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No More Steubenvilles: How To Raise Boys to Be Kind Men

Society & Culture  (tags: activists, americans, children, crime, culture, dishonesty, education, ethics, family, freedoms, government, law, internet, media, police, politics, rights, safety, society, violence, women )

- 1916 days ago -
What can we do to help young men respect women, recognize consent, and have healthy sexual relationships? Teach them kindness to others--and the courage to go against the crowd.

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Kit B (276)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 11:01 am
Photo Credit: Common Dreams

When Max was just a few months old, I sat cross-legged on the floor with him in a circle of other mothers. The facilitator for our “Mommy and Me” playgroup would throw a question out to the group, and we would each volley back an answer.

“What quality do you want to instill in your child? What personality characteristic would you most like for your son to be known for?” she asked.

One by one, the mothers answered. “Athletic”, “Good sense of humor”, “Brave”, “Smart”, “Strong”.

The answers blended together until it was my turn to speak. I looked down at the tiny human wiggling around on the blanket in front of me, his perfectly round nose, his full lips that mirrored mine. I stroked the top of his very bald head, and said with confidence: “kind”.
I want my son to grow up to be kind.

The eyes of the other mothers turned toward me. “That’s not always a word that you hear used for boys” one said. “But yes, you’re right … so I guess, me too”. At the end of the day, we wanted our tiny, fragile, helpless baby boys to grow up to be kind. Strong, resilient, athletic, funny … but above all else, kind.

Max is almost 4 years old. He knows nothing about the horrific things that young men did to a young woman on the saddest night that Steubenville, Ohio, has ever seen. He doesn’t know, but I sure do. I know that someone’s daughter was violated in the most violent way possible, by someone’s son. By many sons. The blame for that night falls squarely on the shoulders of the young men who made terrible choices, but it also falls in the laps of their parents.

Sexual assault is about power and control. But it is also about so much more. While it’s true that big scary monster men sometimes jump out of bushes to rape unsuspecting women, most rapists look like the men we see every day. Acquaintance rape (or date rape) accounts for the majority of sexual assaults among young people: in colleges, in high schools, at parties, in the cars and bedrooms that belong to the men who women trust. These men are your fraternity brothers, your athletes, your church-going friends. They are somebody’s son.

Date rape is often saturated with entitlement. It feeds off of the hero worship that grows rampant like weeds on school campuses and in locker rooms. Young men are taught to be strong, to be athletes, to be feared. Young women are taught to be meek, to be feminine, to be small. As our young people begin to sort out relationships with each other and relationships with alcohol, they encounter an endless menu of ways to hurt each other.

As a community we give our athletes free reign. Young men are filled with the heavy power of triumph, their heroism illuminated by the bright lights of a brisk Friday night football game. Young cheerleaders spend hours painting signs for them, adorning hallways with flourescent notes of encouragement. Young men are known by their football number, their last touchdown pass, their ability to get any girl they choose. Young women fill the stands with hopeful smiles, dying to be noticed.

We have created this. We have allowed this. We choose not to demand more from our young men, because we see how big they grow in the spotlight. We give them adult power, without instilling in them an adult sense of responsibility and ethics.

It is time. Now is the time to make this stop. If you are the mother of a son, you can prevent the next Steubenville. It doesn’t matter if your boy is 4 or 14 or 24. Start now.
We must teach our boys to be kind.

A toddler can learn how to use words of kindness. It’s never too early to teach empathy, compassion, and awareness. “Friend, are you OK?” “I’m sorry friend, did you get a boo-boo?” Encourage tiny boys to be aware of how others are feeling. Name what they see. “Mommy is sad right now, honey. Our friend G is sick, and I want her to feel better”.

Give children tasks that they can do to help someone in need. Bake cookies to take to the local firehouse. Bring dinner to a mother on bedrest. Choose a toy to share with the new child that just joined your preschool class. Teach your child to go toward a child who is upset, instead of walking away.

