. It’s also sad because it’s taking the fun out of the game for your son.

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One way you could go about this is to see if other parents feel the same way you do about the coach’s behavior. Assuming a bunch of you are on the same page, perhaps you could approach him together to share your concerns. I’ll just say that if a group of parents pulled me aside to say that they had a problem with my coaching style, I would take it very seriously. I like to believe that’s because I have a healthy amount of self-awareness and I’m not a jerk. In a perfect world, maybe he will change his ways once this is brought to his attention. If he’s a narcissist, there’s a good chance he’ll play the role of the victim or take out his frustrations on the kids of the parents who approached him, or both. Either way, there’s strength in numbers and speaking to him with other like-minded parents could yield the results you’re hoping for.

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The second option is sticking it out. Like I said, I’ve seen my share of basketball throughout my lifetime and it’s rare that one player can win a game all by themselves, no matter how good that kid is. If this coach cares about winning and teaching the proper way to play basketball, he should know that Joey can’t do it alone. With that in mind, your son should continue to assert himself as a player and make the right plays for his team. That means passing to an open player, even if it’s not Joey. It means being aggressive and taking his own shots at the basket without deferring to Joey. It means playing hard and giving his best effort in every aspect of the game. In other words, using Steve Martin’s famous quote, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” No basketball coach in their right minds will sabotage their team just to ensure their kid gets all of the glory. If your son plays well, then the coach will have no other option than to let him perform.

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The last option is to have your son leave the team and find somewhere else to play. I know a lot of people frown upon quitting when the going gets rough, but if this coach clearly doesn’t care about the wellbeing of his other players, then why stay? There are plenty of basketball leagues and basketball coaches who would welcome your son with open arms and teach him the proper way to play the game.

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I’m not in your shoes, so only you can decide the option that works best for you. My suggestion is that you try option 1 or 2 (or both) and see how it goes before resorting to quitting the team. As a basketball junkie, it hurts my soul when I see grownups who attempt to take the joy of the game away from children. No matter what you choose, please don’t let your son lose his passion for basketball.

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—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

I feel like I am in crisis. I have three wonderful, adorable young children. For years, I have been unsatisfied in my marriage for very typical reasons. My husband and I have no physical and little emotional intimacy, though we do have a low-conflict household. I carry the bulk of the labor in our household concerning all domestic and child care responsibilities, despite the fact that I work full time at a stressful career. My husband is impatient with the kids and does not seem to like being around them. I can’t help but feel I’d be happier divorced. What should I do?

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