Remember that 80’s song by The Temptations – “Treat her like a lady”. Yip that one with the catchy beat that you can sing along to whilst doing the dishes or sitting in your car. Ok, so perhaps you millennials won’t know the song but you can go Google it here.
The point I’m getting at is that the lyrics of the song resonates with me as I have a chivalrous husband. Common courtesy, kindness and respect are things women crave for in today’s life. Values and convictions are guided by an ever changing world and what society prescribes. But shaping attitudes, beliefs and values at the foundation level will ensure that it is carried throughout life. It should be both men and women’s responsibility to raise children who respect themselves and others. Most importantly shifting our focus to raising boys. Chivalry, honour and respect has to be taught from a young age.
So you are probably thinking – why is she writing a post about this if she doesn’t have sons. Rightfully so, I will never know what it truly feels like to mother a boy child. However, as a woman and a mother raising two girls, it scares me that the statistics of gender based violence in our country and across the world is ever increasing. It is an epidemic that is spiralling out of control. So yes, I worry about myself but more so I worry about my daughters falling victim. I worry about the type of men that will enter their lives.
As parents we try to protect our children as much as we can, but it is impossible to protect them 24/7. We have to release them out into the world. But the world is toxic and filled with perpetrators. It is alarming that these perpetrators (majority men) are out there violating young children and women on a daily basis. What is even scarier is that they are often closer to home than what we might realise.
Can we fix our society from men who have no morals, who disrespect, harass, sexually assault, and physically abuse women and young girls? It is possible but this is not a problem that government, the police, the courts or even jail can fix. We need real change. Raising a generation that will become respectful and honourable men starts from a young age and it should start at home. Therefore I am appealing to you that if you are raising a son, to please lay down a firm foundation. It is paramount that you teach your son how to be a gentleman and to have a respectful attitude towards others especially females of all ages.
Before children step out into the world, the parents/guardians are their learning models. We don’t raise our children for ourselves; we raise them for the world. Morally correct decisions cannot be made if the basics have not been taught. Fundamentally, good morals and values need to be deeply rooted.
Don’t use gender to excuse bad behaviour
“Boys will be boys” is a justification for bad behaviour. Parents often turn a blind eye and brush destruction, rough play, bullying, teasing, shoving girls and fighting with other boys off as typical boy behaviour. It teaches them that this kind of behaviour is acceptable. As these are seen as normal behaviour; there is no accountability for his actions. Instead there should be consequences for his actions. Taking responsibility for his actions will make him understand how it affect others.
Gender divide at home
Gender inequality starts at home when parents treat their children differently and have different rules based on gender. When it comes to rules, parents are often lenient with their sons in comparison with their daughters. Boys have more privileges when it comes to sleepovers and curfews. Parents do not worry as much about their son’s safety as they do about their daughter’s. They also have different expectations for their children based on gender.
Furthermore this type of inequality and discrimination shape a child’s attitude and expectations going forward. Therefore it needs to stop. The only apparent disparity between girls and boys are their physical appearance and anatomy. There should be no gender divisions when it comes to chores. Boys can help with cooking and cleaning, just like girls can help with gardening and cleaning the backyard. Treating children the same and having the same rules regardless of gender, should be enforced.
Breaking gender stereotypes
Gender stereotypes still exist in our society and children are exposed to it from a young age. For instance, people raise eyebrows when boys play with dolls, dress up and girls climb trees and play with racing cars. They are labelled as being “sissys” and “tomboys”. Toys and books are tools for acquiring developmental skills and should not be gender specific. Do not limit your children and place them in a box. Instead, give them choices which will open up their minds to endless possibilities. We have come a long way and today roles are reversed where women are firefighters, engineers, pilots; and men are hairdressers, make up artists, secretaries and nurses.
Children do not do as you say, they do as you do. We are our children’s first role models and examples of how a relationship should be. Love, happiness and positive influence needs to be experienced at home. A boy who sees his father value, treat his mother with respect and as an equal will likely grow up and do the same to women. On the other hand, if his father or other men in his life are male chauvinists whose actions towards women are aggressive, disrespectful, abusive, not seeing women as equal contributors to society but only as sexual objects; it is likely that he will grow up doing the same and having the same perception.
Mothers also play a part is modelling their sons perception of women and girls. After all you are the first female that he gets to interact with. Watch what you say about other women and the judgement you pass in front of your son. He will pick up on your derogatory tone and negative language, and it is likely that he will have that perception too. Introduce him to strong and successful women who have broken barriers. Have conversations about the roles women played in history, how women are still underrepresented and those who are currently in leadership positions. Single mothers need to seek strong male figures for their sons to connect with. Make sure that these are male role models who model good behaviour, treat women well and have a positive influence on your son.
