How to Raise Boys Who Grow Up to Be Gentlemen
It’s so cute, isn’t it? When we find out that a friend is having a girl, we turn to the father and say – I bet all the boys will be coming around, you’ll have to chase ’em off!
And we hear a friend is going to raise boys, we say “Thank goodness! Raising boys is so much easier than raising girls (especially during the tween and teen years) – you’ll hardly have anything to worry about!”
This is how parents are failing our sons before they are even born. And wait until you hear why…
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Instead, it’s the parents of boys who have the responsibility to teach them how to respectfully treat women. Parents of boys do not get off easy.
Nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point, and one in four reported having been beaten by an intimate partner. One in six women have been stalked, according to the report. (cite)
Given that number, it’s clear that men grow up thinking that they are entitled to treat women this way. Spoiler alert: parents of boys: this train has left the track.
We Are Failing At Raising Boys Because We Are Afraid
Boy moms, you’re my people. I love us. Truly. But right now, I’ve come unhinged. We’ve lost our way. We are confused and we are afraid to raise our voices. In short, we are failing our sons and our daughters are paying the brutal price for our failure.
We’re afraid to raise our voices because, as women, we’ve been taught to be victims from the same young age that boys learned to victimize us. And we’ve learned well.
Fear of raising our own voices comes from normalization. Our society normalizes the mistreatment of women. Here’s an example of what I mean. I was watching television the other afternoon, this is what I saw:
Off screen, a male party guest grabbed a female party guest. Then the woman slapped him and called him a “Creep!” The man held his face where she slapped him and cooed “Oooooooh. Spunky! I like that!”
This was the animated children’s series “The Batman.” The man was Penguin, and the woman was a guest at Bruce Wayne’s party. My boys saw this and internalized it to some degree. And, no matter how vigilant I am, my boys see hundreds and thousands of these images growing up.
Virtual driving games at the arcade marked “appropriate for all ages” have scantily clad “virtual women” in bikinis wiggling and waving flags to start the race. The women “racers” wear bikini tops and stilettos and no helmets. The men are, of course, serious racers with appropriate bike riding attire and helmets.
It goes on and on and on. THAT, my friends, is normalization. Children see men behaving this way from such a young age, they believe it is the proper way to treat women.
There is nothing like having a boy. (Sorry girl moms, I have no experience with girls, so I’m crazy biased.) Boy moms have a special bond with each other and with our boys. Our sweet, loving boys are wild and crazy; they love us madly and drive us crazy all in the same minute.
Teach These 9 Powerful Things As We Raise Boys
But here’s what we aren’t talking about. Why do parents of girls have to teach them how to not get raped?
Let that sink in.
Why aren’t we doing a better job of teaching our boys not to rape? We are failing our sons by not teaching them. We are failing our sons by assuming they know how to treat women with respect. Normalization of sexism has decimated that assumption.
So, let’s start supporting and teaching our sons. Let’s do these things instead:
*Let’s stop teaching girls that little boys can push them, pull their hair, and tease them because they “like” them, and
*Let’s start teaching boys not to push girls, pull their hair, or tease them.
*Let’s stop teaching girls to ignore boys’ disrespectful words, and
*Let’s start teaching boys to stop calling girls bitches and ho’s.
*Let’s stop teaching girls how not to be raped, and
*Let’s start teaching boys not to rape.
*Let’s stop telling girls what they can and cannot wear, and
*Let’s start telling boys that even if a girl wears nothing it does not equal consent.
*Let’s stop telling girls that whatever happens is their fault if they have had too much to drink, and
*Let’s start telling boys that if a girl is drunk or passed out, he should HELP her – not rape her.
*Let’s stop teaching girls that they have to say “No!” and
*Let’s make sure boys understand that “No!” means no; and also
*Let’s start teaching boys that they must hear “Yes!” And hear it a lot.
*Let’s stop teaching girls that they shouldn’t lead boys on, and
*Let’s teach boys that girls are entitled to say no if things go too far.
*Let’s stop teaching boys that they should only play with toys that shoot, fight, or blow up, and
*Let’s teach boys that it’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy nurturing a doll or pretending to make dinner in a kitchen.
*Let’s stop saying “Boys will be boys,” and
*Let’s start saying “My boys will be boys who are kind, caring, and respectful. And that’s exactly how they should be.”
Parents of boys, it’s a simple as this cup of tea. Let’s talk about it with our boys. Now. Today. And many, many days after that. I’d rather explain this to my sons at every opportunity than not explain it often enough when there’s such a high price to pay.
So when we learn that our friend is pregnant with a girl, let’s bring that baby girl into the world where she believes in her worth. And when we hear that it’s a boy, let’s not assume that he is some sort of animal who can’t control is behavior so that girls need to be protected from him. Let’s teach our boys that their behavior is a choice – not animal instinct.
I am a firm believer in using ordinary every day experiences to start conversations that may feel uncomfortable. For tween and teen boys, some of the best conversations happen in the car. And for all kids, open, honest conversations start when they are relaxed and feeling connected to family. I have three words for you: family game night.
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PS – I’ve talked to soooo many parents who are not afraid of starting a conversation, but who are afraid of where the conversation might lead and what doors it may open. Here’s the thing – you want to open those doors! As parents, there are so many “firsts” that can be uncomfortable to handle. (Remember the blowout diaper, anyone?) And then they become mundane. These tough conversations are like that too!
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