Talking to Our Teenage Boys About #MeToo
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What Solo Moms need to know before starting the conversation
My biggest goal with my children has always been to be open with them about how the world works because as I was growing up, especially when I was a teenager, I often felt unprepared for the situations I found myself in. Talking with my teenage son recently, I realized he was seeing the hashtag #MeToo on social media and that I owed it to every girl and woman out there to talk to him about what it all means.
Why should we talk to our teenagers about this?
These days, many teenagers “live” on social media and are online practically 24/7. My son has his own YouTube channel, and I tease him about how his cell phone has become an extension of his body. #MeToo may be an adult topic, but our teenagers are exposed to and taking it in online. A huge part of the conversation has been about many of us experiencing harassment or abuse in our childhood or teenage years, sometimes even at the hands of our peers, and how so many of us are treating it as acceptable and normal behavior. And while we must teach teenage girls their worth and empower them to no longer accept such behavior from their male peers, we also need to teach our young boys how to treat females with respect and kindness, and to stand up against sexual harassment and abuse in all forms, such as “locker room talk.”
Furthermore, considering 63,000 children a year are victims of sexual abuse, and that sexual abuse is often underreported, it is vital to talk to our children at an age-appropriate level. Even worse, in 88% of substantiated sexual-abuse claims, the perpetrator is male. Before #MeToo and learning about these statistics, I hadn’t even thought of talking to my teenage son about the way he should be treating girls and women—and I can’t be the only parent out there.
What do we even say?
How parents choose to address this topic with their teenage sons will vary, but it is important to include the following key points:
Obtain consent, even for trivial matters. We need to teach our young men that when a woman says no, she means no, and she shouldn’t have to say it more than once. Today it may be a request for a pencil or candy, but down the line, it could be sexual contact, and no girl should feel the only way to make someone go away is to comply.
There is a difference between giving a compliment and harassment. Employing catcalls or describing how great a girl’s butt or breasts look in whatever she’s wearing crosses the line, and boys need to be aware that saying those things to girls is not OK—ever. I tell my son that if he wants to compliment his girlfriend, he needs to use appropriate words, such as pretty, beautiful, or gorgeous.
How you treat a woman can affect how she views herself and how she allows people to treat her in adulthood. We live in a society that degrades and objectifies girls and women every day. What if we, as Solo Moms, taught our boys not to use language that objectifies, degrades, or otherwise offends women? What if we taught them to be active bystanders and speak up when their peers are treating a girl with disrespect or engaging in “locker room talk?” How different would our world be if we taught our children not to blame the victim? What if we taught them that statistically only about 2% to 8% of rapists are falsely accused and they should believe their peers when they speak out to get help?
Group dynamics and peer pressure will be a factor. It is our job to prepare our boys for the day they will have to speak out among their peers and do what’s not popular. Teach them that group dynamics and peer pressure often escalate an already tense situation, making it even more imperative for them to step up and do the right thing.
As Solo Moms, we need to remember that our children are our future. The example we set for them and the ethics and morals we pass down to them shape not only their futures but also those of the people around them. We must model healthy, loving relationships for our children so they can see how through our actions how women should be treated and how to react when someone they care about isn’t treated well. Furthermore, if you are in an abusive relationship, it is vital that you get help as soon as possible, as boys often display the same abuse they witness as children, and our girls learn through that example that it’s OK to be abused.
Talking with our boys about being respectful to all women can go a long way toward reducing the number of girls and women who experience abuse.
Tara Glenn is a Solo Mom of four who currently resides in Pensacola, Florida. She has a background in public affairs, writing, and photography. Tara spent five years in the Navy and now volunteers with the Civil Air Patrol as a public affairs officer. She enjoys working with small businesses as a ghostwriter as well as encouraging her children’s love for aviation in her free time—the running joke being that she only creates pilots, as all of her children love to fly!
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