When does kidsplaining become mansplaining?
August 22, 2019 6:45 AM   Subscribe

At what point do you start to redirect a child who's telling you stuff you already know? How?

I have a 5-year-old and an 11-year-old in my life. They both tell me things I already know.
When the 5-year-old does it, it seems to be from a place of wonder and newfound discovery- it feels like he's telling me because he just learned it and wants to share it. When the 11-year-old does it, it feels like he's telling me because he thinks I don't know and that he feels I need to learn about it. (I'm willing to admit that I'm projecting here.)

At what point do I start to kindly redirect a preteen (or teenager) who is telling me stuff I already know? Any advice or thoughts on that?

For some context, I've known the 5yo for his whole life, while I've only known the 11yo for a year. I am parenting both of them. None of us are neurotypical. This is my first time parenting a preteen, so I'm out of my depth.

The 11yo is immature for his age and has some educational delays, but he's bright. I understand that he is trying to boost his confidence by telling me these things, and up to a point I'm willing to play along. But when he picks stuff like "how driving works" (I've been driving twice as long as he's been alive) or "what the Avengers movies are about" (I've seen them all multiple times), it's hard not to want to push back on that. And if I don't push back, I feel like I'm doing him a disservice in a long-term way, because it's going to have natural consequences with peers.

I do try to turn these into discussions with an exchange of information. I'm happy to learn about new subjects. I'm giving tons of positive feedback on things he's tried to do/is doing/has accomplished. But instead this seems to be a thing where he feels he's "winning" by telling me the thing and he feels he's "losing" if I show that I already know about it.

posted by aabbbiee to Human Relations (33 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
How about contributing to the common knowledge set? Like: "Wow, I didn't know that when I was your age. I agree that is so cool!! Did you know XX (about engines or rockets or highway systems)? Did I tell you the first time I went driving I thought YY and it was ZZ can you believe it? I once got so lost that ZZ happened!" "OMG that part of the Marvel X movie was so cool, although my personal favorite was when AA did BB which really blew my mind. Have you seen it in 3D? I saw it in XX theater in XX town and a mouse actually ran over my foot at one point!" In other words, rather than talking about the facts of the thing that you already know very well, think about sharing your appreciation and adult perspective/experience about a thing the 11 y o is interested in?
posted by nkknkk at 6:52 AM on August 22 [29 favorites]

Frankly, I don't see any reason to redirect or in any way stop this child from speaking. Can't you simply smile and nod your head until he's done? You don't even have to feign interest in what he's saying. You're the adult; let the 11 year-old "win" in this scenario.

On preview, nkknkk's approach is a good one, too.
posted by Dolley at 6:54 AM on August 22 [17 favorites]

And if I don't push back, I feel like I'm doing him a disservice in a long-term way, because it's going to have natural consequences with peers.

Hard agree. I've seen this in friends' kids. Easiest example I can come up with was when I noticed said 12 year old had a ton of Pokemon cards. I offered to play a game with him while I was visiting his parents and my kids (younger, good bit younger) were entertained. He acted a bit demure, tried to explain how to play that included some pretty major deviations that were [literally] custom made for him to win such that they didn't even carry over to me as the opponent, nor did they come close to the normal Pokemon rules as I remember them from years ago. I saw the writing on the wall (he wanted to win, never lose) and said "nah, I'm good man, if you ever want to play for real I'm happy to do so."

I talked to his parents later and they admitted to letting him play his way and that it was having negative ramifications with friends as they didn't let his bullshit slide.