When I picked Max up from school the other day, his teacher remarked on how “kind” he was. He checks in on other students. He runs to them when they get hurt. At first I was embarrassed … oh how my husband will tease me for instilling my “Social Worker” traits in our son. He must be brave and tough instead. But I am so proud that he is kind. That he is a helper. That he sees the emotions of those around him. Would he have hurt for the girl in Steubenville? Would he have felt her fear, and said something? Teach your sons to tune in, name emotions for them, give them words to match their feelings.
We must teach our boys what it truly means to be brave.

Bravery doesn’t always feel good. I’ve heard it said that “Courage is being afraid, and doing it anyway”. How many of those young men in Steubenville knew in their sweet boy hearts that what was happening was wrong, but still they remained silent? They were afraid to ruin their own hard-earned reputations, afraid of what their peers would think of them. They were afraid of getting in trouble, afraid they wouldn’t know what to say. Teach your boys that bravery can be terrifying. Courage can be demanded of you at the most inopportune times. Let them know that your expectation is that they are brave enough to rise to the occasion. And show them how.
We must not shy away from telling our sons the truth about sex.

Of course this looks different in a conversation with a 4 year old than it does with a 12-year-old. In our house, we are still working on giving body parts their appropriate names. Making family rules about how we always wear clothes when people come to visit (ok, my husband and I are good on that one, but Max keeps answering the door in his underwear).

As uncomfortable as it is, the conversation needs to evolve as your boy gets older. Sex feels good. Sex is overwhelming. Sex is confusing. Sex tricks you into thinking that you are receiving what you need (physical satisfaction, comfort, companionship, love, respect). Sex education is more than just giving your child condoms and reminding them about STDs. As parents, we need to worry about our sons being respectful of their sexual partners, not just about them getting someone pregnant. Our boys need to know that they will find themselves at a crossroads one night, or on multiple nights. Their body will be telling them one thing, and their partner may be telling them another. It is a young man’s responsibility to listen to his partner. Explain to your son what consent looks like (and doesn’t look like). They need to know what sex looks like. Not the Playboy magazine/online porn version, but the logistics of how it actually works. Teach them to ask their partners. Teach them to check in as they take the next step with someone. Teach them to stop if they don’t think they’re getting a clear answer.
We must give our sons the tools they need to protect themselves, and each other.

Can your teenager call you in the middle of the night, no questions asked? Can they tell you the truth, without you flipping out and getting angry? Do they trust that you are on their team, that you will sit down and talk things through with them, making a calm plan together? Role-play with your son about how to find help, who to go to for help, what numbers to call. An embarrassed, terrified bystander in Steubenville could have quietly snuck outside to call the police for help, or to text an anonymous tip, or call a parent or older sibling for advice.

Instead, at least a dozen sons were paralyzed by fear. And intoxicated. And probably overwhelmed by the sexual feelings of their own that they were experiencing … feelings that they were never given the context for.

Give your son the tools they need to understand that sexuality is a powerful thing, one that they are solely responsible for. Give them a framework for understanding that sex carries an enormous responsibility—not just to themselves, but to their partners. Does your son know what rape is? Does he know what it means? Does he know that it’s not just creepy smelly guys who hide in alleys who are responsible for rape? That it’s his peers? Discuss the ways that a woman can give consent. Pull the curtains back on the grey areas, and demand that your son learns how to protect himself and his partner.

When I found out that I was having a son, I was relieved at first. I thought I had dodged a bullet by not having a daughter whom I would have to protect from the big, scary, violent world that is still so unkind to women. This will be so much easier, I thought. But it’s not.

It’s harder.

I am now pregnant with my second son. As a feminist and a mother, a survivor and an activist, a human and a writer, I have discovered that my job in preventing sexual assault is even bigger than it would be if I had a daughter. Because every rapist is someone’s son. We have the chance to fix that, one little boy at a time.

by Kim Simon | Common Dreams |

. (0)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 11:03 am
Our school has for years acknowledged students (grK-2) for their random acts of kindness,

Bryna Pizzo (139)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 11:03 am
The only way to stop violence against women is to teach boys to respect women, and this article sheds light on the means to that end. Thank you Kit! Gratefully noted, posted, and tweeted!

