How to help my (male) child with long hair?
November 19, 2018 1:06 PM   Subscribe

My 10yo boy has long hair (mid back, has had it for two years). He is very comfortable as a boy, he just likes long hair. Recently, he's been asking to wear a face balaclava, and when pressed, he broke down and cried and said it's because he's tired of people commenting on his hair all the time. How do I help him deal with other people?

When he started growing out his hair back in third grade, we talked about how it wasn't the "norm" for boys in our area to have long hair, he may get comments on it, people may call him a girl, etc. He seemed ok with it. He lets me take care of it (gets it trimmed, washes and conditions it), and really, his hair is super-pretty. He usually is ok with shrugging off comments, telling people "it's my head, it's my hair, it's none of your business" and his favorite comment to people is "why would you say something like that?"

But lately, as he stated, he's getting a comment every single day, and it's not positive. He goes to a smaller school and everyone knows him so he hasn't had to deal with many comments, but if we go out anywhere, he will get comments. Is there anything else I can help him with? He is adamant about not getting his hair cut (he has severe sensory issues, which is why we grew out the hair in the first place). Thank you in advance.
posted by alathia to Human Relations (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, I'm sorry. People are so stupid. Do you think he would attract less unwanted attention if he wore his hair in a ponytail or man-bun? Sometimes those read a little differently to the kind of jerks who make comments than just long straight flowing locks do.
posted by praemunire at 1:20 PM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I'm a dude with long hair. I get less comments about it than your kid because my peers are not children, but I do get some comments because some people just never grow the fuck up. The negative comments are always from other dudes; positive ones come from both men and women.

Anyway, here's what I think (or say, if the occasion calls for me to say something) when someone takes a swipe at my hair:
  • Fuck you, I like my hair.
  • Thanks for showing me your true colors early on, asshole. Now I don't have to guess.
  • If the best you've got is to rag on my hair, I guess I'm pretty fucking awesome.
  • I'm not wearing my hair long to please some asshole dude. Women compliment my hair on the regular, which as far as external validation goes seems like a good trade.
  • I may have long hair, but you buddy are an asshole. I can cut my hair, but you'll still be an asshole.
  • Seriously, my hair? That's all you've got? I'll consider this argument won then, good day to you.
Everybody's got something for other people to pick on. If it's not your hair it's your size, or your gender,
or the way you talk, or the color of your skin, or your bad grades, or your good grades, or your choice of friends, or your shirt, or the sound of your name… it's not about the hair, it's about other people being assholes. If they want to fixate on my hair, well, my hair can take it. Because it is fucking fabulous.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:29 PM on November 19, 2018 [41 favorites]

I don't have a solution for you, but I just wanted to tell you that I have a 12 year old boy (cisgender, AMAB) with super long hair (as seen here, it is actually longer now), and he's misgendered pretty much every single day. Yesterday we were out at a holiday lights display, and he was called "Miss" or "Young Lady" twice that I heard.

First, hats help. Quite a lot. But not all the time.

Second, what my kid would tell him is "it doesn't matter if they call me miss so long as they're polite about it." So, hopefully simple misgendering is - or becomes - something he can wave aside as a simple misunderstanding and then everyone moves on.

I just asked E and this is what he told me (verbatim) to tell your child: "Don't let it get to you. Just kindly tell them you're a boy, and if they continue to do that just ignore them because at that point they're probably trying to get to you and be a jerk. Try to continue to remind them because there are some people who just don't have that great a memory. If it does bother you, talk to them about it. "Hey, its really bothering me that you can't remember I'm a boy, please stop."

I don't know that is super helpful, but please let him know that my kiddo sends all kinds of supportive long-hair rockstar vibes to your kid.
posted by anastasiav at 1:30 PM on November 19, 2018 [69 favorites]

From el_lupino, who has been a guy with long hair for 30+ years:

"I was once waiting for a load to finish in a coin-op laundromat in Arlington, Virginia, when a woman approached me. Feeling I was due for social sanction, she yelled, 'MEN DON’T HAVE LONG HAIR!!!'

To which I replied, 'I appear to be a counterexample.'"

He gives your boy license to use that, if it'll help.