Sorry, long way around to get to the point that my thoughts, as you asked for them, are to gently, but with increasing firmness, get to the point that he's not being polite in those situations. The way we do it with our 5 year old (very smart, typical otherwise) is we ask "Are you being nice or mean when you say *thing that was just said*?" and, depending on her answer, we tweak our response to let her know that, in civil society, saying what she said wasn't proper or just right or acceptable at all. Consequences escalate if that doesn't have the desired impact in the moment/medium term. It's worked for us so far.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:56 AM on August 22 [55 favorites]

I feel like it's totally normal kid conversation to tell adults what you learned. And pretty cool that you're the adult they want to share their new knowledge with. They want you to show interest in them and encourage them to keep learning! So I would approach it from that perspective -- that yes, you are the adult in this scenario, and you can make all of these teachable moments where you bond with the kid. Like the kid wants to tell you about driving -- great, because that 11 year old will be driving in a few years. Listen to the kid's knowledge base, tell him where he's correct, and correct him where he's wrong so when he's ready to get behind the wheel, he's already solid on the theory.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:57 AM on August 22 [7 favorites]

Preface: I often tell people things as a way of confirming what I know. I love knowing things. My girlfriend teases me about being a "know-it-all", but I think she's realized that if I don't know something I'm really quick to admit it or ask about it. So yeah, I've been that kid especially as a younger "bright", "gifted", undiagnosed ADD child (so full of anxiety and thought I was incredibly lazy).

It's important to figure out why he's doing this. Does he just like knowing things like I do? Does he like engaging with people on a set of common facts? Both of those are true for me and intrinsic to who I am. Harmony comes from mutual understanding.

11 year olds are developing but they're still pretty savvy. Can you ask him why he keeps telling you a thing he must know you know like about the Avengers movies? To me, that sounds extremely ADD-ish because my brain speeds along like a truck and my ability to recall what happened in the moment is much smaller (the time we went and saw it together) whereas the excitement of a concrete fact (the plot of the Avengers movie).

It has to be a positive conversation because they sound like quite a bright child. I think you'll get a lot of answers here that assume he's doing it because he's vain and wants to show off instead of desperately trying to organize a very scattered brain.

Practical tip: redirect it to a hypothetical or new avenue of learning. What do you think the next avengers movie will be like? What do you know about self-driving cars? Do you think we'll have those soon or flying cars? Get him thinking and learning! That he engages with you to tell you things sounds really wonderful even if in this case it's annoying and a retread. He is trying to bond with you! He loves you! I bet framing it that way in your mind makes you feel better.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 6:58 AM on August 22 [16 favorites]

Don't think of it as mansplaining. It is not an ethical issue or a power issue. This is still very much a child who doesn't have great social skills who is trying to bond with you in the way he knows how. It's OK and in fact expected that you know more than he does, probably about pretty much everything, because you're the adult, and you don't have to push back on that just because he wants some affirmation or to share what he is excited about. You also don't have to feign interest when you're driving or he's being very repetitive. Kids (even non-neurotypical ones) do benefit eventually from realizing they don't get a whole lot of feedback when they're going on and on. If he asks why you're not more excited you can say "it's really interesting but I"m driving now sweetie." If you are the caretaker your main concern is helping him develop social skills and to develop conversation habits that won't marginalize him from his peers, as this kind of monologuing might. So if he can't learn easily to stop talking when you don't really engage that much (as would a more typical kid, learn from that kind of implicit message, perhaps - though not always) you can literally teach conversational rules like turn taking. But that's because you want to help him learn skills, not because he's "mansplaining" to an adult.
posted by nantucket at 6:59 AM on August 22 [24 favorites]

I might respond by just asking the child, "are you telling me this because you find it interesting and want to talk about it? Or are you telling me this because you think I don't know?" And if they respond by saying they think you don't know, you can just smile and say, "I do know a lot about driving."
posted by mai at 7:01 AM on August 22 [71 favorites]

I do try to turn these into discussions with an exchange of information.

I would keep trying this. There are various ways you can branch out, but the key is like you said, to connect with him in a way that makes this a conversation and not as one-sided. Some ideas: (a) this reminds me of something—did I ever tell you guys the story about grandpa and the cow? (b) oh, that movie was cool, right? Did you like X part, what did you like about Y part, I really loved Z part because... (c) where did you learn that? Tell me more about your friend Bob? Etc (d) did you know about Historical Figure / Similar Story? I bet you’d like that too! Let’s go to the library this weekend and check it out!

