“My Son Feels the Pressure to ‘Fit in’”
It can be tough to be a boy, especially when you are young and just beginning to discover what it means to belong, or ‘fit in’. Ben was such a boy and his dad told me a story that made me think about our peers’ influence on our individuality, or our differences.
The story of Ben’s red nose
It was Comic Relief in the UK, also known as Red Nose Day, and Ben’s primary school had organised a fun sports event to raise money for Children in Need. Ben and his dad had been talking about the importance of this day and Ben, being 7 years of age, understood that it wasn’t all children who were as lucky as he was: he had nice food every day, two parents who loved him very much, a little sister called Mia (although she did annoy him sometimes, he still loved her), and lots of toys and clothes.
Mia was 5 and they both went to the same primary school. That morning before going to school Mia emerged giggling from the bathroom with their mum, both having painted the tips of their noses with red face paint. Ben saw the brilliance of this idea and wanted one himself; after all it wasn’t very often you were invited to wear a red nose to school. Mum happily painted the end of Ben’s nose too and they laughed at their reflections in the mirror. It was a good start to the day and there was lots of happy chatter in the car as dad drove Mia and Ben to school.
Dad gave Mia a hug and kissed her goodbye as they dropped her off in her school group. Her friends very excitedly displayed their red noses, wiggling them and giggling as they ran off together.
Ben looked forward to meeting up with his friends too to see their red noses and to do the sack race he and his best friend Johnas were taking part in. As they turned the corner Ben spotted James and Elijah who always hung out together and sometimes weren’t very nice to Ben and Johnas. Neither of them had red noses and when they spotted Ben, they started whispering to each other, pointing and laughing.
At that point Ben’s good mood disappeared and was replaced by fear that James and Elijah would be horrible to him again. And there were two of them and only one of him. Ben took his dad’s hand, dragged him into the corridor and with his finger invited dad to come closer so he could whisper into his ear.
“Dad, I don’t like this red nose anymore. Can you take it off please?”
“Oh, that’s a shame, can you tell me why?”
“No, I just don’t like it. I know the children still need the money and I will put some in the box, but I just don’t like it, dad.”
“Well, that’s ok, we’ll just wipe it off. Don’t’ worry about that.”
Dad took out a tissue and wiped off the red face paint, and as he did so, it felt as if he was wiping away the happy, chatty Ben that had left the house that same morning. It saddened him greatly and he reminded himself to talk with Ben about what had happened when he picked him up later.
He kissed the tip of Ben’s nose as Johnas came bounding up to Ben, excited about the sack race and secretly showing him a red nose he had hidden in his pocket. As they ran off together dad mimed goodbye and waved. Ben glanced back with a thankful look in his eyes as he disappeared into the crowd gathering on the sport’s field.
The conversation dad and Ben had later revealed the story above and that was why Dad called me. He wanted to know why Mia and Ben had had such different experiences, how they could help Ben and perhaps try to avoid something like this happening again.
This is what we talked about
We spoke about bullying and intimation, which dad had experienced too when at school. He told me that at the time he had wished teachers and his parents would have taken more notice. Dad realised what he needed to do to support Ben: he was going to talk with Ben about the two boys at school and then talk with the teachers to make them aware of what was going on.
The influence of others on us and our children is impossible to avoid. We all have a need to feel like we belong, not only at home but in social contexts too. Both children and adults alike do this by trying to fit in with their peers. We need someone in our life who is similar to us so we can feel connected and valued, someone who ‘gets us’. If we stand out as different, as Ben did, it can be really hard to cope with the consequences. Standing out in a crowd might be the hight of excitement for some, while for others it can be the worst experience possible, especially if we experience the behaviour of others as intimidating.
Sometimes it is easier to be different if we are not doing it alone. In a group we feel stronger and while those around us might point a finger, it will be at the group, not at us individually. Being different can be easier when we stand together.