picture courtesy of Trina Jones photographer
The recent Steubenville rape case and media event have chilled me. Not only did a young girls’ life change forever, but many other young peoples’ lives as well. When I hear about teen on teen violence, I also cringe because I know this is another chance for people to vilify boys. As a mom of boys, whenever I hear of these rape cases, I wonder “What can I teach my boys so they will not become this person?” I use the term boys intentionally because to me a 16 or 17 year old boy is just that and not a man. Maybe that is my 35 years talking, but no they are not men. I want to use this tragedy to show my boys how to handle themselves in life.
We need to do more than teach our sons. We need to show our sons, through the way we live our life, lessons to help them navigate the swirly, muddy waters of their teen years. Unfortunately you have to start before they are teens, otherwise it is so hard to build credibility. Its hard for ANYONE to build creditably with a teenager, harder still for a parent.
1: Love is so much more than sex. Love is holding hands walking down the street. Love is knowing your partner and how they take their coffee. Love is holding their hair when they are sick and putting up with their mood swings. Love is about always telling the truth, but knowing its okay. Love is about sometimes agreeing to disagree. Love is about rooting for someone, even if what they want isn’t necessarily what you want. Sex can wait until both partners are ready, boys and girls.
2: Respect. Respect yourself and respect your partner. Boys with their parents are awkward and shy and don’t really want to talk details with their dads, much less their mom! But, boys in the proverbial locker room tend to try and one-up each other in the “Id like to be a jerk for 200 Alex” category. Ever hear of the Salem Witch trials where mass hysteria caused people to all gather round pointing and accusing others as witches? Well, boys in the locker room or on the playing field or at a party can fall victim to the same symptom.
As soon as one boy starts talking about a girl with a nice set of ti*s and what he would like to do with them, boys are off to the races. You need to set the expectation early that this type of language is not okay. It only serves to degrade other people. Asking how would feel if they knew someone was talking about their mother/sister that way might help clarify this. Every girl they talk about is someones sister or someones daughter.
3: Sex. Teach your boys about sex. Teach your boys the difference between the good, the bad and the completely-ridiculous-never-gonna-happen. Boys are bombarded with sexual images on TV, Movies, and the Internet. Porn is more accessible than ever before. No longer do they have to skulk around trying to borrow their dads Playboy, but with internet access in their home, free WiFi at Starbucks and un-monitored usage of their smart phones, porn is available at the touch of a button. Porn is not reality. Boys need to learn that most of what they watch will likely never be a good idea in real life. Real-life sex is complicated enough without trying to overcome incorrect pre-conceived notions about what is a good idea.
4: Consent. This is really a combination of numbers 2 and 3 but because there are a million shades of yellow between the red and green lights, I think it deserves its own section. Most boys can’t take a hint. Parents, remember who you are dealing with. If your husband can’t take a hint on what to buy you for your anniversary, what makes you think you can teach his son to read body language and facial expressions to ‘get the idea’ when a girl is saying no without saying ‘no’? If we expect our boys to learn ‘No means No’, we need to teach our daughters to say ‘No’.
But we also need to teach our sons that ‘not right now’ or ‘Im not really in the mood’ also means ‘No’. Those shades of yellow between green and red is not are not a sign to keep asking or barraging or coercing. Teach your son rape doesn’t only happen in dark college hallways or parking lots by strangers using a knife. Rape is action without consent.
No one makes great decisions while they are drunk. Consent is a decision. No drinking and driving, no drinking and sex. Those should be standard rules to live by, especially as a teen! If a drunk girl says ‘yes’, but is too drunk to know she said ‘yes’, she is too drunk to give consent. If the boy is also drunk, and doesn’t realize how drunk the girl is, he is still going to jail.
**Please note I am NOT saying this is what happened in the Steubenville case. It is an illustrative point to show boys how serious the consequences of a stupid act can be. **
Legal consent. Make sure you teach your sons the age of legal consent in your state. It doesn’t matter if she is sober and consenting if the law says she isn’t of age. You will still go to jail.
5. Honor. Honor yourself, honor others. When all else fails, teach your son that at the end of the day, he has to look himself in the face when he shaves, eventually. If he doesn’t shave yet, he might comb his hair. Whatever the reason he looks at himself in the mirror, have him tell himself everyday. “I will have to live with the decisions I make today.” A boy becomes a man when he has honor. To teach this to your son, you need to role play. Present situations to him, so he can walk through it in his mind. You would never send him to school without studying for a test. Situations like this are when life is testing him to see what he is made of.
A boy who would have stood up and said “This isn’t right” or at the very least, stepped out and called his parents or the police to help the poor girl in Steubenville would have had some honor because he would have tried to help a person in crisis. He would have passed that test with flying colors.
The people who filmed the incident, posted it on the internet, talked about it over social media had no honor. One day, when they grow up and get life experience, I hope they will realize the grave error they made that day. They failed their test. Some of them got immunity and the ability to re-take that test, so to speak. Some failed so horribly, they went to jail. Deservedly so.
My boys are young and are hopefully years away from having a girlfriend or being presented with these kinds of problems. I hope I do not fail my boys in teaching these valuable life lessons.