Social Question

Ela's avatar

What type of person behaves this way and how can I help my children address it (Please see details)?

Asked by Ela (6203 points ) May 22nd, 2012

Some background – My 15 year old asked me to tweeze his brows, his unibrow to be precise. He doesn’t have any hairs between his brows. I asked him why he thought he had one, he just insisted that he does. I thought maybe someone at school had said something to him about it so I asked, who’s saying you have a unibrow? He told me his dad had said to him “your unibrow is almost as bad as (his youngest brother), almost. I’m just kidding!”

My questions – Why would his own dad “kid” like that about his appearance? He’s a teenager and already self-conscious. This happens a lot. He “kids” with all three of the boys this way. He will make little comments then say he’s “just kidding”. It makes me so mad I could just spit.
Do you kid with your children like this? Am I being unreasonable to think it’s wrong and just plain mean to make comments like that followed by “oh, I was kidding”?

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43 Answers

Blackberry's avatar

It depends on how frequent it is. If people are doing this frequently, they’re only trying to mask their immature bullying (which they think they aren’t doing). Teasing is such a norm that it’s always easy to brush it off and say you’re joking, but I personally wouldn’t want to joke around with someone who I knew maybe sensitive or fragile, because it’s like I’m voluntarily choosing to bully them.

Trillian's avatar

I agree with @Blackberry. He’s a fucking bully. To cloak his words in “I’m just joking” is dishonest and cowardly. The kids will all probably have issues because of it. They also probably won’t remember you fondly either for not protecting them.
Seriously, remove them from his influence. They are at risk for all sorts of dysfunctional behaviours and relationships themselves.

Ela's avatar

I completely agree he is a fucking bully but he is also their father, @Trillian. Removing him from their lives isn’t an option thanks : )
I protect them just fine but they are getting old enough that I think they need to stick up for themselves some. I’m wondering how I can help them address, ignore, cope with… whatever they need to do in order for it to have little as effect on them as possible.

Trillian's avatar

A professional is going to have better answers. Just remember, lots of kids commit suicide every year because they’re bullied and see no way out.

SuperMouse's avatar

@Trillian “seriously, remove them from his influence”, would that it were that simple.

@Ela I think I would have a talk with my son and explain that he looks just fine, and that sometimes people see things in others they are self-conscious about in themselves. I also think it is totally fine to say that their father is wrong to say these things to him and that adding “I’m just kidding” at the end doesn’t make it any less of a put down.

My husband is great at reminding me that the truth does prevail and these boys will see their father’s character in their own time.

Ela's avatar

@Trillian True and many kids rise above it, many commit suicide who have never been bullied in their life. Many people all over the world take their own lives for reason we have idea of. I keep my eyes and ears open and stay involved in their lives but at sometime they need to blossom out from under my wing.
I’m sure their father is not the only person who behaves ths way.

Ela's avatar

@SuperMouse I try not to say negative things about their father to them. I have told them that I think he “mean kids” and talked to them about it. I was very proud when I overheard my 13 year old call him out on it. I want them to be able to say to him,o anyone fr that matter, that this is not okay behavior.

chyna's avatar

Do you call him out on it? Not necessarily in front of the kids, but later when you are alone with him? I would call him out on it each and every time you hear him say something like that. “Dickwad, don’t say that to the kids. Not only is it untrue, but it is bullying and I’m sick of it.”

Ela's avatar

@chyna I have talked to him (their father) about it a few times and he just laughs/brushes it off saying he’s just joking and they know that. Talking to him is like talking to a wall, he just doesn’t see it or get it.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

You’re not being unreasonable.

SuperMouse's avatar

@Ela I know where you are coming from and also make it a policy not to say negative things about my boys’ father either. That being said, I do think that this is a situation where it entirely appropriate to point out that this behavior is out of line. I tend to feel like it is my responsibility to point those things out so my boys understand that them behaving this way will not be tolerated under any circumstances.

How great that the 13 year-old called him out. I try to help my boys feel empowered to let their father know when they are hurt by something he says or does. I have told them again and again that as long as they approach the subject in a respectful and mature manner, they are absolutely allowed to discuss these things with their dad.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

I’ve observed this type of behavior before in both relatives and the parents of friends. Each case is different, and quite honestly, I have no clue why someone would treat their child this way. The closest I have come is that they get enjoyment from their own humor. They lack the ability of understanding and empathizing with how others may feel to be on the receiving end.

