I want to have a conversation with my sons about consent, peer pressure, and rape.
And I don’t want to have the typical conversation about teaching our kids that they can say “no” to uncomfortable or unwanted physical contact. This is a critical conversation, I know. And a lot has been shared lately about helping our children say “no” even to unwanted affection from relatives. Also, there seem to be many resources for parents looking for ideas to help protect their children from sexual assault.
The conversation that I want to have is a scary and difficult one. It’s a conversation about raising boys in a culture that minimizes the harm of the way females are so often treated.
I want my three sons to become teenagers and men who will challenge the normalization of sexual assault, the ever pervasive “sweeping under the rug” of objectification of females. I want them to speak out about derogatory remarks made toward and about females, and even rape. Our society needs my sons and your boys to become these men.
It’s sometimes easy to believe that by teaching my sons about consent at a young age I can help them grow into men who will respect the physical and sexual boundaries of others.
(And yes, I understand that sometimes men are the victims of sexual assault at the hands of females, as well. It’s important we don’t forget that.) But when I think about how often they will find themselves surrounded by peers who feel it’s okay to disrespect women through words or actions, I feel sick to my stomach. The desire to fit in with our peers is universal. And lately I’ve been wondering how often this desire overrides the moral compass of young men. Such desire can lead them to say–or even worse–do something they know is wrong.
What will my sons do when they hear their peers calling a girl a slut?
Will they be uncomfortable and stay silent? Will they speak up and tell their friends that it’s unkind? Will they join in because they’re afraid to be shunned or made fun of?
What will my sons do if they’re ever witnesses to sexual assault?
Will they speak up and defend the victim? Will they stay silent? These questions are extremely uncomfortable to ask. I feel ashamed to even question what my sons would do. But I imagine that the mothers of other boys and men who have committed sexual assault probably never expected their child would ever do such a thing.
How do I raise my sons to be so strong in their morals that they won’t falter?
It’s normal for teens and young people (and even adults) to get a bit shaky when it comes to morality. That’s how learning occurs. But making a mistake that could potentially ruin a person’s life isn’t how I want my sons to experiment with their own ethical boundaries. I want them to speak up against derogatory language when they hear it. I want them to challenge questionable behavior when they see it.
I think we need to have this conversation with one another. And somehow, we need to have it with our sons, live it with our sons, and keep the conversation going with them as they grow older. Mothers (and fathers) of boys, do you have any ideas?
How are you raising your sons to understand the harm of sexually disrespecting others? How do we help them develop a strong moral foundation around sexuality, consent, and sexual assault? How can we raise them to stay strong in their beliefs when faced with pressure to act in ways that don’t align with their values?