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My first boss after graduating from college made extremely aggressive and inappropriate gestures and comments, as men often did a few decades ago. During this time – 20 or 30 years ago and earlier – the harassment and harm of women by men has been largely overlooked. If a woman complained, she was likely not believed.
We live in a new reality. It’s a grim reality that has not only been revealed but also dismantled thanks to #MeToo. As #MeToo showed us, women’s voices are gradually being heard and taken seriously. Employers are now more likely to take punitive action, often regardless of how much power the accused may have.
Women and many men understand the implications of #MeToo. But are boys – the key players in upholding equality for women and treating future generations fairly? As the movement continues to unfold, many parents wonder how to translate these topics for their children, especially their boys. Think of #MeToo as your entry point into discussing key issues about consent and respect with your sons.
The benefits of talking to younger boys
Long before boys are teenagers who could be involved in risky behaviors, before parents have to worry that their sons will act inappropriately with a young lady at a party or in a parked car, parents can teach important principles. You can create the conditions for your son to be considerate and respectful of girls and women.
If boys learn to adhere to women’s boundaries by default, and this is the standard from a young age, it can have a profound impact on adulthood. It is crucial to demonstrate this behavior to your children. Sons take in the need to respect women as worthy human beings if fathers are consistent. Your boys watch and learn; You pay attention even when you are convinced that it is not.
Since parents are the most influential role models for their children, we want to be aware of the signals and messages we send. Parents – especially fathers – uncles and other male role models close to the family can give the youngest boy permanent education.
6 Subtle Lessons For Younger Boys
1. Support what your wife or partner does, especially for you. Make an effort to praise or appreciate her not only for her role as a woman or mother, but also as an individual with unique gifts and ideas.
2. Be thoughtful. Help in ways that men traditionally do not have (dishes, linen, childcare). Share these hideous chores with your partner. Show your son that housework shouldn’t be a gender duty.
3. Within earshot of your children, excuse yourself if you do something inconvenient or rash (being late for dinner without calling or forgetting to stop at the grocery store or empty the dishwasher).
4. Be aware of how you interact with women – be kind and caring – and insist that your sons treat their sisters or female relatives. This includes that she never overstep her boundaries physically or emotionally, be it in her room without permission or negatively towards a boy she likes. This encourages the inherent respect for their space.
5. Call your son about mistreating a sister or making rude comment about a girl at school.
6. Avoid making abusive or derogatory comments on women you work with.
8 Direct, Concrete Lessons for Older Boys
As boys enter their teenage years, the issue needs to be addressed directly and specifically. Namely, this involves a conversation about what defines consensual sex. It’s a must, a difficult discussion.
Because it’s so difficult, it’s a good idea to plan ahead. Kids will roll their eyes and tell you they know, but the reality is that teenage boys are incredibly influenced by their peers and by the scenarios of the men, conquerors, and women who are often played on TV and in the movies. Here are certain points to discuss with your sons:
1. Do not be pressured into believing that friends are sexually active.
2. Be careful with alcohol and other drugs as they affect the ability to think clearly.
3. Don’t think that a “sexy” top and short shorts mean that a girl is okay with your sexual advances.
4. Just because she doesn’t ask you to stop doesn’t mean she’s okay with the intimacy. Make sure the young lady is comfortable by asking verbally.
5. NO means no – listen to it or notice if she hesitates. Does your body language communicate “Stop”? If so, stop right away.
6. Underline the role of boys. The trial of soccer players in Steubenville, OH who raped a drunk 16-year-old at a party showed the dire consequences – emotionally, socially and legally – of inappropriate behavior. We must stop confusing obsession with sports and hero worship for dignity.
7. Talk to your sons about the risks of sexting – whether they ask or a girl pressures them for nude photos.
8. Remind them of other possible consequences of their actions and behavior, besides the harm they cause others. For example, college admissions staff might well scroll through their Facebook page or Twitter feed.
Bad behavior has witnesses
With #MeToo, boys and men are more likely to be held accountable. Aside from instilling respect for women in your son, it’s important to remind them of the long-term consequences of harassment behavior (aside from the crippling, lifelong effects it can have on victims).
Almost every day there is an incident in the press or on television that shows the bad behavior of men reappearing and coming back to haunt them. Sexting ended Anthony Weiner’s promising New York political career and his marriage. Think: President Trump and the Access Hollywood tapes; Christine Blasey-Ford and Judge Kavanaugh hearings (related to a party she attended when she was 15): The Downfall of Very Successful and Powerful Men – Celebrities including Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, Senator Al Franken and Justin Fairfax Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. Many women are no longer afraid to talk about incidents that happened decades ago.
Parents need to emphasize that good behavior is not only a decent, caring person, but more than adequate – it is an investment in their future. With digital technology – social media, cell phone pictures, and myriad other tools for uncovering decades of information – boys need to understand that bad behavior has witnesses.
Fallout can be permanently and permanently harmful. This became evident in the trial of two soccer players in Steubenville, Ohio, who raped a 16-year-old at a party in 2013. The terrible event was recorded and published on the Internet, which had serious consequences for their behavior for the two athletes.
“What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” doesn’t apply to young people – or anyone else. With technology, it’s too easy to photograph or find “dirt” – something young men need to emphasize in their minds.
Boys of all ages who respect women and keep their boundaries can only happen when parents talk diligently about it, demonstrate, explain and explain acceptable protocols and behaviors when it comes to girls and women who are already in their lives and those who will cross their paths in the future.
Copyright @ 2019 by Susan Newman
Hero Worship: The double-edged sword of football