Raising Respectful Sons: Why Saying Boys Will Be Boys is a Problem by @CherryWoodburn



Saying “Boys Will Be Boys” is a cop-out.  An excuse for bad behavior. Do you believe this statement truly reflects the inherent nature of your sons?

If my, now, adult sons had behaved within the following, too often accepted, boundaries of boys-will-be-boys:

  • Selfish
  • Hormone driven
  • Lusting after girls
  • Feeling superior to girls
  • Irresponsible
  • Immature
  • Partiers
  • Trouble-makers
  • Rude
  • Aggressive
  • Predatory
  • Sexually aggressive or inappropriate with girls

…they would have learned that “mom will be mom” and been locked in their rooms for the rest of their lives. I expected decency, honesty, and a sense of gender equality from my sons. As a woman, I never wanted to be objectified so I certainly wasn’t going to accept that type of behavior in my sons.

Boys Learn What We Teach And Accept

When one of my sons was about 14, I discovered he and other boys in the neighborhood had been drinking alcohol and smoking pot. I wasn’t happy. Obviously he was underage for alcohol and pot was illegal no matter his age. I believed it was my responsibility to tell the parents of the other boys what had transpired. If my young teenage son became wasted and was using illegal substances, I would want to be told. I never expected the response I got: unconcern because “boys will be boys”.

One dad was angry with me for coming to his home with the information of drunkenness and pot smoking. Perhaps he thought I was blaming his son for what my son did. I don’t know. When he finally calmed down he proceeded to tell me how at picnics at their home his son and friends were allowed to drink shots and beer. The dad then relayed the boys “hysterically funny” drunken behavior.

No wonder some boys, who then grow into men, think drunken behavior, which can include bullying, teasing and harassing girls, is acceptable.

Teaching Respect For Girls And Women

There are many tales of older middle school boys asking and expecting younger middle school girls to give them oral sex. The girls they’re asking aren’t even their girlfriends. Apparently, the boys see oral sex as something that’s their due as hormonal, cool boys. Sadly, too many girls are complying, wanting to be accepted and liked.

The boys’ behavior is sometimes part of a competition, where boys compete to see who can get the most girls to give them oral sex or who can get the “farthest” with a girl and then points are awarded. Deborah Roffman, author of “Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense About Sexwas asked by a woman in a talk she gave “only half in jest: ‘Is it okay to instruct my daughters that when it comes to sex, teenage boy are animals?’”

Roffman responded “Do we stop to think how easily these kinds of remarks can become self-fulfilling prophecies, or permission-giving of the worst kind?” We have a lot to teach our sons if it’s believed to be OK to behave like animals when it comes to sex. And don’t think boys will necessarily outgrow this behavior and therefore you don’t have to confront it.

I was 19 years old when an older man rubbed his erect penis against me in the grocery store where we both worked. I was 26 years old and working at a Fortune 100 company when after a retirement party one of the men helped me on with my coat, while helping himself to feeling my breast. That’s just two of my sexual harassment stories.

Think about this: If I gave these same examples and changed the ages of the boys to teenagers and these incidents happened in the school hallway and the Friday night dance, would you make light of their behavior under the boys will be boys code? After all they can’t control their raging hormones, right?

This treatment of the opposite sex, at any age, is wrong. Patently wrong. Why does anyone make an excuse for this type of inappropriate behavior? If we really think boys/men are incapable of self-control and decency, it’s a sad commentary of the male of the species.

What Can We, As Parents, Do?

  1. Have high expectations for your sons’ behavior. Don’t let him slide on inconsiderate or bullying actions that others might dismiss as boys will be boys.
  2. Model behavior that is respectful of females, including no name-calling of girls with words like sluts or bitches. If you think a female your son knows is too loose with her sexual morals then talk with him about the standards that you think are appropriate sexually. Don’t just label the girl. Make it clear that you do not believe in a double standard for sexual behavior.
  3. Talk to your son about sex, which includes foreplay, vaginal, oral, and anal sex. You want to assure they understand oral sex is in fact having sex. Put the talk in context of respect, values and physical desires. Be willing to talk about unwelcome advances that you or friends experienced and that feelings (typically of anger and shame) that went along with it.
  4. Talk about the values you hold related to treatment of other people; that being mean, pushing, shoving, and/or ostracizing someone who is “different” is wrong. Period. No exceptions. It’s about respect for all human beings.
  5. Explain when a person keeps silent about another person’s mean behavior or laughs at jokes that are at another person’s expense they are being complicit in that negative behavior.
  6. Use TV shows and movies to talk about behavior that you disagree with. If your sons are laughing when they see a kid being picked on or degraded in a movie, let them know you don’t think it’s funny and explain why.

You may be uncomfortable with these talks but as parents, and our children’s moral compass, you often need to do the uncomfortable. Your willingness to be open, share and listen will make it easier for your children to come to you with questions.