And show him the Luxuriant Flowing Hair Club for Scientists!
posted by jocelmeow at 1:33 PM on November 19, 2018 [39 favorites]

Just in case you didn't know about this (also their blog). No association, and certainly not approaching it from a sales angle. He just may feel boosted from seeing an abundance of men who wear their hair long:
[L]ong hair is badass: Ghengis Khan, Louis XIV, William Wallace, The Undertaker, Steven Seagal (circa Under Siege part I)
I mean, Genghis Khan, for Pete's sake. The dude killed so many people he literally was one-man climate change. (Not that killing/violence = manliness is a great association to make, frankly, but ... )
posted by WCityMike at 1:41 PM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

supportive long-hair rockstar vibes to your kid

"'Long hair 'cause I'm a ROCKSTAR!" might be something he can use.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:43 PM on November 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

This is a tough one because it is a confluence of inattention, prejudice, laziness and people just generally going with the path they think is easiest in interacting with a stranger. When I had long hair I never got directed hurtful comments from women, but did occasionally from men. Only rarely was it an obvious and deliberate attempt to start a fight, but that did happen. I personally didn't care that much because the motivation/insecurity was so transparent.
What I found even more trying was the frequency with which people approaching from behind would address me as "Miss" and then in some cases get a bit annoyed if I didn't immediately realize they were trying to get my attention and so fail to react. In many many case this was elderly women - I started to suspect eyesight was also a factor in some instances.
The bottom line was that however I may feel about gender assumptions, I knew I wasn't going to change the views and visual acuity of all elderly women. So, I accepted that was a part of my decision to have long hair out, for as long as I wanted it. In the end, a decision to occasionally hide the hair isn't terrible or unreasonable.
posted by meinvt at 1:43 PM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

if we go out anywhere, he will get comments. Is there anything else I can help him with? He is adamant about not getting his hair cut

Sure, let him wear a hat/balaclava/whatever sometimes. No matter how well-adjusted one is (and he sounds like he's doing GREAT), that shit gets tiring and sometimes you need a break.
posted by desuetude at 1:45 PM on November 19, 2018 [19 favorites]

Yeah, I also don't have a solution and also have a longhair cis (as far as I know) boy. He does get misgendered constantly, though I assume that puberty will eventually make that a less common occurrence. Hats do help, especially baseball hats. And if he has any days where he's like, you know, I just can't even anymore today, he can tuck his hair up in the hat and hide it away. So I don't think a full-on balaclava is strictly necessary (though if that's the look he wants to rock, why not?), an arsenal of hats for those days when he's just not up to it isn't admitting defeat, it's just admitting occasional fatigue.
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:48 PM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

If he knows any kids with naturally bright red hair, he may not realize they're in the same club of "I cannot go out in public without people wanting to opine CONSTANTLY about my hair." Adults can get real weird about it, to the point of ostensibly positive comments feeling pretty ick (on top of kids being mocking because kids.)
posted by desuetude at 2:13 PM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Is there anything else I can help him with?

Just keep letting him roll how he rolls, back his choices, and keep rocking creative solutions to other people's deficiencies.

Went through a long period of wanting to have long hair in the 80s, and it was a constant battle on all fronts. My parents were generally not supportive and even forced me to cut it in front of my family when my great grandmother & grandparents made an issue of it on a family visit. (What, am I still bitter more than 30 years later? Could be!)

Hats, practiced comebacks, whatever - keep running defense and being supportive. If it's another adult making the comment, and he's OK with it, intercept and brush them off before he has to deal with it. If he wants to speak up for himself, then roll with that.

Sending thoughts of solidarity to you both - hang in there, and I hope you can minimize the unwanted feedback / comments.
posted by jzb at 2:19 PM on November 19, 2018

(A) Some people are terrible, and all my sympathies to your son. (B) My daughter's ex-boyfriend had beautiful mid-back length hair (won "Best Hair" in the high school's senior awards). I don't think he had any problem with being misgendered, because he was a very tall young man. But I remember noticing that low, looseish ponytails were a particularly boyish looking style on him, if your son wants that -- high ponytails look feminine, loose hair looks feminine, but low, nape of the neck ponytails look distinctly less feminine.
posted by LizardBreath at 2:21 PM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

My 10-year-old daughter says his response ""it's my head, it's my hair, it's none of your business" is really good and also suggested "Well, this is the way I like it."

Is it possible he's losing or gaining a tooth or going through a growth spurt? We sometimes witness an anxiety/fraughtness spike around those pressures, which are largely invisible.

