Our sons need us too!

Over the course of my discussions about my plans for this blog and my focus on girls, several people asked me “Are you doing a boy’s group too?”  While the answer is “No,” I want to underscore how much it is needed to help boys develop into healthy young men.  Let me describe a true story that recently happened to me:

A mother from my local community whom I’ve always respected for her organized household, common sense outlook and humorous attitude approached me.  She was inquiring if my 12 year old son could join a small group of boys she was going to take out for dinner to celebrate her son’s birthday.

“Sure,” I replied.  “Where are you going?”

“That’s just it, I want to take them to HOOTERS; they have really good wings.”

I burst into laughter at her quick humor until I registered the expression on her face.  She wasn’t joking.  For me, Hooters sends all the wrong kinds of messages about women’s sexuality being used to sell unrelated products, in this case food.   But for her, it was a family-friendly, appropriate place to bring a group of adolescent boys.  She must have known that some parents wouldn’t approve which is why she was checking with us in advance.

I reflexively yelled “No, he can’t go.”

It is puzzling to me that Hooters doesn’t bother all women when it offends me so much. What am I conveying to my son if I allow him, at 12, to patronize a restaurant where the servers are required to flaunt their “goods” (and I don’t mean food).  How does this help my son learn to respect women without objectifying them?  This does not support the values I am trying to impart on him.

This experience- – not really an experience but a mere conversation – – got me thinking.  I found my thoughts kept returning to Gloria Steinem when she did her anthropological study as a Playboy Bunny at New York’s famed Playboy Club.   I encourage you to read the full account of her 1963 experience.  It is quite remarkable and makes me question how much we have or have not progressed in the last 50 years.

Parents, while this blog focuses on girls, I would be doing a disservice if I did not address that boys need our help in developing into healthy young men.  I used the Hooters invitation as an opportunity to have a candid discussion with my son about why I was not going to let him go.  Please share your experiences and information links if you have them.

Meet them where they are

“Let’s do a quick review of the changes that occur at puberty” I said to the group, “And then we can move on to some other material that might be new to you.”

In my mind, we would not need to spend too much time on the nuts and bolts of pubescent changes.  As I led the group in a multiple choice trivia game on the topic, I quickly realized that my original lesson plan needed to be adapted.   I was operating under the assumption that the participants were more or less at the same place with regard to their baseline knowledge of male and female anatomy and the corresponding vocabulary for terms associated with puberty.   Interestingly, the level of awareness varied considerably.   No problem.  I can be flexible. I would simply delve into the facts in more detail than originally planned.

This was a great lesson for me on a couple of levels.  1) It reminded me that I cannot make any assumptions about the knowledge an individual person possesses on a given topic; 2) Although the girls had technically gone through the same formal sex/health ed lessons at school, they were not receiving enough education on some of the fundamentals.  Until this point, the public school education consisted of two lessons during fifth grade gym class, led by the physical education teacher.  That was almost two years ago among this group of individuals.

What this particular Girls Group meeting left with me was the realization about just how much we rely on schools to teach our children about sex (in this case, the developmentally appropriate topic of puberty).   When I think about all of the ways I help my two kids make healthy choices in their lives – e.g. the amount of screen time they have or the timing and contents of a snack between school and dinner – – I know that talking about sex in developmentally appropriate ways is no different.    School districts vary tremendously in both the quality and breadth of their curricula in this area.  Many of us, as parents, benignly rely on our schools, exclusively, to share information about sex.   What a great wake up call for us all that we need to be continuously talking and checking-in with our kids.