About Author

Cherry Woodburn works in the field of personal development. She facilitates programs designed to open a world of possibilities for women through shifting negative paradigms and increasing confidence. Cherry blogs at http://borderlessthinking.com


  1. I have two boys and TOTALLY agree. They do not get away with “boys will be boys.” While there are some times we joke around about them being such boys, they also know that there are consequences for their actions (in fact, when they get in trouble, we ask them, “Actions have what?” to which they respond, “… consequences” through a grimace).

    Not that they haven’t ever done wrong or teased other kids or hit someone else – but when they have, we’ve talked about how that made them feel. Personalizing it has helped a lot, because their behavior does not continue in that vein. Are they perfect? Of course not. But they are pretty good little kids.

  2. Let’s get real. “Kids will be kids” is the problem here not boys will be boys. All kids make dumb mistakes, but singling out males only is an issue. What I really take issue with in this article is the following.

    “Sadly, too many girls are complying, wanting to be accepted and liked.” Get real. The girls likely want to engage in this behavior just as bad as boys. I’m not saying that it’s acceptable behavior (it isn’t), but placing the blame squarely at the feet of only one party is frankly sexist.

    If you really wanted your boys to be good people you would teach them to respect all people including other boys instead of parroting the ridiculous meme that all women are victims and all men are predators.

    I did enjoy your quip that “boys don’t necessarily outgrow this behavior” I know every day I have to wake up and suppress my urge to rape and sexually assault all the women around me. /sarcasm.

    I think you should unsubscribe from your ridiculous notions and instead embrace a more egalitarian view of the world. I just feel bad for your sons.

  3. One thing we teach our kids, girls and boy, is to “respect the no” no matter the form it takes. We start this at a young age. “No” includes, “stop,” “leave me alone,” “don’t do that,” etc. My son gets lots of practice “respecting the no” from his sisters who practice saying “no.” We hope we are raising children that understand boundaries. Time will tell.

  4. What a terrible awful way to talk about your male children. Anyone who frames the raising of boys in this manner is an irresponsible parent. Parenting is a difficult thing in an ever changing World, but there still a number of fundamental principles in play. Respect for your child, and his/her gender, taking primacy over any ideological leanings is one of those principles. Teaching your children to respect others will be more successful if you actually do so yourself.

    Children have a very keen sense of right and wrong. They are very clever at detecting when something does not fit with the other principles instilled in them. Have disrespect for who they are at their core will be remembered and affect your relationship with them. Especially if it is at odds with the way you treat their sisters.

    Children are not a pet, a hobby or an ideological project. They are to be loved and nurtured.

  5. The “boys will be boys” list is an insulting myth and stereotype about the ways in general boy behave or are actually allowed to behave. Most boys are actually fairly decent people whose parents have instilled fundamental principles in them. Boys, anymore than girls, are not default monsters who need to be redeemed through parenting.

    The semi-mythical boy is actually uncommon and used tell ourselves we are doing OK. I wouldn’t use his existence as a base for parenting.

  6. Cherry Woodburn on

    Interesting take on my post. I have written articles just directed at girls too and, in each case was singling out a focus area, not trying to point the finger at one gender or another as being the source of all problems.

    Five of the 6 things I suggest parents can do are related to what you suggest “teaching them to respect all people”, with only one of the points being directing specifically at females.

    So I respectfully agree to disagree with your interpretation of my article. Cherry

  7. Cherry Woodburn on

    Zimba Zumba,

    So true, children ought to be loved and nurtured. I’m not sure why it came across that I wasn’t promoting that. I think boys are wonderful. I love my sons madly. What I was taking issue with is when the expression/belief that “boys will be boys” is used to excuse bad behavior.

    In addition of loving my sons, I treated them and their friends with respect. As you point out, how we treat them will affect them. I also respectfully reprimanded them if they treated other people in a disrespectful manner and would not ignore bad behavior under the guise of boys will be boys. Nor would I ignore disrespectful behavior from girls. I hope this helps to clarify because I agree with your beliefs.

  8. Cherry Woodburn on

    Bravo to you Jennifer. Girls and boys need to “respect the no” as you say. Cherry

  9. Cherry Woodburn on

    I’m chuckling because I remember the grimace on my children’s face when they too were reminded that actions have consequences. Good kids is what we all want – none of them, and none of us are perfect. Cherry

  10. I am sure you are well intentioned however your words have a hint of the political prevailing wind. Your framing of this issue to your boys possibly leaves them with the impression they are the only ones who bear responsiblity here, despite your after the fact clarification. Your view might be changed when your deeply respectful boy gets his heart broken by a girl who has tossed him aside like a candy wrapper. Teenage girls can be heartless and nasty when it comes boys, and other girls for that matter. More general advice would have been in order imo.

    Boys get rejected a lot unless they are drop dead gorgeous, believe me I know about this. Your boys had better get used to being hurt repeatedly, it comes with the territory of being a boy. Your boys need confidence in them themselves and a thorough grounding in good solid principles to navigate the complexities of the teenage years and beyond.

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