Monitor what your son learns from outside influences. The media, reality celebrities, musicians, and sport stars. Sometimes these outside influences can have a negative impact on behaviour, language and attitude. Although you cannot stop him from being exposed to what he hears and sees; you can strongly condemn what is being projected. Educate him on what is right, be firm in your own beliefs and do not tolerate sexist remarks and behaviour.
Teach polite manners
Teach basic manners like greeting, please and thank you’s, table manners, not to interrupt when others are talking and how they address adults and females. Consistency is important. Encourage polite manners at all times. This will be so deeply rooted and will become a natural habit.
Self-respect and respecting others
Respect starts at home. As parents we have the ability to positively influence our children. Discourage bad behaviour. Be firm but discipline in a way that will educate him. Do not use inappropriate language, negative slurs when you express your disapproval. The way you speak to your child matter. They internalize negative language and that ultimately becomes their inner voice. It is important that you build self-confidence and empower him, not break down his self-esteem.
The best way to teach self-love, self-care and self-respect is to model it. Motivate your son to be the best version of himself. He needs to speak to himself in a confident manner. That he should stay true to his values and not to go against his own morals and beliefs to please others. He should acknowledge his mistakes and learn from it. Self-care includes making healthy choices, exercising, grooming and dressing neatly. Instruct him to pull up his pants to his waist if it is hanging below his buttocks.
Once again our children model us in how we treat and address others. Demonstrate this by being accepting of others and not to be prejudice when it comes to gender, religion, race, physical appearances and disability. A son who is protective and respectful towards his mother, sister, grandmother and aunts will grow up to be respectful towards other women. Who will defend women and their rights even if he is pressurised to believe otherwise. Teach your child to be mindful of people’s feelings and to show empathy and compassion when someone is hurting. As parents it is your responsibility to correct disrespectful behaviour. Make him understand that his behaviour is not acceptable and that there are consequences. Follow through on these consequences so that he can understand that you are serious about this.
Allow him to express emotions
Forget sayings like “big boys don’t cry” and “man up”. Give him the assurance that showing emotion is not a sign of weakness. Support your son by encouraging him not to bottle up but to share his feelings. Do not hesitate to show affection and let him know that he is loved. It will help him to become more comfortable in acknowledging and expressing his feelings. At the same time it will also teach him how to be empathetic towards others.
Kindness, gratitude and courtesy
Encourage your son to give back and show kindness from a young age. Let him donate clothing, books and toys to children’s home or shelters. Teach him to express gratitude for the opportunities he has and what he possess.
Teach him how to be courteous, if done often it will come naturally as he grows older. Allow him to extend courtesy by assisting an elderly person who is struggling with their grocery bags. When using public transport, let him offer his seat for an adult. Teach him to open up doors for females, allowing older people and females to enter first whilst holding the door. When your son has a girlfriend, instruct him never to hoot but to get out and knock on the door when picking her up.
Teach your son from a young age that the word “no” holds so much power. Have open conversations about consent over his own body and that he should speak up if he feels violated. At the same time, he also needs to be educated about consent and touching others inappropriately or doing things without the next person agreeing to it.
Talk to your son about puberty and his body’s physical changes. At this stage go into more detail about sexual interaction, consent and how to respect a female’s body. That forcing is a criminal act. Inform him how a girl’s body changes during puberty. It will help him understand that there should be no discrimination, stigma, disgust and shame attached when a girl menstruates, instead he should play a supportive, caring role and be sensitive to a girl’s feelings.
Encourage friendships with both genders
Encourage your son to form friendships with both genders. A friendship with a girl does not necessarily mean that there is a sexual attraction. Some boys have best friends who are girls. Let him know that friends are welcome at your house so that you can get to know them. Children learn from each other and having both girl and boy friends will help your child relate to them as people who have different personalities, cultures, religions instead of focusing solely on gender. Be mindful of toxic friends who have bully tendencies, short tempers and who are pressurizing your son to do things he is not comfortable with. Remind him of his own worth. Keep the lines of communication open and don’t interfere. Give him the assurance that you trust his judgment and allow him to use his discretion to continue with the friendship or to end it.
Bottom line is that as parents we have the biggest influence over our children. So therefore I am depending on you to do the right thing. Think about it at the end of the day, you are not just raising a son but a future husband, partner, father, leader, mentor and hero. At the same time I will continue to raise my daughters to be strong, confident, respectful, kind and responsible human beings. Daughters who will have a voice and see themselves as equals. That they should never settle for anything less than to be treated with respect and honour.