Steubenville rape trial: How can I raise my boy not to rape, nor be a bystander?
The Steubenville rape trial ended Sunday with two guilty perpetrators, but that's not the whole story. Many other boys stood by, doing nothing. How can we teach our boys that the latter is also shameful?
(Page 2 of 2)
With a culture that has such a messed up attitude towards rape that even the judge and CNN are making major missteps, how do we answer the question posed earlier? How do we raise our boys into young men who will neither rape nor be casual bystanders to rape — who understand both that “no means no” and, more importantly, that consent requires an enthusiastic “yes”?Skip to next paragraph
Rebecca Hains, Ph.D. is a children's media culture expert. A professor of advertising and media studies at Salem State University, in Salem, Mass., her research focuses on girls and media. The author of "Growing Up With Girl Power: Girlhood on Screen and in Everyday Life," she blogs about children's media and popular cultur and lives with her husband and son in Peabody, Mass.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The answer is to begin teaching boys about two concepts — consent and respect — from an early age, in age-appropriate ways.
For example, my four-year-old son loves to hug and kiss his friends. He is sweet and affectionate, and when he first sees a friend or when it’s time to say goodbye, he wants nothing more but to wrap his arms around that friend and give him or her a big kiss.
Sometimes, his friends reciprocate, but sometimes, they clearly don’t want the physical contact. So, since about the time when he turned four-years-old, and he seemed old enough to understand, we’ve told him that he needs to ask his friends for permission first. We taught him to ask, “Can I give you a hug and a kiss?” We’ve also told him he needs to respect their answers, even if it’s disappointing, and I’m glad to see that this is now his usual approach. He gets their consent.
Then, there’s the matter of respect. When my son was three-and-a-half, he became interested in wearing nail polish on his toenails and fingernails after seeing me get a summertime mani-pedi. I agreed to paint his nails, but before sending him off to preschool, I prepared him for the possibility of pushback from his friends or even his teachers. “Some people at school might not like your nails,” I warned him. “But you like them, right?”
Admiring his shiny blue nail polish, he told me, “I really do!”
“So,” I coached him, “if anybody says they don’t like your fingernails, you tell them: ‘It’s MY body!’ Because it’s your body, and you get to decide what happens to it. No one else does. Can we practice? I will pretend to be another kid who doesn’t like your nails, and you can tell me, ‘It’s MY body!’ Okay?”
A few practice scenarios later, and he was great at saying, “It’s MY body!” as a confident response to comments that disrespected his right to make decisions about his own body.
This was a great lesson for him to learn, because a few months later, when we set the rule that he needs to ask his friends for permission before hugging and kissing them, this helped us to foster an empathetic perspective. We were able to explain: “It’s HIS [or HER] body, and he [or she] doesn’t want you to hug and kiss right now. So you have to respect his [or her] wishes.”
RECOMMENDED: Are you a Helicopter Parent? Take our quiz
All this is helpful in the present. I’m glad my preschooler has a basic, age-appropriate understanding of respect and consent, even if he doesn’t know those words yet. Everything we do now paves the way for future conversations, and I know that as he approaches adolescence, it will be easier for us to discuss consent and respect with him.
Since the broader culture gives such terribly mixed messages to our boys, I want to make it clear: consent and respect are not options. They’re necessities.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Rebecca Hains blogs at rebeccahains.wordpress.com.