But I would also work on not begrudging this kid the desire to kidsplain a little. It helps some kids who are having trouble feeling special or feeling in control in their lives. Maybe it’s a sign he feels somewhat powerless in his classroom or in the family.
posted by sallybrown at 7:04 AM on August 22 [5 favorites]

How exciting!

I would test the waters to see if he either
- likes the feeling of knowing more things than other people
- likes the feeling of knowing things
- likes the feeling of discovering things

You can probe the first by asking things like “Oh that’s awesome! Did you know XYZ detail about this?” and see if he responds. If he doesn’t like it, then he might like the feeling of “being better”.

You could also ask questions as a fun challenge. Like: “Oh yeah! That’s so cool, right? Do you think it’s possible to drive on the other side on the road? What would that be like?” And see how he responds.

And you could also ask questions as a fun game. Like: “If they made a prequel X movie, what do you think would happen in it? Do you think it’s possible to make a car with three drivers in it? What would that be like?”
posted by many more sunsets at 7:24 AM on August 22 [5 favorites]

I agree you'd be doing the kid a disservice to not help him develop social skills at the right time. It's fine to discuss things. It's not fine to lecture people. Is age 11 the right time to start differentiating these styles? I'd say yes, based on the fact that you're already finding it annoying. You won't be the only one.

Is he smart enough to handle "you know, cool stuff like this, it's really fun to talk about it with people, but it's rude to assume others know less than you. I'm glad you want to chat about it with me but do keep in mind we're not in school, k?" ?
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:27 AM on August 22 [49 favorites]

You said you’ve only known the 11 year old for a year. Given that, I’m wondering if this just kid sorta bugs you sometimes? And you are trying to figure out why. I’m not sure it’s fair to compare the older kid’s approach to the younger kid you’ve always known. Is it possible the older kid is trying to bond with you by talking about things you might want to talk about?

I’m not sure of the situation here but I think it’s worth taking a step back and processing this dynamic. I would, if possible, talk to another adult who knows this kid. Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:13 AM on August 22 [7 favorites]

N+ on redirecting. I was this kid. And it certainly annoyed my peers by this age in ways I didn't understand at the time, which ultimately hurt me because my peers eventually were very unkind in teaching me the lesson.... Direct reminders like fingersandtoes suggested "it's really fun to talk about it with people, but it's rude to assume others know less than you." would have gone miles with me.

Not a parent, so I leave the actual execution advice to others.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 8:19 AM on August 22 [16 favorites]

Sometimes you can gently redirect by saying (humorously) "wait, first ask me if I've seen the Avengers!"
posted by trig at 8:25 AM on August 22 [10 favorites]

I think there are two issues here.

The first one is about stopping someone from telling you what you already know. Comments above have already covered most of the techniques, and I just wanted to add: Be nice. Be kind. Give this your most generous interpretation. This is an 11 year old boy trying to communicate with you, not a 50 year old man with social power and capital to mansplain to you. Do you really want to give this your most negative interpretation and shut down all conversation with the child, however poor it is?

The second is that I detect an underlying tone of irritation. I'm guessing the 11 y/o is not your child, while the 5 y/o is. Obviously, I don't have the full picture or know exactly your interaction between you and the 11 y/o, but if this post is reflective of your day-to-day interactions and your feelings towards them, then I feel sorry for the 11 y/o. You appear to be giving an generous interpretation to your 5 y/o, but a very negative interpretation to your 11y/o communications. As a parent myself, I'm only too aware of how annoying and self-absorbed toddlers can be, but my feelings towards mine are completely different: I think my toddler is the most super cute and adorable and the most wonderful child ever. All of his faults are rose-tinted by my overwhelming love for him. Do you think you are applying these same filters to your 5 y/o but not your 11 y/o?
posted by moiraine at 8:43 AM on August 22 [7 favorites]

I'm newly in a parenting position for a 12-year-old who does similar stuff (with bonus lying!) and I've noticed that it subsides when he's feeling good--well rested, hydrated, etc., but also like he's being seen and validated in other ways.

