My well behaved, bright, popular, naive 9 year old son brought a plastic toy revolver (the kind with the bright orange barrel to indicate that it's a toy) to school yesterday. He snuck it into his back pack because he wanted to show the girl across the street while they rode the bus to school. He had to sneak it because he knows that toys are not allowed at school. I know he knows this because he was scolded two days before when I found toys in his bag, which I confiscated.
Obviously, he got caught with it. Another child saw him showing some friends and told their classroom teacher about it once they got to class. This child is probably the only one in my sons class that doesn't get along with my boy. I am not excusing my son's behavior at all, but the dynamic between these two boys is important to this situation.
My son has trouble understanding that he should stay away from this boy. He is, in my opinion, a liar, a back-stabber, and an emotional bully. My boy wants everyone to be friends, and so he continues to hang around this kid despite my warnings and having experienced multiple betrayals. Until now. He is, for the first time, very angry at one of his 'friends' and is struggling with it.
Per school regulation, my son was suspended for the rest of the school day, the "weapon" was confiscated, and he was interviewed by the principal, school psychologist, and a police officer. The school chose not to press charges, thankfully. His intentions were not even remotely malicious, so they were lenient.
I am struggling with how to punish him appropriately for this. On one hand, his principal told him today when we met for his reinstatement that "it's over now, and we 're moving on. Let's put this behind us now and learn from our mistakes" and so perhaps I should echo the tone and be forgiving and lenient, chalking this up to at worst a big mistake? On the other hand, my son is not exhibiting any real signs of remorse or appreciation for the seriousness of bringing a weapon to school (even though it's fake) and being suspended, or the sneakiness, or the fact that he deliberately disobeyed me and that makes me think I should come down pretty hard on him to drive the point home. After all, isn't his lack of awareness (or respect for) the rules the reason we are in this mess?
I have told him that he is to be on his best behavior for now, and I've removed his electronic privileges while we think what his punishment should be. He's already shocked that there could be any more punishment besides losing the iPad and the 'ordeal' (his words!) at school. This is more evidence that he doesn't get it.
Here's where the other kid comes in: when I can get him to talk about this, without rolling his eyes or making jokes, his biggest problem with all of this is that it's "not even my fault!" Since the other kid told on him, after he touched the toy gun and praised my son for being so "bad ass" for bringing it in and then pretended to be an innocent, frightened witness, my son completely, thoroughly, blames this other kid. I secretly partially blame him too; for being such a two face I really can't stand him, but I bury it and correct my son; it's my sons fault alone that he is in trouble because when you do bad things you get caught and you get punished. He won't stop obsessing about the "tattle-tail" and I really think it's blocking him from seeing the truth here. I suspect he's blinded by the anger and hurt he feels by this kid's betrayal (although they never had any trust, my son falsely believed it was there.)
How can I help him to:
- Accept full responsibility for his actions.
- Nip the "blame game" in the bud.
- Stay away from this other kid for good.
- Punish him with the right balance of harshness for the seriousness of the offense and leniency for the lack of ill intent.
Everyone is on eggshells here at my house, any advice would be appreciated.
By the way, this is the ONLY toy weapon we've ever had, it was purchased by my mother, and it is long gone. We are not that sort of family where violence of any kind is tolerated, witnessed, or promoted. We don't even have local network television in the house, or violent video games. He wanted the cap gun because he likes the smell of the caps. Honestly. He's that naive to guns and what they mean. We've got real guns in the house, he knows this, and has no interest in them whatsoever. This event really came out of the blue. It is very unsettling however.
UPDATE We ended up taking a middle ground approach in regards to punishment. Our first instinct, before I even put this question out for answers, was to remove the biggest distraction/infatuation of the moment so that he would be forced to focus on this. Minecraft went bye-bye. I did take DanBeale's advice though, and he got the iPad back almost immediately (sans Minecraft of course). We allowed him to reinstall the game after he wrote 2 letters of apology and thanks to his teacher for vouching for him and also for claiming he had a "dentist appointment" in an effort to shut down the rumor mill, and also to the principal for leniency. He also had to purchase the game with his own money this time.
After that, we let the issue of the gun rest (at home) but I did request the school psychologist speak to him about WHY everyone freaked out about the gun. I went this route because my husband kept veering towards making jokes about all this and I just wasn't confident the message would be delivered in such a way so that it would hit home. That's an issue for another forum I suppose.
My son has finally accepted that this other boy is not trustworthy, and is therefore not a good friend. I think he finally understands that relationships come in many shades of gray, not just super BFF's forever on one side and sworn enemies on the other. He has decided he'll still be nice to the boy, but won't purposely sit next to him at lunch- a shade of grey closer to the enemy end of the spectrum in 9 year old social circles from what I can tell. I never realized how difficult it is to explain trust and how important it is to a child until now. I think he gets it, but only time will tell. Thanks for the great answers.