Our 13-year-old son, Cooper, arrived home from his first day of eighth grade with a question that left my wife and I nearly speechless: “Do girls like it when boys send them pictures of their penises?”
Cooper told us that some of the boys on his bus had been using their phones to take pictures of their genitalia, with a few boys sending the pictures to friends. Cooper had been shocked. Do girls really like that?
His mom reassured him, “Girls do not like getting these pictures. They might laugh, but inside they’ll be disgusted and maybe terrified. Boys should treat girls with respect. This behavior is both disrespectful and illegal.”
My four sons are growing up in a culture that has experienced a wake-up call on sexism. My boys watch the news. They see the stories and chatter online. They come to me with questions, and I desperately want to get this right. How can we raise sons who are respectful of women?
Conversations are Critical to Teaching Respect
Silence is not golden. If there’s an absence of healthy conversations about sex and respect, boys will seek answers online and in locker rooms. The information they find there often creates more problems than solutions. Worse, it can create a mindset that there are certain times when it’s acceptable to disrespect women. That gradually rewires a boy’s thinking, harming his future relationships.
As fathers, we must lead our boys in healthy conversations about sex and respect so they grow to view women and girls as coheirs in God’s family and not as commodities to be exploited. Some conversations may be uncomfortable, but having the courage to be transparent and vulnerable will build trust with your son and help him learn from your wisdom and experiences.
7 Traits of Effective Parenting Assessment
Be available when your son wants to talk. Important conversations can be initiated by our boys at unlikely times and around unlikely subjects. Don’t avoid these precious opportunities to teach them respect. A bike ride or game of basketball often leads to meaningful conversations. Most boys are more receptive to talking when it just happens naturally as a side effect of activity.
Encourage Healthy Masculinity
Encourage healthy masculinity. Raising boys who respect girls doesn’t mean we need to demonize masculinity. I’m proud to have sons, and I want them to attain the highest ideals of authentic manhood. Most males share the same needs for community and camaraderie. We need to be intentional about helping our boys find healthy ways to meet these needs instead of settling for dangerous, disrespectful counterfeits.
Be a Positive Example
Walk the talk. Your boys notice how you treat your wife, but they’ll also observe how well your words and actions respect other women. How do you speak about a neighbor? What jokes do you laugh at? Teaching respect is not only about what you say, but what you do.
Nurture an atmosphere of respect for women in your home, in the conversations you have, the ministries you participate in and the entertainment you enjoy. Introduce your boys to books and movies that portray male characters who demonstrate respect toward women and see their equal worth.
Show your sons the gold standard. Read the Gospels together with an emphasis on seeing Jesus’ profound respect for women. Jesus carried out His earthly ministry in a time when females were low on the social hierarchy. Yet some of Jesus’ most heartfelt interactions were in conversations with women. In the name of love and respect, Jesus was willing to break down man-made cultural barriers that were harmful to women.
His timeless example teaches us respect. When our sons learn to follow Jesus, they grow into men who respect women.
Dave Willis is a pastor and the author of several books on marriage. His latest book is Raising Boys Who Respect Girls.
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© 2020 by Dave Willis. This article first appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. All rights reserved. Used by permission.