If he expresses carefulness and decides to heed a warning about a rollercoaster or ride, he would be seen as being a "chicken" and not as cautious. When he is upset and expresses it by crying, I am met with disappointing looks by other 'concerned' parents. According to them, by being 9, he has passed the age of acceptable crying in public. I did not get that memo. He is instead told to "shake it off" and "stop acting like a girl" and I'm reminded that by allowing this behaviour, I am turning him into a mama's boy by hugging and kissing him and telling him it is ok to behave this way.
We are prompted being a boy is playing in the dirt, getting scratched up and having broken bones regularly. It also seems to mean being rowdy and loud, jumping off trees and scaring their friends and talking loudly and boasting of their academic and athletic achievements at every chance they get. It also connotes pulling pigtails and capturing bugs and lizards.
Is this right? What sort of generation are we bringing up if the only refrains these boys hear is "Man up...", "Don't be a sissy..." "Act/Talk/Behave like a man..." and "Be a man". These may be words but they are powerful tools that are absorbed by our boys every day and shape their experiences as men.
It is a tough time to be a boy today. Recent studies show, more boys are kicked out of school than girls. They are also more likely to engage in violent crime, binge drinking and drugs. And suicide rates are higher in men than in women. Can all these be blamed on words?
As women and mothers, I personally feel we are responsible for raising responsible boys and guiding them on their journey to become men. Is it more man-like to catcall a woman in public or rescue a caterpillar from a fallen leaf? Does it make my son less of a man if he is squeamish at the sight of blood rather than break someone's nose in? How is it being less of a man if he teaches his friends the dangers of jumping off a roof and it is against the rules to swim in the sea when a red flag is out? Can he be defined less of a man because he can't stand cockroaches but cannot bear to kill them either? Who makes these judgment calls?
In my humble opinion, he is "all boy" when he is quietly reading his book against the tree in the park, enjoying nature. He is no less a boy when he teaches his younger cousins how to play Bingo and how to make a ship out of Legos. He is no less a lad when he explains to me that sharks are good creatures too – they should not be judged for their killing habits.
John is a happy-go-lucky kid, who just got into the school football team. He was so excited, not just because he got into this coveted spot but also he is finally accepted by his peers, the older boys he always looked up to, growing up. He washed his uniform the day before his first day of practice and would admiringly look at it before he went to bed. However, this happiness is short-lived.
As soon as he walks to the pitch, the older kids rushed up to him. Thinking he was being taken for practices or a warm-up, he happily joined them. Instead, he was taken by these older kids he admired so much and forced to do many pushups and sit-ups, way more than he is used too. He eventually passed out and was later laid off the team. When the older kids were questioned, they replied "John did not have the stamina for the team" and the coach also made a statement "Boys will be boys".
Variations of this event are echoed in school hallways everywhere and we, as responsible adults would call this "bullying". But why are we justifying this behaviour? Surely, boys are not tyrants by nature. Boys are genetically more likely to engage in physical play than girls but there is no connection between this and intentionally damaging others or causing pain to them.
We parents cannot condone or hand over a "free pass" for this sort of behaviour and this is exactly what happens when we allow a "boys will be boys" attitude to continue. If we cannot hold our lads accountable for their actions, how can we express surprise or remorse at their future results? When we allow these things to happen, we are removing personal responsibility, the very thing that would make them accountable adults. And surely, that is what we want from our future generations of leaders, isn't it?
The message being sent is there were no other options available. Really? John's tormentors had other options, for instance, they had the choice NOT to physically taunt him and just warm up and play like other kids.
We, as parents of sons, can do better than this. We should encourage our boys to be better, to be kinder, to be gentler. This world is cruel enough without us adding to that mess. We should replace the idea of "boys will be boys" with a more acceptable idea. What about... Boys will be what we expect them to be.