The know-it-all stuff is most obnoxious if he's feeling rough and/or has recently been disciplined at school. It's like a need to puff out his chest and be a tough guy who knows everything, and he's not lived enough life yet to know how ridiculous it seems to tell a 37-year-old that you can build a skate ramp from scraps and you also know the hardware store manager, who will give you supplies for free, and by the way you rode your bike downtown and hung out with some college kids this morning (he did not).

So we'll laugh if it's ridiculous enough, ask if this is a tall tale, and try to gently and bluntly put a damper on it. I, too, am concerned for how this could wind up down the road for him--socially, academically, professionally--if it continues on without anyone pushing back. And the rest of the time, we are obviously doing our best to make sure he feels validated and getting enough sleep and etc. etc. The big-picture key seems to be to help him meet his basic needs so that the kidsplaining doesn't appear in the first place.
posted by witchen at 8:55 AM on August 22 [7 favorites]

I was that 11 year old once.

Probably I bored the pants off quite a few adults. Some of them, subtly or not so subtly, let me know that they were bored. I didn't like them much.

I would have loved an adult to have taken sufficient interest in my conversation topics to engage & contribute & encourage & participate with me. Once they'd done that, they could probably have got away with a bit of gentle coaching on more sociable styles of communication, esp. if they did so by showing an example that I could learn to follow, rather than by telling me that I was doing it wrong.
posted by rd45 at 8:58 AM on August 22 [8 favorites]

"Interesting. Why do you think that is?"

"Interesting. Why do you think we stop at red lights?"
"Interesting. Why do you think Thanos wanted to do that?"
posted by Etrigan at 9:17 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]

The correct response when the 11 year old tells you something excitedly that you already know is something like an excited.

"I know right, isn't it amazing/interesting."

Then to ask them a questions. So what is your favorite part about the thing you just told me, mine is x. Oh your's is y, y is cool right? I like how x & y work together to do z. You don't have to act dumb to let someone else feel smart (unless they're 5). You can in fact encourage the 11 yo to talk about what they know in a talking to equals that both know a cool thing & are excited kind of way that will support them & encourage them to talk about what they know. You won't have to act dumb and they will learn to not assume the people they are talking to don't know things so win/win. It's also kind of fun seeing things you have known for ages and are a little jaded about through someone understanding it for the first times eyes and sharing that excitement with them.
posted by wwax at 9:26 AM on August 22 [14 favorites]

If you are all not neurotypical, you may all gain from working on the back and forth of conversations. Any one of you may have intense interests and struggle with the cues and practices that build a relationship out. It struck me as interesting that you felt that the conversation was not necessary if you already had the information. This is transactional, rather than relational. If you're interested in navigating and strengthening these relationships and conversations, it may help to learn more about other purposes for conversations or identify other ways that the conversation adds value, even if you already have the information. Learning about the back and forth, bonding behaviours, attachment building or other practices might help you feel like there's some direction to the conversation and help you with what's going on. It may not be that these kids are mansplaining or kidsplaining but that they have intense interests associated with their neurodiversity. There may be points where you can participate in building out their knowledge and interest and turn it into a shared experience. "Wow! That's interesting!" followed by a question may help. If they struggle with inference and perspective taking or self reflection, it may take some time to figure out which questions they can capably answer.

(And that doesn't mean there is anything wrong with how you communicate.)
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 9:27 AM on August 22 [8 favorites]

If you've only been parenting the 11 year old for a year, I wouldn't focus on what kind of a monster will he turn into as a 28 year old mansplainer. I'd just focus on your relationship and generally look to keep it strong. In my experience, a lot of 11 year old boys are feeling out how to communicate in "definitive, knowledgeable adult" style but...underneath their feelings and need to connect are still firmly in childhood. I think it would be a mistake to address just the top level without making sure that he is getting the warmth and connection that he deserves.

