The Family Project: Socks
Q. My 14-year-old nephew is bright and artistic, and he has a certain style. My “staunch-conservative” 22-year-old son recently commented about a Christmas gift of brightly-colored socks that I gave my nephew, saying I shouldn’t encourage that “behavior,” meaning my nephew’s flair for the dramatic. I was stunned, and didn’t know what to say. How could I have handled this?
The panelists agreed that it is important to “let the dust settle” before having a discussion with the son in a situation like this, and that the discussion should take place in private so as not to embarrasses the son. “You need to respect the son’s views and opinions, but not necessarily agree with them,” panelist Denise Continenza said, adding that the parent could have waited until later to bring up the matter. “You could have started by saying, ‘You said something the other day and I wanted to get back to you’ or ‘You brought up something the other day I was wondering about,’ or ‘I was confused and wondered what you meant by your comment about the socks.’ Then be prepared for wherever he’s going to go with that. He’s an adult and has opinions and values, but it’s not too late to influence him. This could help open his mind in a way that is respectful.”
“It is important to do this away from the audience,” panelist Chad Stefanyak said, “Otherwise, be prepared for shots to be fired back.”
Panelist Wanda Mercado-Arroyo suggested asking why the son feels the way he does. This will open a dialogue. “Then go deeper into exploring his perspective on the matter. Stress that we need to be open and accepting and understanding of other people.”
“There’s also the sense when someone says something like this that he is saying, ‘I’m normal and this isn’t normal,’” Stefanyak said. “We tend to look at our own culture as ‘This is what’s normal, and that’s how it should be.’ The culture of conservatism is the son’s culture, but it’s not necessarily more normal than the cousin’s.”
Mercado-Arroyo cautioned against sending the message to the son that “You are wrong and your cousin is right.” This would cause a divide between them, and within the family. “What we need to say is ‘We respect you, and you should respect the other person.’” At some point, it might also be a good idea to follow up with the 14-year-old, said panelist Mike Daniels. “There’s something to be said for allowing him to stand up for himself. Ask him how he responds when people question his style. He also needs to be told that neither of them [the nephew or son] are wrong;. It’s just their individual ways.” Daniels said this discussion might also help the nephew develop some awareness if this is happening to him at high school, where teenagers like to single people out for being different.
This week’s team of experts: Pam Wallace, Program Coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Chad Stefanyak, School Counselor; Wanda Mercado-Arroyo; Denise Continenza, Extension Educator, Food, Families and Health, Penn State Extension; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, CTS, and Erin Stalsitz, Lehigh County Children and Youth Casework Supervisor. Have a question? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The Family Project weekly column is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.