It's possible this is an area of sensitivity that will pass given a week, some extra hugs and some bubblegum-flavored Advil.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:23 PM on November 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

(Not to abuse the edit window: because previously, he sounds like he was a bit more okay with handling the social discomfort.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:24 PM on November 19, 2018

If he specifically has problems being misgendered, he could try butching it up a bit with some other masculine signifiers. Personally I rock a full beard, but in lieu of that baseball hats are a good option. Flannel shirts, Carhartt jackets, and work boots also read pretty male. Sometimes when I'm wearing all three of those signifiers (because I work in construction, not because I'm trying to be macho) I actually walk it back a shade with a pink hairband.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:33 PM on November 19, 2018 [6 favorites]

Other things that I think read fairly male: carpenter's jeans, cargo pants in general, men's wristwatches, ear piercings in only one ear (probably not age-appropriate), suit jackets, ties, wayfarer-style sunglasses. You get the idea. If the problem is that he's being misgendered rather than just teased, it's easy to just add some Boy Stuff to compensate.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:43 PM on November 19, 2018

Are you referring to this kind of face balaclava. To disguise who he is?

I would think that would attract a lot more attention. Although only 10, he might get stopped by police for maybe playing at being a robber, people will wonder if he has a skin disease, kids who know him will mock him even more, and the same hair will still hang down the back.

And won't the head covering aggravate the same sensory issues as a haircut?
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:44 PM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

This is a tricky one, because I was AMAB, had really long hair and took a TON of crap for it every day, so I feel like I should have something to offer... but your son's situation is different enough from mine that I'm not sure if my experience is relevant. In my case I was trans but kind of in denial of it, so when people said I looked like a girl it was humiliating (because I was "supposed" to be a rough tough manly boy) but it also felt good in ways I didn't quite understand. I reached a point where I actually WANTED to cut my hair, I was sick of all the grief and the hair in my face, but that would have felt like giving in to the bullies so I had to let it grow and grow. When I finally changed schools I chopped it all off and it was a relief.

I never tried a tight ponytail, but maybe that could take some of the pressure off. Maybe he could cut his hair so it's not AS long, but still long. (In my experience, the teasing gets worse the longer a boy's hair gets.) I can tell you that trying to dress in a more stereotypically masculine way could lead to other kids assuming he's a tomboy or calling him a "dyke," etc., then teasing him when they find out he's not a "dyke" but a boy with long hair. Basically kids will glom onto anything they can tease other kids about, any little difference is a potential vulnerability, so a boy with long hair is a very tempting target. You can help him with coping strategies but as long as he's got the long hair a certain amount of abuse may be inevitable.

I'm not quite understanding how sensory issues would lead to a boy wanting long hair. Did he have a traumatic haircut? Does the hair shield his eyes from the sun? If it's something like that, maybe you could address it. He could have a very gentle haircut, or get some special sunglasses. Maybe there are ways to address the sensory issues that wouldn't require him to have long hair.

If this is reaching the point where he wants to cover his face, I'm wondering if he's really enjoying the long hair that much anymore. It sounds like the poor kid has some pretty serious inner conflict. I think you need to figure out why he really wants this, or IF he really wants this, and you need to try and do it in a supportive, non-judge-y way. If he just likes how it looks or feels, if he's exploring his gender, that stuff is all great, but it will be helpful if you both understand the root of it.

My mom was awesome and she loved me like a rock but it was a different time and she was confused and exasperated by my refusal to just get a damn haircut already. You sound like a very understanding, supportive parent, and your kid is very fortunate for that.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:58 PM on November 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

I had very very short hair as a kid at my insistence. Everyone thought I was a boy. Reportedly my response was to loudly state "I'm a girl with short hair!" and glower at the offenders. So maybe he thinks he's not allowed to do that and you can tell him that he is?

Also low ponytails or a braid make long hair much less visible. He can tuck it in his shirt which he'll probably have to do anyway once he starts playing sports or whatever.
posted by fshgrl at 3:02 PM on November 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

But I remember noticing that low, looseish ponytails were a particularly boyish looking style on him, if your son wants that -- high ponytails look feminine, loose hair looks feminine, but low, nape of the neck ponytails look distinctly less feminine.

As a former longhaired-AMAB-teenager, this matches my experience exactly. If his sensory stuff is compatible with a low ponytail, it steers the look away from "pretty" and towards "scruffy."

