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:
- Hormone driven
- Lusting after girls
- Feeling superior to girls
- 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 Sex” was 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.