That old saying is “boys will be boys.” Period. End of sentence. We’re changing it. Boys will be the boys we let them be. We can help with some specific safety skills for kids.
It’s creeping up to mid-September here in Seattle, and kids have headed back to school. For some it will be a new school. For others, more totally remote learning. Some families will get together in “pods” for pooled learning experiences. Others will struggle with basic access. It won’t be easy, and for many the beginning of this school year will feel like barely contained chaos. It’s in times like these that we all want to be on the lookout for predators and their enablers. Remind kids that it’s OK to say no to adults.
Many of the people who say “boys will be boys” are not predators, and certainly would be offended if called an enabler. After all, they are responsible adults helping guide young people through life’s realities. And they do actually believe that “boys will be boys.” As well as it’s corollary, “he punched/pinched/pushed you because he likes you.” You may be thinking, wait what year is this? Are people actually believing this into the 21st century? From what I can tell, fewer kids are hearing it than I did decades ago. But still, each year a couple of kids or tween students do report they’ve been told that “he’s mean because he likes you.” Sometimes it comes from teachers, teaching assistants, volunteering parents, coaches, or even assistant principals.
Need I say this issue doesn’t only impact girls? It impacts kids of any gender. Perhaps, though, instead of “he likes you,” boys may hear “be a man.”
In our safety skills classes for kids (as well as self-defense for tweens and teens) we talk about finding trusted, supportive adults to go to for help. And that trusted, supportive adult should be able to schedule a conversation to hold the speaker accountable. Now, what can we ask our young people to say? How can we help them grow into their own voices?
The exact words depend on the age of the child. I suggest the child tell that adult they are sure that no, that other kid really is acting mean and does not like them. That if a another kid likes you, they would not be trying to harm you. This may be very hard for some kids, and maybe for their parents too. Because a lot of parents themselves struggle to advocate for themselves. The other adult may see this as a challenge to their authority — and they’d be right. We should not have to accept unquestioningly the authority of other adults who won’t keep our kids safe.
Parents, if your child does speak up, please back them up. Parents, if your child was the one who punched/pinched/pushed another, maybe you want to chat about why they’re choosing those behaviors for self-expression. Is that the boy (or girl, or other) you want them to be?