You are not being unreasonable in your thoughts. You are lucky that the children feel comfortable coming to you with their concerns. Until they reach a point where they feel capable of coming to their own conclusion about their father’s comments, all that you need to do is keep the line of communication open with them and be as objective as possible. In the case of the unibrow, that’s pretty easy to prove that the dad is bonkers without saying so.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I agree with @Blackberry that it’s barely masked bullying. Their dad may think he’s actually “toughening up” his boys through humor but he’s doing the opposite, he’s making his kids self conscious and question what’s humor and what’s meanness. Are you on decent enough terms to bring this up to your ex or his parents if the grandparents are involved in childcare or regular contact?

In the meantime, why not sit down with all three boys and tell them there is something you don’t want them to give much weight to anymore and that is their dad’s sense of humor which is actually immature. Tell them you don’t know why their dad does this but it’s not good for human relations, nothing good for them to emulate or react to.

Basically their dad is doing the equivalent of pulling on a dog’s tail and ears and thinking it’s funny when they are confused. He’s a tard.

Ela's avatar

@SuperMouse I’ve always told them that they just because they are kids it doesn’t mean that the are powerless and have to put up with whatever adults say/do (but they do have to be respectful in their disagreement).
I think it’s important to give them the tools needed to deal with not only their father, but people who behave this way in general. As an adult I can say someone is just an asshole but how do you convey the reasoning of why to a child? There has to be a base for it.
If I sit them down I think it will come across as me against him. It’s a good idea but doesn’t feel right to me. I do like the suggestions about focusing on the type of humor being immature and a form of bullying. If I address it in general and not pinpoint their father (or add their father in passing, not as the subject), I think they will make the connection.

CWOTUS's avatar

I guess I’m going to take a slightly different tack on this than others.

Not that I’m defending your husband’s behavior, because I’m not. But I’m also not going to say that he’s a bully or intentionally evil – not by his lights, anyway.

Your husband has his own problems that are making him feel pretty darn small and, I don’t know, maybe helpless. He’s not even in good enough shape to be angry at the problems in his life, but he’s not so bad – yet – as to be in total grief, either.

What he’s doing is manifesting a tone of covert hostility. If you google the term you’ll finds all kinds of descriptions of the personality types, some likely “reasons why” and some coping strategies. This is not to say that your husband is a bad guy. Anyone who has been knocked down to this level will act in more or less the same way. Whether he recognizes the fact or not, he could use some counseling of his own. Your son will benefit from the coping strategies, and just recognizing that his dad is… also hurting… whether he can admit it or not.

My best to all of you. Good luck.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@CWOTUS I think you may have hit on it. It takes a small person to beat on kids as an adult.

Coloma's avatar

I agree with @CWOTUS
It is a show of covert hostility, god only knows what goes on in the small, unexamined minds of many. Bah. I don’t know what to tell you, but, if it were me, I’d give him a dose of his own medicine..” You’re a shitty dad, haha, just kidding, hey, you KNOW I’m just kidding?”
Bah!

I have done tons of personal growth work over the years, and yes, I agree the guy has some undeniable issues, but you know what? I’ve come full circle now and quite frankly I don’t give a damn what someones inner turmoil is all about anymore, if you treat me poorly you’ll hear about and be swiftly dismissed from my life.

You obviously can’t take this approach with your kids, but, the day will come when they just might make this decision themselves. I’d try to tell the dad that he’s setting himself up to lose his kids on an emotional level, if not completely, if he doesn’t wake up and start talking to them with some respect and drop the infantile “teasing.”
He needs to know that it’s not his call as to their reactions, if it bothers them, he needs to knock it off.

Ela's avatar

Well said @CWOTUS. I will be finding out more about “covert hostility”. I don’t believe he is intentionally trying to bully, be mean or evil. In my eyes, yes, he is a dickwad, a tard, a fucking all-around asshole… but that is through my eyes.
In his children’s eyes, he is a great dad. He has his shortcomings but I believe that’s up to them to see and determine.

I gave their father as an example and am trying to address the behavior rather the person. That may have not been the greatest thing to do.

CWOTUS's avatar

Thanks, @Adirondackwannabe. It’s not that he’s “a small person” ... but he’s been beat down himself in one way or another. Believe me that I know where he is. I haven’t been there for a long, long time, but many years ago I was that guy. Sometimes I fall back there.

He can change, but it’s not easy.

Exactly right to “attack the behavior and not the individual”, @Ela. You’ll get there.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Coloma I was thinking of your approach for a bit. What if I showed the asshole how it feels? I think that would be a huge mistake. But there’s a lot more going on here. He wouldn’t hurt his kids unless he’s already hurting and needs to feel better about himself somehow. I think.

