A blog for the parents of boys

Posted Oct 3 2018, 9:14 am in , , , , , ,

I am the proud mom of two amazing men. The photo here was snapped at one of my book launch events, with all three of us laughing out loud at the antics of a young guest at that party. 

It’s one of my favorite pictures. 

Last week, as most Americans witnessed the boorish behavior as Judge Kavanaugh faced his accuser, Dr. Ford, a new and despicable rash began to spread among the women I know… it boils down to this… “Would you want YOUR sons falsely accused of rape or sexual assault?”

What a stupid question. What a profoundly ignorant and moronic thing to ask a mother. 

Of course not! 

But here’s the honest truth — that question is NOT to be taken at face value. No…. what these women are really asking is for us to excuse and explain away and rationalize the fact that THEY didn’t do the things they should have done while raising their children. They didn’t teach RESPECT. They didn’t intervene and do something the first time their children exhibited behavior that was less than respectful. So now they want a pass. They want us to go easy on them because they’re the reason rape culture has made it all the way to the White House. They’re probably the parents who really believe that completely useless saying, “boys will be boys.” If I could, I’d mute people every time they tried to utter it. Because they love their children, they’re looking for those free passes, those loopholes that make you shrug your shoulders and say things like “Oh, he didn’t mean it that way.” 

If they had done a good job at parenting, they wouldn’t be this worried about false accusations. Do false accusations occur? Sure. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center puts the estimate between 2 and 10%.  A 2017 report often using FBI data collected between 2006 and 2010 puts this estimate at 5%. 

You know what’s an even more horrifiying statistic? That 2 out of every 3 rapes are not reported. Why aren’t they reported? Because of the ways in which WOMEN are blamed for and held accountable for these crimes. Here’s another horrifying statistic: according to RAINN, every 98 seconds, someone in this country is sexually assaulted and 1 out of every 6 women has been the victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime, but yes — by all means, let’s keep telling these survivors NOT TO REPORT THEIR ASSAULTS because you’re far more worried that precious little boy will be falsely accused of a very real and heinous crime. 

After Dr. Ford came forward, my social network feeds lit up with anxious posts from WOMEN clutching their pearls that their sons, brothers, fathers, could be falsely accused. It didn’t seem to matter that this wasn’t a trial, but innocent until proven guilty became their war cry. I went head to head with one internet acquaintance who had the unmitigated gall to compare Kavanaugh’s treatment during the hearings to “gang rape” and when I called him out on it, repeatedly insisted that the analogy fit. 

No. Just no. Dr. Ford alleges that Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. Is it true? I have no idea. But it needs to be investigated. He needs to be investigated before he’s seated on the highest court in our nation. Period. He was nominated by a president who sleeps with porn stars, cheats on his wives, violates the privacy of pageant contestants and brags about it across this country. So yes, he needs to be investigated. 

“Oh!” The women cry. “But what about his life and his family? She’s ruining them!” 

*shrugs* It’s her right as a survivor to speak out. She should not be ignored. She should not be silenced. She DAMN WELL SHOULD NOT BE MOCKED AND MOST ESPECIALLY NOT BY ANY ELECTED OFFICIAL OF THIS COUNTRY. If that ruins someone’s life, IT DAMN WELL SHOULD. If, during the course of proper investigating, it is determined that she lied and falsely accused Kavanaugh, then I’d expect her to be duly punished. 

But to suggest that she should NOT speak up simply because his life might be ruined. No, no, and still no. 

Here’s the rub: If Brett Kavanaugh hadn’t behaved like such as monumental asshole back in high school, perhaps these hearings would have gone in a very different direction. 

“Oh!” They cry again. “We all made mistakes when we were young! One mistake shouldn’t be held against him for his whole life.” 

Um… yeah. It should if it’s sexual assault. It should if it’s drunk driving. Let me remind you that many of you DEFENDING Kavanaugh are also the same ones still screaming for Bill Clinton’s and/or Monica Lewinsky’s heads. Monica wasn’t much older but do you defend her? 


Actions have consequences! My sons should not get a free pass because they were young and dumb and neither should yours. Take some damn responsibility and teach them the meaning of CONSENT. 

So… to all those truly worried about their children enduring such scrutiny, here’s some advice. The first comes from an absolutely beautiful essay posted by Alison Slater Tate here that should be compulsive reading. 

The second is from me. I think it’s repulsive that it took 156 victims to come forward before Dr. Nassar was stopped, 60 to come forward before Cosby was stopped, and 30 to step up before anyone even began looking at Weinstein. All of us, especially parents, MUST start treating sexual misconduct as a CRIME, not as part of growing up and certainly not just “boys will be boys.” 

  1. Stop Blaming Victims. I promise you, children are watching you and listening to you. When you purse your lips at the outfit some woman is wearing, you’re telling your daughter that SHE is to blame for unwanted attention. You’re also telling your son that it’s perfectly fine if he cannot control his urges. After all, he was TAUNTED.  Support accusers. Stepping forward and speaking out is no easy thing. Their lives are the lives truly ruined by daring to accuse powerful people. 

    Understand there is a second reason I believe that victim-blaming has to stop: not all rape victims are women. RAINN estimates 1 out of 10 survivors is male, yet male victims rarely report their assaults. Take a guess why…perhaps because they know you’ll blame them, too. 

