From the minute my oldest son was born, the threats began…veiled and in a joking manner mind you, but offensive nonetheless. Friends of ours, fathers with baby girls, were so quick to “joke” about how we better keep our son away from their daughters. As time went on and we had 2 more boys, the comments were always the same, made in jest but not the least bit amusing to the parent of all boys. As a woman, a mother to 3 boys and a sister to 4 grown men, I honestly have to say I am frequently offended and disheartened by the way we treat young boys in our society. My plea to other parents, teachers, and everyone else out there is to stop stereotyping my sons.
We have become a society in which boys are not permitted to play rough, they are not allowed to be boys, and it is impermissible to play with toy guns, knives or weapons of any sort. Climbing, jumping and all-around rough-housing is totally off-limits and stifling the male sense of imagination is frequently the result. The fact that a stick automatically becomes a pretend sword is looked down upon. Rather than encouraging the child’s creativity by asking if the young boy is being a knight in shining armor or a king, we instead call him a host of other derogatory names and classify his behavior as inappropriate rather than normal child development.
Because of the bad behavior of some, our society has deemed it appropriate to turn our young boys into perpetrators for behaviors not the least bit sexual or aggressive. We consistently cast blame upon small (male) children who even dare to play with their female counterparts. As the mother of young boys, I am constantly in fear of what they will be blamed for or what behaviors will get them into trouble if they simply act like the rough and tumble boys they are.
My children are kind, much kinder than myself to be honest, and they are the first to offer assistance or help out a friend in need. They are also more than willing to befriend girls and allow them to join in their games as well, but this is where I become concerned.
I watch as they play tackle and other such games with their male friends, yet when a girl asks to play, I worry. Having been raised with 4 younger brothers and now raising all boys myself, I am very familiar with male behavior which includes constant rough-housing and physical contact. Things like tackling, wrestling and just all-around physical contact/play are necessary developmental milestones for most young boys and there is nothing sexual about this, however, I would never allow them to play this way with a girl. I cannot have them tackle a girl as they would their other friends and be deemed aggressive. I cannot have them accidentally touch a girl and be accused of some wrongdoing. I do not allow them to play co-ed sports and I have to engage them in conversations regarding young girls that are totally inappropriate for their age, yet it is my job to teach them and keep them safe.
It is unfortunate because my children are leaders in their classrooms and truthfully friends with many of the young girls in their groups, but I have to teach them to be careful at such a young age. I watch as the young girls want to play princess and kiss the “prince” or play house and hug the “dad”. My boys tell me how it’s gross and they don’t want to kiss a girl because those just aren’t their games or role models…princesses are looking for Prince Charming, the Power Rangers are not.
I assure you playing house or some other fairy-tale type make-believe game is not my child’s idea, yet the second that “kiss” happens I can guarantee you who gets in trouble. The concern over these childish games being blown out of proportion is real in this day and age. Between social media, gender stereotypes and the current shaming of our young men, I assure you this is a real and present problem.
I was truly upset the day I was informed that my oldest son could no longer come to his younger brothers pre-school to play on breaks because when he was there the 4/5-year-old girls kept chasing him, grabbing onto his clothes and trying to hug and kiss him. The director assured me he had done nothing wrong, but that she couldn’t risk having any problems. Unfortunately, I understood. My son had already told me that he spent the day sitting by a teacher because the girls would not leave him alone even when he asked them to stop…so why was my child, my young, innocent, 6-year-old boy being discriminated against because of these girls’ behavior? But unfortunately, that is the climate in our current society whether we want to believe it or not.
This school year, my son came home and told me a young girl in his 2nd grade class keeps asking him if he likes her. He said he told her yes, they were friends, but she keeps asking and he doesn’t understand what she means. Again, I unfortunately understand and think it is unfair that this young girl is making my son uncomfortable, yet I fear that if he makes one wrong move I will be the one to get a phone call.
As parents we need to realize this is not an over-reaction….this is not an exaggeration of how we are treating our young boys because I witness it every single day. Parents no longer look at 4-year-olds playing doctor as such, they consider it sexual assault and contact the authorities. Not only as a mother and a sister, but as a criminal attorney working with teenagers. I watch it play out across the spectrum from pre-school to college, this stereotyping of our young men is rampant and detrimental to their mental health. Our young men are being held to such high standards and subjected to so much pressure simply because of their gender, it is truly understandable when they literally break.
Parents of young boys must be seriously concerned as they grow into teenagers and young adult men. Our job is not only to teach them respect and responsibility when it comes to matters involving the opposite sex, but also to teach them to be so overly cautious that it is virtually impossible to allow them to maintain a normal teenage life. The sad part is because of the bad behavior of some, the stereotyping of young men and boys in general has been allowed to run rampant and turn every behavior into an over-aggressive or sexually inappropriate one.
As a female, a once-upon-a-time sorority sister, a lawyer, and a mother, my plea is that we simply stop casting blame and raise all of our children, male AND female, with the same standards and sense of responsibility for their bodies and their choices. Stop blaming boys, stop labeling girls, and realize that both sexes can be equally accountable for their behaviors. Let us raise our children to be kind to all, fair to all, and with an equal sense of right from wrong no matter their gender or sexual orientation.
Teaching Children about Responsibility and Right Choices begins with everyday lessons in Respect. Check out Raising Children with Respect: Teaching Respect Through Parenting for more tips on developing your child’s best attitude and personality.
Photo Credits: Kristin dePaula