Ela's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe He’s not intentionally hurting them.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@Ela No he’s not doing it intentionally. That’s why he doesn’t see it.

Coloma's avatar

@Adirondackwannabe I agree, to a degree, but, if one is is given every opportunity to heed anothers rational attempts at communication, well..he has no one to blame but himself.
What kind of parent just spits in the face of hurting their kids feelings?
Sorry, I just have zero patience for idiots these days. Namaste, fuck off is my mantra. lol

CWOTUS's avatar

Actually, @Coloma‘s approach has some merit, to “lower yourself to near his level” so that he can recognize and interact. Preferably you should address him in a somewhat higher emotional tone than where he is now. That’s why “anger” is an appropriate response. Even if you don’t get “angry at him” (and I hope you can recognize the difference) you can be “angry” in general (or act that way) and hopefully raise him from his current state… to anger.

That would be more healthy for all of you. From there he can rise eventually to “antagonism”, “boredom” and so forth.

Coloma's avatar

@CWOTUS Right, I’m talking assertive not lowering yourself to the undesirable level. But..if the diplomatic approach fails, if the heartfelt ” please HEAR me” fails, well, then it’s time for a heavier approach.

Ela's avatar

It’s not in me to intentionally mean kid. I have way too much empathy for my own good. I can see where the boys are starting to banter with him but I’m not sold on it being a good thing or something good coming from it. I think they are too young and impressionable to partake in it. I’m afraid they will come the same conclusions he has about it where it’s not meant to harm. So therefore, in his eyes, it doesn’t and it continues on.

Ela's avatar

I’m going to recant my last comment. Last week he (their father) stopped by unannounced and my youngest (he is starting to mimic the behavior) greeted him with “What are you doing here?” (or something to that effect) and when his dad said “Geesh, nice to see you, too.” my son told him he was only kidding. At the time I scolded him for talking to his dad that way…. Next time I will just say “well that’s how you talk to them” and let him (my ex) deal with it.

I can see where I may be able to find a balance here. A balance where they can banter with him yet teach them it is not an overall acceptable behavior.

jca's avatar

I would try to get him to a therapist, where all three of you can talk about parenting and goals for the kids and stuff like that. Hopefully, if therapist tells him that insulting the kids and then making it out to be a joke is not ok, it will sink in. Sometimes hearing things from an objective third party is helpful.

Ela's avatar

It’s not only him @jca it’s people who do this in general. I knew a girl at work who would constantly do this, say something mean or derogatory and then say she was just kidding. There is usually a pause between the comment and the “just joking”. Almost like they give you a second to register it but before it’s fully processed they say j/k.

jca's avatar

@Ela: People at work, we can choose not to deal with if we want to. Another option is we can tell them to go fuck themselves.

Our father, we can choose not to deal with if we want to, or we can tell him to go fuck himself, but there might be a more productive goal to work toward, which is “can’t we all just get along?” Can’t we find a mutually respectful middle ground that will lead to a healthy dynamic for the family? So that’s where it would be helpful for the father to understand what he’s doing is not respectful and not helpful, and certainly not an acceptable form of joking.

blueiiznh's avatar

It is completely wrong of him to do that to them. There is ZERO joking matter in making jest (or covering in jest) about any childs appearance. There is no redeeming thing I can even think is plausible in doing this. IMHO it is mean and hurtful. It can crush the fragile esteem of children.
You certainly have a right to call him out on it and certainly have a right to let your children know what kind of behavior is not acceptible even when it comes from an adult. Without letting the child know that an adult (especially a parent figure) is doing something unacceptable is sending a message that the child may confuse this as being acceptable.
I applaud you in trying to do all you can in a mature way for them as I know it is not a simple answer given the situation.
I have seen this as a common instictive reply from some children and some dickheads. All you can do is use it as a teachable event to establish the line of what is acceptable and what is not.

passing the spit bucket

Ela's avatar

I talked to my son and told him I think he is very handsome (which he truly is), his eyebrows are just fine and I wish his father wouldn’t say things like that because it’s not true and unacceptable, imo.
I will talk to their father in the morning. I get so pissed because I feel like I’m constantly cleaning up after him emotionally. I will continue to repair the damage the best I can that he does as long as my children need me to (but it will continue to piss me off royally) : )

I really want to address the behavior so they don’t see me as picking on their father. I don’t hear it much because when I do I ask him about it and will address the comment at the time. I’m not sure how much it happens when they are at his house, though. If I hadn’t poked around a bit with my son, I may have never known his dad had told him this. That’s also why I want to address the behavior and give them the tools they need to stick up for themselves. They will meet people like this throughout their life.

