I'd love some advice on how to work through a situation.

I'm a stepmum to three boys, I've been with their dad for 8 years and we live near their mum. The kids all stay with us a couple of nights a week. Generally we're all on good terms and they go to the local state schools here in north London. We're a white family - this is relevant.

The middle child is 11 and a very smart little guy with a strong desire to perform and make others laugh - he's a fan of rude comedy and so on.

Recently I've become worried about racist language from the middle child. It is horrible. It is 'semi accidental' but I'll try to explain what I mean by that. As a couple of recent examples, he recently was complaining to me about a supply teacher that he had who is Spanish, and he objected to her doing reading practice with him because she 'can't even speak English'. He's started using racist terminology about South Asian people as a 'joke' with his mates - he has a basic mobile phone and you can hear it in his conversations with them. They are all white kids and 'jokingly' call each other racist words for South Asian people that you would be familiar with if you grew up in 80s England.

When I pulled him up on this his defence (which I did not accept) was that he was joking about with his pals and he didn't hate South Asian people - this is what I mean by 'semi accidental'. I don't think he believes he is being racist. I made the point to him that racist people use racist language and that language matters.

We've tried a number of approaches including removing privileges including phone and TV, and we've tried having discussions and working things out that way. We're being utterly useless. Neither of his brothers (14 and 9) do anything similar and both are outspoken about how they hate his language.

I'd really welcome some advice on how to address this. 

Hi, I understand that this is a difficult and troubling situation. As I'm sure you understand, whether or not he's joking does not matter, how he means it doesn't matter, it's still racist. Slurs are not jokes, no matter how they're said or what context they're in, they're harmful and using them in one sense desensitises the user to the language. It's one of the ways that children are being radicalised toward bigotry. The best way to change someone's bigoted behaviour is to let them know that you find it unacceptable and that it changes your view of them. Be consistent and stick to your guns, these sorts of things take time to change. You may find it helpful to read our articles on teenage behaviour. If you feel you need further support please e-mail us at or call our freephone helpline on 0808 800 2222.