Q: My son makes friends easily but he often gets disrespected by his friends. Recently, I happened to see a text on his phone, from a friend saying, “We miss you… kind of.” Was that comment mean or was his friend just being funny? How should my son respond?
One time, I was waiting for one of my kids at our local YMCA, when I saw two middle school boys approach. The boys were obviously close friends. They were laughing and smiling and poking each other. When they came to the entrance, one boy gestured grandly toward the door and said to the other, “Ladies first!” His friend responded with an equally grand gesture toward the door and said, “After you!” They both laughed, then the two of them jostled through the door together.
This kind of friendly teasing, which the boys I saw seemed to enjoy, can be baffling to those of us who would never dream of insulting a friend. For very sensitive kids, being the target of teasing, even–or especially–from a friend, can be hard to take.
It’s impossible to tell simply from the words of a text whether your son’s friend meant this remark in a mean or playful way. In a text, there’s no facial expression, tone of voice, or body language to communicate the emotional tone.
Your son’s best clue about the friend’s intentions is how the friend acts when they are together. Is the friend generally kind? Then it’s probably friendly teasing and your son should view it as a mildly annoying action by the friend and not take it to heart. Your son could either ignore it or say something flippant back. For instance, he could pretend that the comment was sincere: “Awww, thanks! I miss you, too!” A neutral “OK” (or “K,” in text) could also just move past this small moment.
If it’s a close friend and the teasing happens often. It may be worth your son saying something to him about the pattern in person. Conversations about feelings never go well over text. At a neutral time, or right after the friend makes a teasing comment in person, and when no one else is around (we want to solve the problem, not embarrass the friend), your son could say, “I don’t like it when you tease me. I don’t find it funny, just annoying. Let’s talk about something else.”
If the friend is often mean, your son should not talk with him about how he’s feeling. If the other kid is trying to upset him, saying “I don’t like it” will make him think, “Good!” Only people who care about your son’s feelings deserve to hear about them! In that case, a boring reaction or nonresponse such as changing the subject or walking away, pretending he didn’t hear the comment is probably his best option. This won’t stop the teasing, but it also won’t encourage it. Help your child figure out kinder friends to hang out with.
Sometimes kids who hate being teased think they should respond with a zinger that will take the teaser down and makes the teaser finally respect them. That only works in made-for-TV movies!!!! The teaser is looking for a reaction, so trying to get in a battle of wit and words will just encourage more teasing.