Child Caring

Are video games bringing out the worst in these 12-year-olds?

My 12 year old son plays video games with his friends and many times they start picking on him because they think it's funny to make him mad. He gets so angry he starts crying and yelling. How do I teach him to handle this situation and stop what's happening? I tell him to shut off the game but then he feels isolated and wants to play with his friends again.

From: Mamaplanes, Monson, MA

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Dear Mamaplanes,

In general, my advise is not to be a snow-plow parent, especially around friendships issues. Friendship groups go through ups and downs and, most of the time, they work themselves out. That said, there are a number of things to consider:

Are these boys just messing with him in a good-natured, affectionate way, or is there a mean-spiritedness behind this picking on him? Does your son just need a little more maturity to recognize friendly teasing and to develop a thicker skin, or is he overly sensitive (and perhaps overly competitive) in other situations as well? And last but not least: Does this dynamic mostly only crop up when they are playing video games -- and maybe for a period of time after they finish playing?

That would make me wonder about the nature and influence of the games themselves. Research is pretty conclusive these days that violent video games can increase aggression in kids. So what are the games these boys are playing? If you think the games may be creating an unhealthy dynamic, is it time to talk to parents of the other boys? What about a group meeting of parents and boys to talk about video games and brainstorm some guidelines. I don't mean that you make your son's issue the talking point, rather that the parents generate discussion (and share concern) about video games so that the boys choose to monitor themselves, with some help. My son's friendship group did this successfully, but this will only be possible if there is a respectful dynamic among the boys and if it's affection that underlies the teasing, not meanness.

The other possibility, of course, is that all this feeds in a negative way into a personality trait of your son's that makes him highly sensitive. I don't just mean a kid whose sense of humor isn't well-developed yet. If he's hyper-sensitive, you've probably noticed this tendency before. Sometimes, role-playing with him can help him develop coping skills but if this is a trait that interferes in relationships, he may benefit from a professional evaluation and guidance.