That said, if you're having a conversation where you really strongly feel that he's trying to 'win' or it's a power dynamic or he's really disrespecting you, then I would, in fact, very gently give that feedback: "interesting...hey Joe, I really like talking with you. Can I share something with you? Right now though I like you're not taking into consideration that I've been driving a long time. Are you telling me because you want to share, or is this something you think I don't know about?"

Then listen and take his honest answer as honest.

I would do this sparingly, because it's a big deal for a parent figure to put some of the onus of the relationship on the child. But that is part of the gradual transition to adulthood, so it's okay in very small bites. The reason to give it is both for his growth but also because it is something that is impacting on your relating...and he will learn about relating to others through the way the two of you relate.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:37 AM on August 22 [8 favorites]

I agree this is something to keep an eye on. Tangentially related, and speaking in binary terms - which the medical world does a lot - a show I was watching discussed the differences in gendered diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders (I'm not saying your kid isn't neurotypical, but stick with me.) They said many girls don't diagnosed until adulthood, where as boys are more easily diagnosed as children. The thought is that girls becoming better at mimicking social cues and "fitting in". Boys are often allowed (encouraged even!) to act out, get angry, make a fuss, etc. Most likely even as children, girls around age 11 have already absorbed the social message that girls shouldn't take up as much space and "no one likes a know-it-all" (Just look at Hermione's bullying in the Harry Potter books/series!)

That's not to say that girls SHOULD be ignoring people's interest in a topic and 'splaining either. But it's already annoying you and likely others. And I think people have some great ideas on how to try to get him socialized to sharing cool facts in a way of a conversation starter, not as if he knows all things and assumes others don't. I think it's also a good chance for turn-taking conversation. Like "I learned XYZ. What did you learn?"
posted by Crystalinne at 10:46 AM on August 22

Don't think of it as mansplaining. It is not an ethical issue or a power issue.

I disagree with this-- 11-13 is the age range where a lot of boys begin to mimic the individual performance of structural misogyny they see at play in the world-- in their families, in schools, in media, in public. I have seen boys this age go from treating women like people and mentors to treating women like servants and second class citizens.

I'm not saying that is what THIS boy is doing, but it is possible, and if it is rubbing you the wrong way, then it is worth pushing back. "You know, sometimes when you explain things I already know to me, that reminds me of other people who do that to be mean on purpose" is a fair and kind way to let them know their behavior is not universally acceptable.

(I recently read a study about middle school dating behaviors that found sixth grade is where emotionally and physically abusive dating behaviors begin to become extremely common, and the rates in 6th grade DOUBLE by 8th grade. Sixth grade! 11-12 is the age when kids are trying on adult personas, and picking which ones will stick.)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:58 AM on August 22 [25 favorites]

11 yr olds are adults-in-training. 11 yr olds need to know about sexism and how it operates in the world. 11 yr olds need to be encouraged to think and act in less sexist ways. However, 11 yr olds are not DIRECTLY oppressing adult women when they explain things. 11 yr olds are not DIRECTLY perpetrating sexism when they explain things to women.

Therefore, there is no reason to stop an 11 yr old from explaining things to you or to any adult woman. But! At some other unrelated time and in some unrelated context, it would be a fantastic idea for you to tell him about mansplaining as a concept, as something that happens out there in the world - not (and I cannot emphasize this hard enough) as something that he is guilty of, because HE ISN'T GUILTY OF IT.

I have an 11 yr old son. My overwhelming priority with him in his preteen years is to keep his trust, and keep the lines of communication open between us. I *want* this kid to continue talking to me about whatever moves him. I don't want to shut anything down unless it's outright harmful, hurtful speech. Further, disapproving of him explaining things to me would be developmentally inappropriate. His sense of "mentalization" - guessing the contents of other people's minds - is still unsophisticated. Consider the knowledge, abstraction ability, and mentalization needed for him to understand:

- how common his newfound knowledge is among peers or adults

- how likely it is, therefore, that the person whom he is speaking to already knows the thing

- how it makes someone else feel to have something explained to them that they already know

- how his enthusiasm for explaining conflicts with the feelings mentioned above

- how to judge the relative strengths of enthusiasm vs. others feeling condescended to; e.g. what if he's SUPER enthusiastic and it would make him VERY glad to spill his enthusiasm to an understanding adult? does that make it okay to cause a small feeling of being condescended to in the adult? is he allowed to trust this adult to contain and manage their own feelings of being condescended to in service of letting him have his moment?