Arielle S (313)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 11:15 am
Kindness is severely under-rated. I fell in love with my husband because of a kind deed he did -

Kit B (276)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 11:23 am

From my own point of view, we are missing a key element in understanding rape, or any form of "forbidden fruit" and yes I did use that phrase intentionally. We all humans, all males and females are born (with few medical exceptions) with the same working parts. We can make a clear choice, about how we teach our children about their bodies. Though like every thing we teach, it must be age-appropriate. Parents have no fear of telling their child what to do, what is lacking all to often is the why. The why must be appropriate to each age, of course but if we miss this part, the reasoning behind why we do or do not perform certain tasks, they will in time ignore the lesson. Part of teaching the safety issues of life, we should teach about our bodies. Wear those bodies with pride and some clothing in public.

Teach children why we take a bath, brush our teeth, wash our hands before eating and using the toilet. Teach them the truth, their bodies are their most important possession. We don not want to see broken legs, or even the sniffles, but we rarely bother to explain why the child needs the medicine for an infection - just do it. No one has the same curious mind as when they were children. Explanations need not be detailed for younger children, but they want for you, their parent to just them some answers. As they progress in age, they can learn more about their bodies, and how to protect themselves. They must not be taught shame about their own bodies.

This sense of shame is often what prevents girls and women from reporting rape.

Young people need to also be taught respect, of their own bodies and others bodies. When a boy learns to be kind, he also learns appreciation and understanding. There is nothing "manly" about rape. It does however, have deep roots in how our society reacts to rape, discusses rape, and whether or not young men understand their own internal urges, and have learned that there is never an excuse to release those urges on another person. Neither men nor woman have a right to hit, beat or impose their will on another person, that must be taught, it must be taught by words and by example.

Every rapist is someone's son, and every victim is someone's daughter. We as a society can stop this contagion of thought that leads to young men feeling entitled to rape. It lies in our words and our deeds.

Kit B (276)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 11:48 am

Random acts of kindness are wonderful and should be acknowledged and praised. Honest, direct and real health classes, in high school those that directly teach that rape is not a sport, not entertainment but a crime.

When many of us were young girls we were taught that now that you are 10, you can expect the "Curse". We had no idea what that meant. How could we?

If menses is taught as a curse are young women too expect that even rape is a part of that curse?

Hazel G (27)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 12:51 pm
Brilliant article. Solving this problem starts at home - parents should play the number one role in teaching their boys to be both respectful to women, and kind in general.

Kelly R (303)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 12:54 pm
Actually, that is sort of a misnomer. Rape is ALL about POWER AND CONTROL mixed with some misogyny. Teaching boys is fine, it really isn't those boys/men that rape anyway. I think when society learns it is not about sex, it is about POWER AND CONTROL with TONS of hatred we will be making progress. We need men like the story talks about to help the MEN and women that are raped everyday.

Kelly R (303)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 1:04 pm
No rape is ABOUT POWER AND CONTROL AND MISOGYNY AND HATE, PERIOD. No, other reasons for it. Oh, I forgot porn. Porn is a huge thing with rape. It teaches that girls are ONLY BODY PARTS, not flesh and blood. Why do you think most if not all rape kits have porn in them. Talk to a cop that works special crimes they will tell you the truth about rape. I am glad mothers are teaching their sons to be gentlemen the world needs more of them.

JL A (281)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 2:21 pm
One model of parenting that can make a difference one child at a time.