Coloma's avatar

Good job @Ela !!!

I think it’s really important for boys to know that their feelings count and they shouldn’t have to suck up insults to prove their machismo. Hurt hurts regardless of gender.

blueiiznh's avatar

Perfect! @Ela Giving them tools to stand up for their rights and feelings is a great gift that will take them far.
awesome parenting double lurve

ucme's avatar

Ironic how the “fight fire with fire” approach seems appropriate for some, yeah, like that’ll work.
If this habit of his has become more than a bit of harmless, friendly, mutual banter & is becoming his dominant character trait, then it’s time for action. I’m in broad agreement with those who suggest professional help, if that is the case.

cazzie's avatar

Good job. I have seen a parent do this to her teen son. She told him his face is pimply and his nose is too big. She is an artist and really doesn’t seem to have a filter or any idea how to raise kids. The boy has no father around (she ran away with him when he was an infant and she was 19) and has had a very undisciplined and aimless life. He is now nearly 30, extremely handsome, but drinks far to much and is rather aimless, imo.

I don’t understand how anyone can be so thoughtless about their kids feelings.

JLeslie's avatar

I think men are just more likely to think this sort of thing is funny, and not realize the psychological impact. We have Q’s on fluther about hazing and teasing, and a lot of the time male jellies defend it as no big deal. The father probably had zero idea his child would get self conscious about it, because after all, the kid does not have a unibrow.

My husband commented a couple weeks ago when talking about bullying, “I went to an all boys school when I was very young, imagine how much it went on.” He was saying this type of sarcasm, teasing, and prodding simply happens among boys/men. I see it now that we are in a car club and around men a lot. Some of the guys are sarcastic like this, and some not, but the guys tolerate it and laugh along with the guys who are, and I don’t like it at all.

What I would do is explain to him how much his words have affected your child without accusations or hostility. I think he has no idea the impact of his words. I am sure he doesn’t want to negatively impact his son. If his response is the kid needs to toughen up, then you can make an attempt to explain why that is wrong thinking, even set him, the father, up with a child psychologist if he is willing, who can explain why this is such a problem to get a negative critical message from their father. Some children are more emotional and more affected by these things, and your ex needs to realize he has to recognize the difference in personalities. Hopefully, you won’t need to explain it two ways or suggest the psychologist, and he will heed your request by seeing the validity of it.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I had a parent who did this and who used to complain I had no sense of humor but all my friends and extended relatives thought he was an asshole. Til this day, in his 60’s, he still finds a way to say something crappy to or about someone and has no clue why people are offended. Good luck @Ela.

Ela's avatar

This is the first time (that I’m aware of) that he has said something about their personal appearance like that. I think that’s why I got so fried about it. My 15 yr old is very self conscious about his looks right now.
I talked to him (my ex) this AM and asked if he’d made the comment. He said he had and was only joking around (as I knew he would). I told him our son had been asking me about tweezing and how to get rid of it. My ex chuckled a little, scoffed a little mumbled about not being serious (as I also knew he would). I simply told him, he is very self conscious about his looks. I don’t think he should say things jokingly like that to them, they take things to heart coming from him.
He cares about the boys, I think he will be a bit more careful.
I also talked to my son again and just told him next time his father says something to him like this, I think he should ask him why would he make fun of you like that.

While I appreciate all the suggestions of how I can help my ex, he is not my main focus here. My children are. I don’t mean that in a snarky way. He is my ex and I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to fix him. My concerns are for my children. This is something I will be sure to keep a close eye/ear on.

CWOTUS's avatar

For my part, I didn’t realize that “his dad” was “your ex” until now. Yeah, I agree that your kids are your main concern now.

However, in defense of all of us the first part of the main question was about… your ex. “How can I help my children address it” was the add-on… and that still relates to “him”, not “them”.

Ela's avatar

My apologies, I should have stated he was an ex in the details.
Using my ex was probably a bad example but he is a prime example of the behavior.

JLeslie's avatar

Personally I was not talking about fixing your ex, just realizing he may not understand his impact on your son when he teases like that, and not sure how he will react to you. It sounds like you two don’t have a very pleasant relationship, and he might see your comments about the situation as your problem and not your sons, that you are being overly sensitive and controlling. (I don’t think that, I think you are right to be upset about the teasing). Hopefully, he did understand and isn’t defensive about it. I made a lot of assumptions there about you, your ex, and your relationship, and I realize I could be wrong on all accounts.

Ela's avatar

Thanks @JLeslie . You’re not wrong on many accounts.

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