Saturday, October 07, 2006

Does he have to grow up?

Having taught the middle grades, having witnessed the turmoil of early adolescence as hormones kick into high gear year after year, I have to admit that I'm glad my first-born is a boy. That is not to say that I think boys have it easy or are easier to help through this time--puberty is hell on every child. I just know that, in my experience, boys' issues in junior high tend to be more transparent and straight-forward. When there were social problems with boys under my supervision (class, advisory, the lunchroom, the hallway), I quickly picked up on it and could usually divine who was involved and how and why. With girls, I often suspected nastiness, but could not automatically figure out where it was coming from and why.

This is all stuff I think about on a regular basis, but recent posts on feminism have brought my musings to the surface again. HBM and Mad Hatter have both posted about feminism and parenting girls, HBM on raising girls with a healthy sense of sexuality and Mad Hatter on the recent horrific acts targeted at girls. I recognize that there are several things I worry less about specifically because I am mothering a boy.

I worry less.

Boys are less likely to have serious body image issues, or at least to act on them. Many boys worry about being too skinny, too short if others begin to get their height or bulk before them. Sometimes, they obsess over baby fat too, though they are less likely to resort to extreme dieting; I did, however, date a boy in high school who had been anorexic because he was involved in competitive cycling.

Boys are less likely to be sexually abused or raped. OK, I don't have the statistics for the first part of that, but it is certainly my impression, especially since my son won't be left in the care of any clergymen. But I worry about the junior high locker room. I know that's where the worst taunting took place where I taught, and I've heard plenty of horror stories about other schools where verbal abuse and boyish 'pranks' (wedgies, pantsing, and something I don't remember the name of where you try to slap another kid so hard it leaves a handprint) can turn into something much worse.

Boys are less likely to be sexualized in popular culture. When I buy my son a Happy Meal at McDonalds (I know, it's horrible, but sometimes it happens) and they give us a 'boy' toy, I at least know it won't be one of those horrible Bratz or Barbie dolls (though it is sometimes a war toy, but that's a whole other rant). Yet, I am not at all happy with the current glorification of the 'pimp' and what that says to boys about male sexuality.

And that segues nicely into one of my more specific fears as mother to a boy. As a junior high teacher, I read article upon article about the growing incidence of oral sex among increasingly younger adolescents; more accurately, girls are performing the oral sex on boys primarily to be liked. Now of course I recognize that this phenomenon must terrify parents of girls, and rightly so. So why does it inspire dread in me (besides the protective-teacher concern I had before becoming a mother)? Because I want to raise the kind of son who would be able to say no to such an offer.* Or, if this happened later in high school and this were a girl with whom he had a caring relationship, he would reciprocate.**

And this particular situation embodies for me the uphill battle of raising a sensitive, confident boy. When so much of culture celebrates the unthinking brute, suggests that a man should be measured by his sexual prowess, how will I be able to help my son maintain his sweet, thoughtful demeanor? I know that my concern is the first step. And that a willingness and availability to discuss sex is important. But what happens when I'm suddenly faced with a sullen adolescent?

I'm told that locking teenagers in the attic is generally frowned upon.

* I've often wondered how often this happens. I can't imagine very many hormone-addled boys who would find it easy to pass on such an offer, and I'm not sure there are many who would even think it necessary when it's the girl's suggestion to begin with.
** And wow, I am so not ready to think about that!

1 comment:

mad_hatter said...

This is a heartbreaking post because even though I wrote about girls, my girl in particular, I do know that boys are in it tough. The expectations put on boys are so overwhelming I don't know how they manage to see their way through to a confident yet sensitve adulthood. And yet so many do. With good parenting--and from the few posts I've read on your blog over these past few weeks, I know that you have that in spades--and a lot of love, the kids for the most part come out the other side of peer pressure intact.