Laurie H (817)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 3:07 pm
RESPECT, RESPECT, RESPECT, We need to get back down to the tried & true "Old Fashioned Values." Things seem to have gravitated in the wrong directions, as time has gone by. Kit, you hit the nail on the head in saying, "Wear those bodies with some clothes in public." Behave respectfully and it will be returned. Parents need to rise to the challenge from the beginning. I believe that we should treat others as we wish to be treated. Thanks again Kit=Very enjoyable discussion!~~~

Alice C (1797)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 3:12 pm
My son is a kind man ~ I wish I could say the same for his father

Virgene L (52)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 4:03 pm
Well said. I might add that the "Golden Rule" always works as do the Ten Commandments!

Gene J (290)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 4:09 pm
It isn't a child that needs be changed. It is the world. Yes, each individual act is individually perpetrated but the world we live in perpetuates this most horrid crime. Women and girls are so devalued, everywhere including here in the west, that this is a global crime. We are an uncivilized world. A civilized world is one in which no one will have anything that comes at a cost to another. Anything. The very idea is unthinkable. We aren't teaching that anywhere on this planet. We aren't living that anywhere and we aren't even close. This needs a massive change in the global consciousness and that happens over millennia, not decades. This should be taught in every school, in every country of the world. Interpersonal violence is ALWAYS wrong. But who is going to teach that? Who is going to set that moral example? There isn't a country on earth now that can, that will, that will even try. Not one. So what does that say about our species? It says we are animals and we are not yet evolved and we prove that every day all over this planet. Change comes slowly and THIS change should be so self-evident that it is one we should all be clamoring for. But we aren't, not even all women as evidenced in the article recognize this as not just a "male" problem but one involving both genders and beginning at birth. Teach love, not hate, in every circumstance - is that happening all over? No, it is not. There are women teaching their sons to be monsters because no one here seems to know better. This has never been true of this planet, not in our past and it isn't going to be in our near future either, though I certainly wish it was. But as I look around, as I read the news, hear the words, see the actions, what I don't see is the kind of change needed as being sought, anywhere. We are still about dominating each other country to country person to person. Until that changes, smaller changes will not happen either. I wish it were different, it should be different and I don't know if every sentient species has to go through what ours is, but earth, as an experiment, is a bloody mess. And a very long way from civilized.

Lois Jordan (63)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 4:31 pm
Noted...thank you for posting this excellent article, Kit.
Wonderful comment from Gene J., to which I can only add that a little bit of kindness goes a long way. The best way to teach our kids/grandkids is through example. When they see that we are kind with them, and in the way we teach them, the impact is lasting.

Sunday March 24, 2013, 4:34 pm
read and noted on 3-24-13 the norm here in the united states seems to be all about control and power as parents we need to guide and talk about these things so that we can get a handle on this issue and also it would be a great idea if our school systems would offer a class on this too to better educate everyone we all need to be kind to each other no matter at what expense there is no need for this kind of behavior from either sexes male or female.

Past Member (0)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 5:09 pm
Thanks for this article.

Sharon W. (4)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 5:28 pm
Such a great article! Finally more and more people realize that it´s more important to teach "how not to rape" instead of "how not to get raped".

Rose Becke (141)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 5:37 pm
Brilliant Kit

Ness F (211)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 5:55 pm
Ironic I just read this article Kit after watching the first part of the Doco: Half The Sky.
I have a respectful and naturally kind hearted teenage son...he was taught at an early age , especially with a younger sister, and many women in our to respect others and "think ahead how your actions could affect someone else" in other words...treat others the way YOU wish to be treated.
Thankfully he also has common sense!!
It does start in the home, and it's also their personality ...nurture it and continue to reiterate how kindness is FREE yet you never know how your simple act of kindness could affect the person/s you're helping.
As others have stated..rape is about dominance, power, control, is universal, Gene J, well said!


Angelika R (143)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 6:54 pm
An outstanding and brilliant article, for sure! One truly deserving of the source named common dreams, that's what that is. And it is we, the world's society to make that common dream come true. A world of Maxes, yes, and those Maxes will also avoid future husbands prefering tough and brave sons or teasing their wives for "instilling “Social Worker” traits in their sons". The problem at these current times is that there are too few parents able to guide their kids this way, partly because they never had that education themselves, so it will take time. Thank you Kit, excellent!