You can't burden an 11 yr old with all of that! It would cause him to become inappropriately inhibited in his expressions of himself. The capacity for emotional and relational nuance most 11 yr old boys possess falls far short of this, and it's likely you will end up with a boy who simply feels shamed for being enthusiastic. (I mean, I know this is a huge generalization on my part because maybe there are kids out there who can perform these complicated relational weighings as a matter of course, but I haven't seen this capacity in my son or his male peers.)

So, assuming a background of lots and lots of conversations with this kid in other contexts about the idea of mansplaining and sexism in general,

- With a 13-14 yr old, I'd make a short redirecting remark like, "Yep, I've heard of that, very cool!"

- With a 16 yr old, I'd risk a little sarcasm like, "Kid, I'm old but not old enough to forget everything I know about _______."

- With a 20+ year old, I'd go the whole distance: eyeroll, or groan, or "Ya done mansplaining to your momma? Now go clean your room!", etc.
posted by MiraK at 11:59 AM on August 22 [7 favorites]

For me, it hinges on whether the kid is trying to excitedly share and start a conversation, though they may not have style/context cues down or whether they just want to lecture at me in a condescending way and dismiss any contributions I make to the conversation (which makes me wonder about which adults may be modeling this behavior to them).

Kids can feel empowered when they know a lot about something, especially if it's something an adult doesn't know. I try to acknowledge that they've done a lot of independent learning and also try to join the conversation with an aspect they they may not know about yet. But, in the case of a kid who wants to lecture only and do so in a way that's condescending, I think the response of, "hey yeah, I remember learning that xyz years ago and how excited I was to discover it - learning can be so fun" can help redirect.

I was a precocious kid and was so deeply thankful for adults who had respectful conversations with me and who actually took the time to listen and share and ask me deeper questions. I try to do the same for the kids in my life. I wouldn't start pushing back on a "mansplaining" dynamic until they're into their teens.
posted by quince at 12:28 PM on August 22 [5 favorites]

I mean, I know this is a huge generalization on my part because maybe there are kids out there who can perform these complicated relational weighings as a matter of course, but I haven't seen this capacity in my son or his male peers.

I remember the calculated and performative misogyny of 11 year old boys very well, from being an 11 year old girl who was often trapped with them, in places where they would always be believed and I would often be punished or reprimanded for their misbehavior.

I'm not saying that anyone should assume that is the case for an individual child, nor that a parent assume malicious motivations, nor that anyone delve into a 12-hour gender theory diatribe.

But to assume that this age is too young to push back on certain behaviors-- which are almost certain mimicry of adult behaviors-- is a pretty dangerous gambit, in my experience, as both a child then and an adult now. I bet there were adults in the lives of the boys I knew who assumed those boys were "too young" and "too innocent" to know what they were doing. Those adults were wrong.

(Did you know that sometimes when boys hurt or humiliate or even sexually harass you on purpose, yes, even in middle school, they boast about it later? Once they've gotten away with it? Right after they told a teacher or a Sunday School teacher or a parent that it was an accident?)

this seems to be a thing where he feels he's "winning" by telling me the thing and he feels he's "losing" if I show that I already know about it

aabbbiee, one thing that gets brought up a lot in discussions of gender and conversation is that in a general sense, girls and women are often trained to see it as collaboration, and boys and men are often trained to see it as competition. Do you think redirecting his desire to "win" the conversation into a more collaborative vein would help? Like emphasis on "isn't it fun to talk about different reactions to movies," and bringing up a friend who always sees movies in an unconventional way, or asking him what he thinks the next movie will be like, or asking him what he would do in a tricky driving situation. When my (also non-NT) brother used to get into the mode of "wanting to win" the conversation, I'd often veer into extremely weird or hypothetical categories, so he could have fun talking about the subject but get away from reciting facts as a power move.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:51 PM on August 22 [13 favorites]

