By Jen Jones, See the Triumph Guest Blogger
Note: While intimate partner violence can happen in various circumstances (e.g., female perpetrators, same-sex relationships, etc.), this blog post will focus on male-perpetrated violence against women.
Recently, I came across Tony Porter’s TED talk on the socialization of men. You can watch it here. This 11-minute video blew me away. Tony describes the messages that we give to our boys…messages like, “Be a man! (and, being a man is defined by having power and control, especially over women)” and “Women have less value and are sexual objects to be conquered or property to own.” These messages are not new to us; they’ve been taught by our culture for generations. But, these messages breed attitudes in men that perpetuate and justify violence against women.
Additionally, our culture may not be the only place that boys receive these messages. Existing research indicates that children who grow up in violent homes are at greater risk to experience violence in their adult relationships (Murray & Graves, 2013). Witnessing domestic violence at home can lead kids to believe that abuse is normal or that controlling someone is a good way to show them “love”. Our sons may have learned these messages from our very own homes.
So, what can we do about it? How do we rewrite a script that has been engrained in our culture for generations? What will instill respect for women in our young boys? To begin, staying silent about the issue will never result in positive change. Just TALKING about what healthy versus unhealthy relationships look like and challenging the societal messages is a good start.
Does the idea of talking to your teenage son about relationships and all the accompanying potentially awkward topics make you start to sweat? Feeling a little uncomfortable? If so, consider the following five tips to help get you started:
1. Embrace the awkwardness. As humans, we tend to avoid all things that make us feel uncomfortable. Accept that tough conversations might be awkward at first, but the consequence of our silence is far worse. Our silence leaves boys learning about relationships from media, a violent society, and enlarged egos in teenage boy’s locker rooms. Instead, let’s lean into the awkwardness and with a morsel of bravery and lots of humility. Let’s start conversations about love, respect, and dating relationships with our sons. It may help ease the awkwardness by having these conversations while taking a walk, eating a meal, or riding in the car.
2. Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions encourage discussion and elicit more than a simple “yes” or “no” response. For example, you can ask, “What do you think a healthy relationship looks like?” Or, “how do you show a girl you like her?” You can use examples from movies and television shows you watch together to spark discussion about the words, actions, and attitudes that men use to control women. Be genuinely interested in what they have to say about their own experiences with relationships.
3. Then, LISTEN. I know you have a lot you want to say about healthy relationships, but with teenage boys, you have to earn the right to be heard and often that is earned through listening first. Resist the urge to interrupt, analyze, or criticize what they say. Instead, ask follow-up questions which shows you were really listening.
4. Enlist some help. Older men often have a profound impact on younger men’s lives, so make sure your son has some great male role models who show respect for their partners and foster healthy relationships.
5. Keep it up! This is not a one-and-done conversation. Make it an ongoing discussion. Keep your eye out for real life examples that create opportunities for you to talk about dignity and respect for all people.
Has this blog sparked your interest? Here are some additional resources that might help you in continuing this conversation in your family:
Jen Jones is a Masters student studying Couple and Family Counseling at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She has six years of experience working with kids and teens at a Christian summer camp, and looks forward to working with families in the future.