DaleLovesOttawa O (198)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 8:40 pm
Certainly respect for others needs to be taught, not a culture of entitlement that teaches boys that women are somehow less than they. The popular culture, advertising often depict women as objects and then one wonders why boys and men treat women with a lack of respect. Some seem to think that 'ruining the careers' and futures of football players is more a crime than a rape itself.

Past Member (0)
Sunday March 24, 2013, 10:31 pm
Men have to help young boys know what respect is Cheers Kit

Susanne R (235)
Monday March 25, 2013, 12:30 am
Great article, Kit! Thank you for posting it. When my daughter was younger, some of her friends were cheerleaders. I asked her if she was interested in cheerleading, and she said she wasn't because some of the "jocks" behaved like jerks. I was so proud of her. Why should girls jump around in skimpy outfits shaking their butts and cheering for male athletes when the male athletes don't show the same level of support for girls' sports? Think about it. Is something wrong with this picture?

Susan L (150)
Monday March 25, 2013, 1:18 am
Great article, Kit. This is full of common sense thoughts and observations. How simple an idea, yet not one the other mothers came up with. It just didn't come so quickly as the other things we think we'd like out sons to be, yet, they all seemed to agree that Yes, they want their son to be kind. This would be an ideal article to include with "new parent" handouts when they take their baby home. It should also include an appropriate article for their new baby 'girl'.

Gene, you are so incredibly right. " A civilized world is one in which no one will have anything that comes at a cost to another. Anything. The very idea is unthinkable." That is one amazing thought said very eloquently! (at least 'I' think so) All the things that one statement could include proves just how true that is.

Susanne, your daughter is a pretty smart cookie, must have been raised right. I wonder how many girls growing up in "our times" of youth would have ever recognized the simple connection...

Naoko i (264)
Monday March 25, 2013, 2:04 am
We must teach our children (both our own and the ones we know, the ones in our communities), both daughters and sons, to respect otthers - all fellow humans (and animals) regardless of age and gender.
I am glad that my parents taught me girls were no less than boys, and that was not a norm of the days when I was a kid. And my mother talked me about mense and other female things in rational explanations. So I didn't come to be ashamed of being a woman.
Now I'm glad, too, that I have a son who is gentle and kind.

S S (0)
Monday March 25, 2013, 3:58 am
Thank you.

Tammy B (9)
Monday March 25, 2013, 6:29 am
wonderful article.

Faye Swan (23)
Monday March 25, 2013, 10:57 am
Noted & shared! Thank you!

Anna Undebeck (256)
Monday March 25, 2013, 11:04 am
Thank you very much!!! Shared!

Sue Matheson (79)
Monday March 25, 2013, 12:15 pm

Nimue Michelle Pendragon Gaze (339)
Monday March 25, 2013, 2:42 pm
Great article. We who are mothers of sons have a great responsibility to teach our boys how to behave, it's the only way. Noted, thanks.

Birgit W (160)
Monday March 25, 2013, 3:49 pm
Very good article! Thank you very much Kim Simon. If everybody would be aware how important it is to bring up our boys as kind and sensitive human beings, the world would be a better place.

Christeen A (371)
Monday March 25, 2013, 4:26 pm
Great article. There's nothing better than a kind man.

Yvonne Taylor (37)
Tuesday March 26, 2013, 11:28 am
This article made me say, yes, I am proud of my two sons :) Something I might add is that it all starts in kindergarten, an area for the boys to play with cars and "manly" play toys, and another area for the girls with dolls and a kitchen.....yep, put them all in their "place" right off the bat in kindergarten.

Bruno Moreira (61)
Tuesday March 26, 2013, 4:45 pm
noted thanks

Winnie A (179)
Wednesday March 27, 2013, 12:06 pm
Thanks for the article.

Alice Maldonado (45)
Saturday April 13, 2013, 2:59 pm
Thank you.
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