There are a few things a mother thinks about when raising boys. It starts out that you want them to stop moving because they never stop moving. Then you want them to stop pretending to shoot each other with pencils, stuffed animals, books or anything they can find to make into a pretend gun.
Eventually, the thoughts evolve into how to raise these uncontrollable, emotional, testosterone-driven boys into respectful and empathetic men, ones who do not bully or hurt other people. The case of two Steubenville, Ohio teens, Ma’lik Richmond and Trent Mays accused of raping a seemingly unconscious girl has been in the news recently, especially now that the trial is soon to begin. There are so many facets to the story. The boys were god-like football players in a small town. Other teens talked about, video taped, tweeted, and Instagramed photos about the alleged attack. A local blogger talked about her outrage until charges were filed.
I’m not shocked that these two alleged meatheads allegedly took advantage of that girl. They are the popular, powerful ones who were revered for their football prowess in a small town. What bothers me more are the others who were there and did nothing. I have two beautiful, sweet boys who I hope will know enough to intervene or leave a situation like that and get help. Or at least know enough not to hold up a phone and capture what is happening, for fun.
This is from the New York Times:
“Afterward, they (the group including the 16-year-old girl and Richmond and Mays) headed to the home of one football player who has now become a witness for the prosecution. That player told the police that he was in the back seat of his Volkswagen Jetta with Mays and the girl when Mays proceeded to flash the girl’s breasts and penetrate her with his fingers, while the player videotaped it on his phone. The player, who shared the video with at least one person, testified that he videotaped Mays and the girl “because he was being stupid, not making the right choices.” He said he later deleted the recording.”
How does that happen? How does the wonderful boy that you love and teach to be a good person hold up a phone to capture the rape of an unconscious girl?
I asked Michael Thompson, PhD, the co-author of Raising Cain; Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys and host of the PBS documentary of the same name, for insight.
“One of the great mysteries of human life is why, when people are in groups, they don’t react the same way that their individual consciences would tell them to if they were alone,” he said over email.
He referred to a York University study where cameras were installed in elementary schools to observe children bullying other children. He said that when it happened 51 percent of kids became spectators, 24 percent of children joined the bullying by teasing or tormenting the victim, and only a quarter of the kids protested and they were mostly girls.
So how do you raise boys not to rape and not to go along with someone who does? “Parents have to start by raising boys who are held accountable for their actions,” Thompson said. “If boys are caught and given appropriate consequences for lying and cheating and breaking rules, they get used to the fact that the truth always comes out and that you have to pay a price for what you do.”
Plus it needs to be made clear to boy athletes that they are not entitled to a waiver or a pass just because they’re special. “Men whose bodies are so praised and admired and petted get to think that they can do everything they want with their bodies. We have to start training athletes for leadership, not just entertainment.”
The most worrisome part of our conversation and one that makes me want to lock my boys up in the house until they are in their mid 20s is the following. Boys do not have fully developed brains until they are 25, Thompson said, and alcohol disinhibits boys who do not yet have a fully mature prefrontal cortex.
“If you have older adolescents with unfinished brains, and they are in a group and they are drunk, they are capable of terrible decision making. That’s one of the explanations for what happened in Steubenville,” Thompson said.
This tells me that even if you teach your kids that there are consequences, a couple of beers at a party will influence them otherwise. But there is hope. The late Stuart Hauser, PhD, an expert on adolescent development studied kids who would ALWAYS take a moral stand. “…he couldn’t put his finger on what exactly made them such more ‘old souls’ though religion, belief in God, respect for parents, a good relationship with parents, etc. were all factors,” Thompson said. But the number of children who always took a stand was very rare. Only 5 percent.
Let’s hope we can raise the 5 percent.
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