Amongst the stereotyping of boys and girls and living in such a provocative society, it is hard to be a parent. It is hard to be a parent who wants to teach her daughter to have self-respect or a parent who wants to teach his son to respect girls and women.
It should not be this hard.
According to news reports, Sunday night’s Billboard Music Awards had a viewing audience of 9.47 million, a 28% increase over last year’s audience. During the show there were provocative performances such as the one from Selena Gomez, who performed her latest hit which suggests, “If you want it come and get it.” Cringe-worthy, isn’t it? How are we as parents supposed to teach girls to respect themselves when they see images like this every day? How are we as parents supposed to teach boys to respect girls when they hear statements such as this every day?
Stereotyping begins when kids are young, too. According to the SeeJane.org, from 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or politics. And in these very same films, 4 in 5 working characters are male while just 1 in 5 are female. Yet in the real working world, women comprise 50% of the workforce. Take a wild guess how the females in these films were depicted….
It’s not just the media that is making the job of parents more difficult. The hottest styles for girls include short shorts paired with tight-fitting tank tops. (And let us not even get into the short shorts with words printed on the butt.) Yes, it is our decision as parents whether or not to purchase those clothing items for our kids. Yet the conundrum continues as we debate with ourselves. By not letting them wear the “in” styles are we putting them in a position where they could be teased? Are we then simply choosing between the lesser of two evils? Most of my friends who are parents of girls try to strike a conscious balance between letting them wear what is in style while nixing items that are too provocative.
Boys Respecting Girls
Yet, while talk often about raising girls to respect themselves, it is equally difficult to raise our boys to respect females. Here are some tips for parents for teaching boys to respect girls and women:
- Lead by example. Mothers should demonstrate respect for their selves and demand that respect from their husband and son. Fathers should be the man they want their son to become. Kids tend to emulate their same sex parent so remember that when choosing your own words and behaviors towards women.
- Do not use or threaten physical harm. Likewise, do not accept your sons threats of physical harm. Teach your son that violence is never the answer, especially violence against women. Instead, nurture all the other ways there are to express frustration or anger.
- Keep an eye on the gender stereotypes in your kids’ toys and activities. Parents have a tendency to separate boy and girl activities. When boys play with dolls or kitchens, for example, they are learning that all of these activities are for both genders. By not letting your son explore all types of play he may be more likely later on to feel that certain tasks are only for women. Additionally, by only giving your son sports equipment, toy cars, tools and other traditional “boy” items, you may be unknowingly telling them what activities they are expected to enjoy.
- By the same token, split household chores with your husband. Also, expect your son to help around the house so he does not grow up thinking that housework is women’s work.
- Remember that when mom is physically active, she is showing her son that girls and women are athletes too. Get out there and play ball with your son! Show them women’s sports on television too.
- Do not allow your son to disrespect you, his sister, cousin, friend or any other female. Be sure your son sees you speaking highly of your daughter as well as other girls and women on the basis of their accomplishments, not just their looks.
- Studies show that boys who have female friends tend to develop more respect for girls and women. If your son has a close female friend, encourage this type of friendship to continue.
- As noted above, television shows, even animated ones, are filled with messages that boys and girls are fundamentally different. When you see or hear disrespectful words and behavior towards women in the media, point it out to your son so he has an understanding of what that means. Explain to your son what stereotypes are and also what shock value means.
- When it is time for “The Talk” with your son, be sure to spend time discussing respect and emphasizing the importance of stopping if a girl or woman says no. No means no, no matter what. The talk is not just about birds and bees. It is about character and communication too.
- When your son is at the appropriate age for that talk, he is also at an age where it is appropriate to discuss pornography. Explain to your son that pornography is there to stimulate and is not at all an indicator of how to treat women.
Tell us. What have you done to cultivate self-respect in your daughter or respect for females in your son? What other tips do you have to share?
Edit: Since the original writing of this post, I’ve received a few comments from people who think that this post was disrespectful to men. I appreciate the comments and the openness for discussion. So let me state that this post is intended to share opinions in an area where I believe more work is needed.