Boys’ locker rooms can be wonderful places. Many kids find a highlight of their hockey team experience is the bonding that goes in the locker room before and after the actual game. Music blaring, arguing about what team is the best in the league, declaring who has the sickest stick, telling bad jokes, sharing the details of how their little brother threw up in the car — it can be an exciting place.
Boys feel connected to one another in the confines of these concrete and often smelly walls. There are many positives to locker room time, like a powerful sense of unity, camaraderie and shared mission. Each boy learns a bit about himself in this context. Some like to listen, some like to be the center of attention and they quickly figure out who can take a joke and some ribbing and who can not.
When Your Kid Is the Mean One
However, locker rooms are often unsupervised and can be raucous and intimidating places as well. What do you do when you get an email from a fellow hockey parent saying that your child has repeatedly been mean to her son in the locker room? You feel denial. Not my kid. Then you think for a bit and wonder, “Oh my god, could it be my son is being really mean to someone?”
What should you do? Doing nothing is not a good option, but nor is storming up to your 9 year old and asking what the heck is going on in the locker room? And marching up to the mother who sent you the email and getting mad at her isn’t a great plan either. So what should you do?
First, respond to the other parent’s email along the lines of “I am so sorry to hear of this situation. I am glad you brought this to my attention. I certainly don’t want him to be making anyone feel unhappy. I am going to speak with him about it.”
Then gather some information, call the head coach and see what he has heard or knows. Be careful about talking too much to other parents because this can create nasty gossip, but you might ask a couple parents if they have heard any concerns about the time the boys spend in the locker room.
Talking with Your Kids
Then calmly talk to your son. Start gently. Ask him what goes on in the locker room. Are all kids having fun in there? Does he think some kids are unhappy on the team? Is everyone getting along? See what you can learn. Likely your son HAS been part of something mean, although maybe not aware of the hurt he has caused.
This conversation is a huge opportunity to talk about empathy and impact on others. Despite your anger or frustration, it is a precious chance to take his passion for hockey and make it meaningful in any situation where your child will be part of a group of peers. Help him think through what he might be doing to make the other child feel bad, ask him what he could do to make him feel better. Chalk this up to a great moment of learning that goes beyond the skill of hockey and into the realm of teaching kindness and compassion in a group setting, a skill he will have forever.