Ariel Chesler is a dad of daughters who is sick and tired of how parents of boys feel justified to let their kids destroy things, because of the “boys will be boys” excuse.
I have previously written that I do not need a son to be happy. But, now there’s something else I must say: Boys terrify me. Or, at least, other people’s boys. Okay fine, it’s the parents of boys that I fear.
When I know that boys are coming over for a play date with my daughters, I start to itch. I scan my home for weak spots, for traps and nuisances, for things that may draw a boy’s attention. And, I wonder what damage awaits my possessions, or my children, at the end.
Don’t get me wrong. Not all boys. But, yes all parents experience what I am describing.
When I know these boys are coming over to play with my daughters my heart races and I steel myself because I know a storm is headed my way. A whirlwind of destruction, slapped televisions, outlets and cords dissected, safety gates hurdled, every shelf and cabinet invaded, and toys scattered everywhere. Someone or something is likely to get hurt. It is a storm of parental neglect. Because, you know, boys will be boys.
Except, that’s bullshit. It’s more like parents will be turds.
Let’s set the record straight, shall we? There is no question that there are biological differences between the sexes; boys have higher levels of testosterone which makes them, on average, more physically active and aggressive. Okay, fine. But, every other difference is cultural. Indeed, boys “are not assholes by nature.” In other words, parenting is critical. It is the lowered expectations that sexism allows parents to place on boys which in turn permit boys to become what we think of as boyish.
Here’s a secret: Girls fart and burp – and find it funny – and their shit does not smell like roses. They yell, they hit, they push, they misbehave, they make messes, they throw food on the floor, they don’t always like sharing, they can be mean, they are defiant, they test boundaries.
Do I just throw my hands up and excuse their behavior by saying “girls will be girls?” That would be much easier. No. I discipline and provide guidance for my children, teach them manners and how to treat others, and, no matter how frustrating it is, I will repeat lessons (for years if necessary) until they learn how to behave. This is parenting.
Failure to do these things for boys is not only sexist and lazy. It is an abdication of parental responsibility, a responsibility to both the child and the world around him. Parenting is hard work, endless work, and there are no shortcuts. If you fail to do the work, the resulting product will be poor.
And yet, too many times I’ve seen parents of boys relaxing on my couch while their sons are subjected to no limitations from them.
I am not just terrified of boys because I am worried about toys in my house getting broken. I am terrified because we have seen over and over again where the “boys will be boys” mentality has gotten us. This mentality has created a self-control gap; girls learn to regulate their behavior and boys don’t. And, combined with the “man box” many boys learn to enter, which precludes them from learning and practicing empathy, we end up with boys and men who express their emotions through violence, who have a sense of entitlement, a lack of empathy, and no self-control. Think Elliot Rodger, Chris Plaskon, Jameis Winston, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, the Sayreville boys, and on and on.
As Buzz Bissinger recently wrote about the root of sports scandals, boys and men in clubhouses and locker rooms live in a “cocoon of insularity and extreme pampering.” Worse, he noted that while they face criticism and accountability for every single mistake on the field, “by design, on the field of real life, the athlete rarely faces similar accountability.” And, he explained that with all the focus on winning, “athletes don’t distinguish right from wrong because they actually have no idea of what is right and what is wrong. Rules don’t apply. Acceptable standards of behavior don’t apply. Little infractions become bigger ones, and adults turn a blind eye. If someone gets into trouble, the first move is for an authority figure, usually in the form of a coach, to get them out of it.”
But, this lack of accountability and teaching begins long before boys become athletes or enter locker room culture. I am not saying that every boy turns into a rapist or a murderer or will end up in a sports scandal. However, if we fail to give boys the tools to deal with emotions, if we fail to teach them right from wrong, if we excuse their behavior and protect them from consequences, we are culpable for the boys that commit both little infractions and bigger ones, and we must acknowledge the “world would be a different kind of place if children were taught to respect other children’s rights from the start.”
So, let’s stop saying “boys will be boys” and recognize that boys “will be what we expect them to be.” Let’s deal with behaviors that need to be addressed, teach personal responsibility and accountability and right from wrong, self-control, and empathy. And, let’s raise boys like this from the beginning of their lives.
You can start by having your kid pick up everything he destroyed in my house and apologize for pushing my daughter, and explaining how to behave in someone else’s home. And, since it isn’t really the kid’s fault, tell yourself that if you don’t change, you’re not the kind of parent this dad wants around.
Photo: Flickr/Gerry Thomasen