October 23, 2018

Raising Better Boys

“As a woman and a mother, I’ve experienced the last few weeks on a handful of levels. I’ve been reminded of the dark experiences of my youth—even those of us who were never raped or assaulted still remember close calls or unpleasant encounters. Hearing Christine Blasey Ford’s story, I thought of my 4-year-old daughter and the ways I can prepare her to survive in this misogynistic world. But most pressingly, after witnessing Kavanaugh’s and Trump’s outbursts, I’ve considered my 7-year-old son. What can I do to shape him into a respectful man—one who doesn’t assault women, most importantly, but who also doesn’t make lewd jokes, grab butts, mock victims, or generally treat women as if they’re inferior?

Before the Kavanaugh saga, that was not a question most parents usually pondered. The language of sexual violence prevention largely revolves around what we can teach girls about staying safe. Some protocols to prevent sexual assault in schools and on college campuses have involved educating only women, too. Isn’t this kind of ridiculous? Aren’t the people best positioned to prevent sexual assaults the people who usually commit sexual assaults in the first place?

I think so—and many researchers who study sexual violence, and who understand the social and emotional dynamics that fuel it, think so too. Luckily, research suggests that there’s a lot that parents can do, even with young boys, to foster respect and empathy for women in ways that will reduce the risk they’ll be sexually violent later in life. And most of it doesn’t even require you to utter the word sex. “We are all teaching our children sexual respect, or lack thereof, in the smallest things,” says Emily Rothman, a community health scientist at the Boston University School of Public Health.”

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