Middle and high school age boys are behaving badly. Make an effort to steer yours in the right direction.
You don’t have to be an expert in education to realize the level of sexual behaviors that is often the norm among school aged children in America is far more advanced than in previous eras. What goes on in schools today is certainly not like anything I experienced when I was in high school. And I know from personal experience. I was a principal and school superintendent for 21 years and I can honestly tell you that the social and relationship dynamics changed over that period of time in ways I never could have imagined. As a matter of fact, recent surveys are even using the word pervasive to describe what is going on in U.S. Middle and High schools. Clearly, the children of today are dealing with a lot more adult issues than in times past, and sex is always a powerful one.
Raising a boy in 2015 is not for those who tend to strike the ostrich pose. No “head in the sand routine” is going to help you be a good dad. In today’s world, the old and perhaps worn out saying that “boys will be boys” has had a head on collision with a culture that filters behavior and words though the lens of harassment. Don’t get me wrong. Some behaviors and comments made by boys to or about girls are just inappropriate at best and illegal at worst. But fathers who are raising sons today can have a huge positive impact on them by having those sweaty palms conversations about things like sexually charged comments, inappropriate touching and what they consider consensual sex.
What I know for sure.
As a school principal, I’ve personally been involved with some very dicey situations with boys at school, even in the elementary grades. Boys at those young ages are often not even sure what some of the things they say to girls mean. Maybe they just watched a television show, movie or overheard an adult conversation and they decided to try out a new slang word. It happens all the time.
Here’s the problem. On the other side of the equation are the parents of the girl on the receiving end of those comments, gestures or touches. And they are not happy. And that is a complete understatement. They often storm the school demanding the head of the young man who dared to speak such vulgarities to their daughter or who put his hands on her behind. Then the next thing they want is for formal charges to be filed against him with law enforcement for sexually harassing their daughter.
Here are the facts.
The school administration can investigate the allegations of sexual harassment, but the parent always has the right to go to the school resource officer (SRO) or other law enforcement agency and ask for an investigation and if appropriate, for charges to be filed. What started out as possibly a “boys will be boys” interaction, at least perhaps in the eyes of the boy’s parents, has now escalated to a sexual harassment investigation and perhaps legal consequences. The issue is that everyone seems to have their own definition of where the boundary lines are drawn and it’s up to school administration and law enforcement to get to the truth based on formal definitions of sexual harassment. At least in Florida, sexual harassment is not required to be a repeated behavior— it can be a one-time incident. And there is now even a law regarding Teen Dating Violence. More on that later.
What about middle and high school?
Now let’s talk about boys who are a little older in middle and high school. In a 2014 Huffington Post article, it was reported that a substantial amount of sexual violence in middle school takes place right under teachers’ noses in the classroom, according to a new study. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found that 27 percent of surveyed girls and 25 percent of surveyed boys reported facing a form of sexual violence on middle school grounds in the past year. Most often, the sexual violence took place in school hallways or classrooms.
As a school principal at both the middle and high school levels, I can tell you that for boys in the 12-18 year old range, there are literally daily opportunities for a young man to find himself in hot water. Now I’m certainly no prude, but what I’ve noticed is that the more sexually explicit the content of the music, video games and other media that these young men expose themselves to, the more the lines get blurred in their minds about what’s going to be tolerated if they choose to act it out. Their thoughts and what they are getting a steady “mind diet” of is going to be the catalyst for their actions.
A page from real life.
Here’s one of dozens of stories that I could tell you about. There was a 17 year old young man at my school in the 11th grade. Let’s call him Kevin. He was “dating” a girl at the same school who was 14 and in the 8th grade. We’ll call her Candice. At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be anything unusual about this scenario. It happens every day, right?
But in this case, after they had been “dating” for about a month, Kevin decided he wanted to end the relationship. It doesn’t really matter why, perhaps a new girl at school that caught his eye or some other reason. Again, it doesn’t really matter. What is important to know is that while Kevin and Candice were “dating”, they had sex. It was consensual and both of them believed they had strong feelings for each other at the time. But now things are different.
When Kevin tells Candice that he wants to break up with her, Candice is completely devastated. She thought she and Kevin would be together for the rest of their high school years and maybe even longer. In a very short amount of time, Candice’s hurt turns to anger and disillusionment. She just doesn’t understand why she’s been rejected. She gave Kevin her virginity and this is what she gets in return.
Now, this story is as old as time itself. I’ll bet that there isn’t one person reading this that hasn’t either known this exact situation or even experienced it himself. Usually, the boy and girl move on to a new relationship or just chalk it up to a learning experience, but in today’s world, here’s where this situation can end up.
Candice has a decision to make. She feels she can’t possibly tell her parents about having consensual sex with Kevin. That would not turn out well for her. But she desperately needs the emotional support of her parents right now to help her cope with this rejection. Candice decides to tell her parents that while she and Kevin were dating, he forced himself on her and made her have sex with him. Why did it take her so long to tell, her parent asked? She was ashamed and afraid. Her parents understand that logic and quickly turn their attention to Kevin.
What happens next is not a surprise.
The principal gets a call from Candice’s parents demanding a meeting immediately with the principal and the school resource officer because a rape has occurred between two of their students. At this point, Kevin’s parents are notified, statements are taken and without any evidence to the contrary, it’s her word against his. As I mentioned earlier, in Florida, there’s a law on the books about Teen Dating Violence. It says that this is “an intentional act by an individual to use physical, sexual, verbal, or emotional abuse to harm, threaten, intimidate, or maintain power and control over another individual with whom that person has or has had a dating relationship.” Pretty heavy stuff.
I’ve seen more than my fair share of these cases and I can tell you that sometimes the entire truth comes out and sometimes it doesn’t. One thing to be especially aware of is the closer the young man is to being 18 years old in these types of cases, the more likely if he can be found guilty of statutory rape or a lesser sexual harassment charge. You just never can tell how these things will play out with such huge consequences at stake.
So what’s my point here?
It doesn’t matter what your beliefs or opinions are about stories like this, what you condone and what you condemn. That’s your right and your privilege. The point is you can do something to prevent this story or one like it from happening to your son.
You can choose to lead your son well and have frank conversations with your boys and young men to open their eyes to the potential consequences of having sex at these ages. It’s not enough anymore to educate them about the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and STDs, although this is still extremely important, according to a Huffington Post article. Nearly 20 million new sexually-transmitted diseases are estimated to occur every year in this country, half among young people between the ages of 15 to 24.
As parents, this isn’t something we can ignore. But our sons also need to completely understand how their entire life and future can be impacted by the decision of someone else to be less than truthful about their sexual activity.
Now don’t get me wrong.
Any type of unwanted sexual interaction is wrong, whether it gets reported or not. I don’t think we even need to have that conversation. But what I’m saying here is that as a dad, you can have a major impact on your sons by intentionally discussing the various situations they may find themselves in and how they can avoid costly consequences later on by just being wise.
So, don’t wait for a phone call from your son’s principal before you decide to be proactive in discussing this tough topic. It could literally change your son’s future.
What advice would you give your son about boundaries in physical relationships?
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