The thing is, this kid is non neurotypical.
Plenty of non-neurotypical girls also explain things to people who don't need it in what sounds like a monologue, and it isn't easy for them to get the flow of reciprocity. They get plenty of hurt from peers and teachers. I don't think there is any harm in the caretaking adult in a child's life to assume that the non-typical kid -- boy or girl -- isn't rude or "too much"(fora girl) or mansplainy for a boy but rather still needs to learn gently how to participate in life.
I feel a lot for kids whose bubbling-over-explaining-nerd-ness gets read as rude, who are told to be quiet and are often suddenly jolted into feeling put down for it when they weren't really aware, because it's still hard for them. More socially sophisticated and socially intuitive kids also dominate things in more strategic and socially acceptable ways. Non neurotypical kids often have a big personality without leadership skills or social power and feel subtly rejected for a lot of their day.
Nothing bad can come of assuming the best of overtalkative eleven year old geekdom, and modeling kindness, and not assuming rudeness or privilege, can help boys become more empathic men.
posted by nantucket at 1:04 PM on August 22 [5 favorites]

THANK YOU for being willing to parent in a way that encourages the 11 year old to treat others respectfully. It is direly needed.

I'm a het female who has spent far too many dates across the table from a man talking and talking and TALKING about topics he's interested in without ever asking me a single question to find out what I know or letting me get a word in edgewise. I've spent far too many work days being steamrolled by male colleagues, interrupted, swept aside, and treated like the secretary rather than a knowledgeable IT pro.

I am amazed that some people think interacting with others by spewing lecturey monologues is fine at 11. Even if it's not motivated by sexism, it's rude. Just like you'd correct him if he picked a booger in front of you, he should be corrected here too.

I don't think there's any need to mention gender to him unless he only 'splains to females and not males, or unless you hear him express a sexist opinion. You already have your work cut out for you.

The key here is to convey that there is another human being involved in the conversation. He can and should think about the other human he's speaking to, and what their base of knowledge is. He can and should ask questions to assess what the other person knows, if he's unsure. He can and should leave pauses so that the other person can participate too. He can and should listen to what his conversational partner says, think about it, and perhaps react to it (thoughtfully!)

I wouldn't model behaviour that I don't want him to copy, so I wouldn't interrupt his monologues to correct him. I would bring it up afterwards after commenting on the topic itself, or as a separate conversation.

Tell him you don't like being talked to like that, and why.

Tell him that friends and family have back and forth conversations with each other, not monologues. If he's not neurotypical that may not be evident yet to him. If he wants friends, or even if he just wants an easier time socially, he should not lecture.

Depending on his personality, you may want to demonstrate him what it is like to be on the receiving end. Pick a topic he knows a lot about, and start lecturing him on it. He will protest. Point out that you're just doing the same thing he does.

Good luck!
posted by nirblegee at 2:34 PM on August 22 [10 favorites]

I honestly think it's great that he's trying to engage with you, even if he is doing so in a way that is socially unsophisticated, due to some combination of age, immaturity/non-neurotypicality, and gender modeling. I think you would do him a great service if you can make the most of his attempts as an opportunity to have conversations based on common ground, and to also start slipping in a discussion of better/more welcoming ways to open up conversations, such as giving him him some opening scripts that lead to dialog and not speachifying, like "did you know that..." or "I find it interesting that..." or "what do you think about...?"