  2. Stop Using Feminine Traits as Insults. Don’t tell your boys they run like a girl. Stop using labels like pussy or lady. Every time we do this, we teach boys that women are inferior and anything to do with women should be scorned. Raising children who respect other people starts with teaching them how to respect themselves, so shaming them like this does no one any good. 
  3. Don’t force affection. When our children are small, we often insist they kiss relatives. Don’t do this. Affection should be freely given, not ordered. When we insist our children kiss Uncle Ed or Aunt Ellen when they don’t want to, we’re teaching them that adults who demand their affection HAVE A RIGHT to it, to their bodies, and worse….they’re ‘bad’ if they refuse. When we’re ALSO teaching children about child molestors and no one should ever touch them unless they say yes, we’re sending conflicting messages they lack the maturity to reconcile. Can you guess what the likely result is? Unreported attacks. 
  4. Stop making excuses. I believe sexually-based crimes are a form of bullying. Like bullying, they’re a way of exerting control over another. And, just like bullying, the seeds form young. Every child crosses a line. Every single one of them. It’s part of growing up — to see how far they can get. That line could be up-skirting or bra-snapping. 

    This is NOT harmless behavior. Children as young as kindergarten must be redirected and stopped immediately, told why this is wrong. And please, don’t try empathy. “You wouldn’t like it if someone did that to you, would you?” has little impact on very young children because they haven’t yet developed the emotional maturity to think outside themselves. 

    Instead, parents and teachers must state early and often that touching any person without their consent is wrong and will be punished. This is where that boys will be boys saying originated. When we use it, we’re telling boys it’s okay when they help themselves to a girl’s body. Worse, we tell girls that expecting such behavior is something they must endure for simply being their gender. 

    We teach our kids not to dart into the street so they’re not hit by cars, not to insert things into electrical outlets so they’re not shocked, not to talk to strangers, so they’re not abducted. 

    We can certainly teach them not to touch others. 

  5. Stop calling girls a distraction. Dress codes that insist a girl be held accountable for a male teacher’s or male classmate’s inability to concentrate on anything but her bare skin are wrong. Every time we send a girl home for bare shoulders or bare legs, we’re excusing boys for reducing her to an object and that sexual attraction is nothing more than a glimpse of skin when it should be about so much more than that. It also teaches boys they’re not responsible for their bodies, which is a cop-out. Here is the time when parents should be teaching sons that their sexual attraction to someone does not offer them license to act on it.

    Life coach Tony Robbins recently claimed, “I was with someone the other day, a very famous man, very powerful man — he’s saying how stressed he is because he interviewed three people that day. One was a woman, two were men. The woman was better qualified, but she was very attractive, and he knew ‘ I can’t have her around because it’s too big of a risk.’ And he hired someone else. I’ve had a dozen men tell me this.'” 

    This is wrong, wrong, wrong! The men Robbins is talking about clearly have not learned that simply because they find someone attractive does not mean they are OWED any sort of sexual action, nor have they learned to control their own urges.  

  6. Respect the NO. When I was a child, I hated being tickled, hated giggling against my will. When I said “Stop” and was ignored, I developed a lack of trust toward that person that persisted into adulthood. We should all teach our children that no always means no when it comes to their own bodies. It’s not “maybe” and it’s not “keep going.” We need to reinforce this continually, starting with play. When your son tells his brother to stop touching him, you make sure his brother obeys. “Your brother said stop, so you need to stop. It’s his body, not yours.” Same goes for your girls and yes, this applies to adult relatives, too. 
  7. Stop equating masculinity with emotional control. Boys are human, too. They feel emotions, just like girls. They need to know expressing emotions like sadness and grief, frustration, tenderness, anger, and love are all allowed. Yet, we rarely permit boys to do this. Instead, we insist they ‘man up’ or channel emotions into atheletic prowess. Could this be the reason that reports of assault, hazing, and sexual crimes are exponentially higher in the context of organized sports? 
  8. Talk about sex early and often. You know that Talk we’re supposed to have with our children? It’s not a once-and-done deal. It needs to be continual. Discuss sex and your values regarding it openly with your children to demystify it and encourage development of your family’s own moral code. Teach your kids the concept of Continual Consent. This means that any physical activity — sexual or not — needs to begin with one simple rule: WERE YOU GIVEN A YES? Teach children to ask first. “Can I kiss you?” “Is this okay?” “Do you need to stop?” Continual consent is a conversation that means all activity stops immediately when either partner says no — and yes, this means during activity. Anyone who claims it’s not possible to stop should probably not yet be engaging in sexual activity. 

    To help parents have The Talk about consent and rape culture, I’ve begun this Pinterest Board for my latest novel, Someone I Used To Know. Main character Ashley Lawrence uses it as part of an art class project. I made the Board public. Have at it. Tell me how you’d FIX these ads. Tell me what you’d tell your children, if they saw them. 
    Share the Board. Make it viral. Please, please, make it viral. 

  9. Avoid situations and people who don’t share ideals.  Parents, it’s true, we can prepare our kids until we’re blue in the face, but the truth is, most trouble they get into is because they’re hanging with the wrong people… people who don’t share our moral code, people who seek and often find, trouble. Do make these conversations part of your Talk. Teach your sons to avoid the girls who use boys. Teach your girls to avoid the boys who use girls. Teach your children to avoid the situations that place them at the greatest risk. In fact, some of the ads on that Pinterest board? They’re considered “funny” by some. Those are the ones to avoid. 

I love my children and I’m sure you love yours, too. When you ask that question, “Would you like it if your son were falsely accused of rape?”, understand that I know what you really mean. 

And you are part of the problem. 







2 responses to “A blog for the parents of boys”

  1. Carol says:

    Thank you for this post.
    As a mom of four sons and a YA librarian I appreciate your courage in writing this.
    It needs to be said, and we need to believe survivors and let them know it is okay to speak out.