Someone else suggested a man-bun, and I don't think that will work. Despite the name, it's not seen as a masculine hairstyle at all. (The "man" in "man-bun" is like the "male" in "male nurse" — it calls attention to the fact that gender norms are being violated, that men don't typically do those things.) Adult men with buns are often seen as weird and unmasculine, and I think a preteen boy with a bun would be teased mercilessly or just straight-up assumed to be a girl.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:03 PM on November 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

My son, in elementary school had his hair down below his shoulders. Ironically, he got more comments after he cut it than when it was long. Maybe it was the mohawk he cut it into. He definitely got comments, but his response was something along the lines of, "You are just jealous" or "You wish you could grow your hair long". He was on the bigger size for his age and never backed down (even when we wish he had). He just developed a confidence because he was making the decision.

Fast forward 12 years. His dad, AugustWest, has not cut his hair in 15 months. I get comments all the time. "Love the hair old man". Most of the people who knew me a long time and knew I used to wear my hair in a buzz cut, they give me grief. Everyone else does not.

Tell him to be proud. He has terrific parents who let him make his own decisions. Tell him he has your support.
posted by AugustWest at 4:14 PM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

How do I help him deal with other people... if we go out anywhere, he will get comments.

Do you have a signal, where he can look to you to intercede whenever he might find that helpful? The kids at school who know him are fine with his hair. If these other people are strangers, mostly older, and stepping up the commentary and level of attention, even the most self-assured 10-year-old would get overwhelmed.
posted by Iris Gambol at 4:37 PM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thank you to everyone who responded, esp. whoever suggested it might be a growth issue. He lost two teeth recently, so I checked his mouth and low and behold, he has two new teeth coming in! So we're going to let him continue with wearing hats (we're trying to discourage the balaclava since it does cover his face, but alas, 10 year old thinks balaclava = ninja = BEST THING EVER so it may be a losing battle).

We already do the low pony for school on gym days. I appreciate all the support, i read to him all the responses. I think I can mark this as "answered" now. Also, here is a picture of him rocking it as Loki for Halloween.
posted by alathia at 4:52 PM on November 19, 2018 [45 favorites]

he has two new teeth coming in!

If you do try supplemental Advil, I'd be interested in hearing about it. Anecdotally, that seems to really help in our house -- like she can't articulate 'I ache. All over. Stuff hurts.' but anti-inflammatories seem to help mood-wise and it seems like we can tell.

But there are no studies, and anecdotal evidence is just that. I would be interested if, in addressing the physical roughness, your son experienced less anxiety about this specific thing.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:33 PM on November 19, 2018

Sounds like you've got it sorted, but just chiming in to add Willie-Nelson-style center part + pigtail braids as another masculine-looking thing to do with long hair. Plus braids can be comfier than ponytails, on the sensory issue front.
posted by Bardolph at 6:17 PM on November 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's hard to beat ninja. I'd do ninja if I could too.
posted by meinvt at 6:18 PM on November 19, 2018

Ninja is a piece of cake to do.
You wouldn't want him to go to school in it, but if he needs a break to hide his awesome self occasionally, show him how to do a T-shirt ninja mask.
posted by BlueHorse at 7:35 PM on November 19, 2018

Could you show him the @IvePetThatDog Twitter account? The author is a 13-year-old boy with long hair, who is awesome and has lots of fans.
posted by matildaben at 9:38 PM on November 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

> Also, here is a picture of him rocking it as Loki for Halloween.

Goddamn, look at your kid. That's awesome.
posted by desuetude at 9:42 AM on November 20, 2018 [7 favorites]

You can also try braiding his hair. Back when I had hair down to my waist, I kept it in a single long braid. I'm not sure why that reads as less feminine but apparently it does.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 7:59 PM on November 20, 2018

I know I'm a little late to the party but I wanted to recommend t-shirts with musicians on them. The judgemental won't judge quite as quickly if a kid is wearing a shirt for a band with guys who had long or non-conforming hair. It's not a great fix because then you're basically reinforcing to people that rock stars are the only guys who are "allowed" to have long hair, but it might be a quick fix for if you know you're going somewhere really traditional where you think people are likely to make hurtful comments.

Try Guns N Roses, David Bowie, The Doors, Bon Jovi, Kurt Cobain, Aerosmith, etc.
posted by donut_princess at 1:43 PM on November 21, 2018

I wanted to post an update and thank everyone for their suggestions.

A_Terrible_Llama actually hit it on the head with the suggestion that it may have been teeth issues. He lost FOUR teeth that week, and has several more coming in (according to the dentist!) so the moodiness wasn't just about his hair, it was just pain he couldn't articulate. He is still fine with his hair, and has big plans to grow it out long enough to sit on. :)
posted by alathia at 12:19 PM on January 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

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