I have a brother who is on the spectrum, and while he doesn't do so in a mansplainy way, when he comes to me for conversation on topics that I do have knowledge of, it's frankly a blessing! The alternative is listening to him go on and on about something I know nothing about. And you know his flavor of neuroatypicality better than any of us, but I would urge caution about any sort of sarcastic response, as many people on the spectrum struggle with interpreting sarcasm, and I imagine for an immature 11-yo that would be doubly so.
posted by drlith at 2:37 PM on August 22 [3 favorites]

I don't let my 6 year old lecture me (and yes, as is pretty common these days, neither of us is neurotypical), I have no idea why you should tolerate it from an 11-year-old. It's not cute or appropriate and it's quite fine for children to learn to read the body language of the person they're talking to and understand that they should try to determine the conversation partner's knowledge of a matter before prattling on. You can be funny and kind in your redirection but you should absolutely redirect.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:22 PM on August 22 [4 favorites]

I just explicitly say look, we have to practice some conversation skills because this isn't working and I'm the parent and I love you so I can handle this but it's going to suck for you at some point with other people. Then we go over explicit rules. It's like teaching Advanced Manners 301 course.

Most kids learn conversation skills implicitly, and some kids need them taught explicitly. Stuff like turn taking and look at the other person's face often to see if they're interested, ask them what their opinion is and consider their answer seriously and answer it, how to be polite and kind about someone's stupid opinion (very important skill) and how to exit a conversation that's boring, and so on. There are good pre-teen books on making friends and etiquette if he's someone who likes rules and directions. Even Dale Carnegie's Make Friends book is fairly benign. Just keep him away from the creepy neuropsych stuff.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:45 PM on August 22 [6 favorites]

I have an 11 year old who's gifted and very very chatty. I spend a ton of time talking with him about his interests, none of which interest me, but there are certain things that bug me and he's learned not to do them. I don't like it when he asks me questions not to get information but to quiz me; I don't like it when he talks continuously for hours upon hours without checking to see whether I'm engaged in the conversation; I like to have ten minutes when I first get up to just drink my tea and do my crossword before I start talking to people. Those are the rules for our conversations, and he might roll his eyes when I say something like "hang on, no D&D please! Haven't had enough caffeine yet!" but he gets it.

Every person in the house deserves respect and consideration. If a child is doing something that really bothers you, it's fine for you to tell them kindly that that particular thing is a problem for you. The two of you can talk about it and think of different ways for him to share the things he's excited to tell you, so that you can be excited to hear them too. It's fine to do this whether or not the kid's behavior is inherently hugely problematic -- you're a person too and your needs are valid in this relationship.
posted by gerstle at 2:17 AM on August 23 [6 favorites]

It is critical to instil in the mind of a young assigned male child the same lessons that are traditionally only given to young assigned female children and are ultimately responsible for building a better society: that it is better to be kind than to be smart. If you don't get these kids thinking about how to be kind, wise, and co-operative before they're thinking about how to be the smartest person in the room, they're going to grow up to obnoxious jerks.

Ask me how I know.

It took me almost 35 years to learn how to undo the lessons of my youth -- I was raised in a very smart, very academic, very intellectually competitive household, and it was vastly more important to be seen to be smart than to be kind. Reader, we were all assholes.

Teach kids that they need to use some empathy before waving their big brains around. It's great to be enthusiastic about knowledge, but if you can't be wise about what your conversational partner is interested in, and keep going on about it then you are a at best bore, and if you keep trying to bludgeon people with your best guesses and hot takes and smart aleckey responses, thinking every conversation is some kind of one-upsmanship contest, then you are going to drive people away in droves and will wonder why no one really likes you or wants you around.

Ask me how I know.

Friend, teach your kids that empathy, kindness, and respect for others is the most important skill they can have. Not being smart, not being right, not always having an answer to a question.

Thank you.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:53 AM on August 23 [8 favorites]

I deal with this by acknowledging the emotional need (acknowledgment, self-esteem) but refusing the status game. Something like "you know a lot about driving for an 11-year-old" works. If he argues with you that he knows a lot about driving for any age, say that you don't think so, and that people who drive a lot know more. Then go back to the emotional need by reassuring him and being affectionate and warm, but don't put yourself down or agree that he knows more or anything like that.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:22 AM on August 23 [3 favorites]

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