Q. My husband and I work hard to raise our boys (ages 3, 7 and 11) to be good men. All the news about powerful men being accused of sexual misconduct has me wondering. What lessons should I be teaching my sons so they understand appropriate sexual behavior?
A. Society in recent years has accepted some ideas that foster sexual misconduct by men in general. The idea that men in power could offer upward mobility to women who comply with their sexual requests was accepted—or at least there’s little evidence that society was interested in stopping it. Misbehavior by young men was written off as “boys will be boys.” Locker room talk was not respectful. You could look around any day, anywhere and see women disrespected. I’ve witnessed it myself.
We’ve ignored the importance of respect too long, and it is costing us dearly. On a positive note, it has started the conversation about what we need to do differently. Here are some ideas for you to consider.
1. Talk with your husband about how you and he can model respect for each other and other people, including your kids. Work as a team in parenting. Find parents who are doing a good job and adopt some of their methods as your own.
2. Help your kids develop empathy by asking them to imagine themselves in another’s place. When kids develop empathy, it helps them to become better friends, then better colleagues and parents.
3. Teach your kids to be trustworthy and accountable for their actions. Play the “what if” game, as in, “What if you found a wallet with money in it — what would you do?” Or, “What if a girl asked you not to touch her — what would you think and do?”
4. Help your kids avoid becoming narcissistic by letting them know the rules apply to them. Develop rules and stick to them. Let children know that everything isn’t about them.
5. Avoid praising every little thing your boys do. The youngest may need more praise, but as children age, they need constructive criticism. Even as adults, we may not like constructive criticism, but we need it and can even learn to ask for it.
6. Strengthen your boys’ self–confidence by knowing their interests and talents, then helping them achieve success in those areas. When children are self–confident, they’re less likely to bully or mistreat others.
7. Immediately stop a child who uses unacceptable words or actions. Ask him to think about a respectful, better way to get what he wants.
We talk to young kids about keeping their hands to themselves. As boys age, this talk needs to be repeated, adding on the importance of asking for permission to hug, hold hands or kiss. For middle– and high–schoolers, explain consent using the concept of serving tea.
The idea is that you ask a person if they want a cup of tea. If they say “yes,” you serve them tea. If they say “no,” you don’t force it on them. If they say “yes” and then change their mind, you don’t force it on them. This YouTube video is fun and does the job well: tinyurl.com/qgz6qv3.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist.