Big boys can be bad

I was happy that my son was mixing with older boys, until I realised older boys can be really cheeky and teach the wrong things

When my son Ciaran was younger, let's say two years old, I always enjoyed it when he socialised with older kids.

It was satisfying to see him run around and keep up with boys twice his age and it was nice, feeling that he was undoubtedly "learning" from his seniors - whether it was vocabulary, good manners or just improved motor skills from jumping or throwing a ball.

But as he grew older and he became more vocal, I realised that older kids are not always nurturing and responsible role models. Often, bigger boys teach bad things.

Ciaran had started taking the school bus, so for the first time, he was spending up to an hour of his day in close proximity to older students without much adult supervision - save for the perpetually smiling but largely ineffective Bus Auntie.

Soon he was picking up the kind of gestures I thought I would see only several years from now.

Swear words were mentioned. Thankfully, the words, so far, have been on the lower end of the Burning Ears Scale. I am constantly fearful of the day the F-bomb reaches home and I have to defuse it before it is released in public.

I am sure older peers can pass along positive values like maturity and empathy, but I'm afraid that right now, I am only noticing the unsavoury lessons.

One day, with a cheeky grin on his face, he directed me to look down at his hand. He was holding up one finger and unfortunately it was not an approving "thumbs up".

And from his coy demeanour, I could tell that he knew flipping the bird was a rude gesture to make.

How do other parents deal with this? I clumsily said something about how some things are only for adults to do, not kids - such as swearing, showing the middle finger and drinking beer.

He then reminded me that his mother had once let him try a sip of beer, thus torpedoing my entire argument.

Then one day he came home from the bus gleefully singing the Ed Sheeran smash hit, Shape Of You: "Oh-I-Oh-I-Oh-I-Oh-I… I'm in love with your butt cheeks."

In case you are unfamiliar with the pop song, I can assure you those are not the official lyrics.

I am sure older peers can pass along positive values such as maturity and empathy, but I'm afraid that right now, I am noticing only the unsavoury lessons.

Even more alarming is my friend's story of how an older kid at the condo playground was Googling the word "sexy" on an iPad, surfed on to the kind of videos that every parent fears most and showed it to all the younger ones.

Of course, the widespread presence of technology today makes stumbling on distasteful content almost unavoidable.

Life was much more innocent in my day. I can remember that when I was in primary school, the extent of our raunchy exploration was a group of boys giggling at the word sex in the dictionary.

As parents, we will struggle to try our best to monitor the words that enter our children's ears and come out of their mouths, but bigger boys are always going to be around.

Let's just hope Ed Sheeran's next album is fully instrumental.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 21, 2018, with the headline 'Big boys can be bad'. Print Edition | Subscribe