Some people believe there are inherent biological differences between boys and girls. And
some of that may be true. But, there are also differences that we, as parents, have created
by the messages we give our children – especially our sons. These messages are creating
a dangerous culture where girls are often in danger, and boys are often ashamed and
These messages are passed down from generation to generation, creating a dangerous
legacy that contributes to 1 in 3 women being abused by a boyfriend or husband, and 1 in 5
women being raped. And these messages are not only placing women and girls in danger.
They are, in the most subtle and dangerous ways, also ruining our sons.
- Boys will be boys: This phrase is used to excuse boys’ behavior more than any other. When a little boy
destroys the block tower his preschool classmate has been diligently working on, his
teacher and parents will often laugh and say, “boys will be boys.” When the young man
who is on my daughter’s soccer team gets angry and screams at the coach, his mom sighs
and says, “he’s such a boy.” And when high school football players rape young women, the
boys’ parents often make excuses and say, “They were drunk! What do you expect? He’s a
These messages teach boys that they are not responsible for their own actions, which
allows them to grow up to be men who feel they have a right to disrespect and hurt
others—especially women. Instead of relying on the “boys will be boys” excuse, we should
teach all children to respect other people’s boundaries and take responsibility for their
actions. And we need to teach this lesson early and often.
- Shake it off: When children are hurt, they want love and compassion from their parents. But, often, we
console our crying and hurt daughters, while we tell our sons to get over it, be a man, or
shake it off. We discourage our sons from feeling or showing their emotions, because we
don’t want them to be weak. But, when we deny our boys the right to cry when they are
hurt, they grow up not knowing how to feel pain. They grow up not knowing how to handle
pain when their high school girlfriend breaks up with them, or when their boss fires them.
Boys and men who have not been taught how to properly feel and process emotions will
react with the only emotion they’ve been given permission to feel: Anger. So, when that
teenage boy feels sad and hurt, rather than cry and mourn the loss of the relationship, he
will likely lash out—often at his former girlfriend.
If we instead teach our sons that it’s okay to be sad, hurt, or scared, they will feel
comfortable expressing and working through these emotions. This is not only healthier for
them, but also safer for the people in their lives.
- Don’t throw like a girl: When we criticize a boy for doing something like a girl, we are teaching him that to be like a girl is bad, and that girls are less than boys. These messages create a culture of shame in
our children. Girls are raised knowing they are seen as less valuable than boys, and boys
are raised ashamed that they can never be quite manly enough.
We have to stop raising boys who feel worthless because they can never seem to reach this
unattainable vision of “manhood.” We are raising young men who are filled with shame,
and who believe they are better than women. So, it should be no surprise that these men
often grow up and learn to let all of that aggression out–usually on women.
Instead, children should be raised to see one another as equals, and be praised for their
unique talents—whether that’s throwing a ball or painting a picture. Then, they will not only
feel better about themselves, they will treat others better as well.
- Put down that doll: I recently asked a group of parents if they would allow their daughters to play with trucks.
“Yes, of course,” everyone replied. Then I asked if they would allow their sons to play with
dolls. The fathers all seemed uncomfortable, many immediately shook their heads, and
many mothers also said that they would not.
One man said, “I would tell my son that dolls are for girls, but he can play with action
figures.” When I asked him why he wouldn’t want his son playing with dolls, he said, “I don’t
want him to be, well, girly.” Again, we are teaching our sons that to be anything girl-like is
wrong, bad, and less valuable anything boy-like. We are also robbing our sons of the
opportunity to learn how to nurture. Some parents worry that letting their sons play with
dolls will make them feminine, or gay (which, by the way, is neither a bad thing nor can you
cause it). But, do you know what else your son may grow up to be if he plays with dolls? A
- Don’t hit girls: Yes, you read that correctly. I am a domestic violence advocate, and I’m telling you to
STOP teaching your sons not to hit girls. This message (again) teaches boys that girls are
inferior, and need to be protected. And it fails to recognize that domestic abuse is about far
more than violence. Domestic abuse is caused by one person believing he has a right to
control and dominate his partner, which often happens because he was taught that he
should be in control, and that he is better than his partner.
We need to teach our sons to see women and girls as equals, not merely to avoid hitting
them. I have worked with many abusive men who would say, “My Daddy always taught me
never to hit a woman…and then told me to man up.” The messages are confusing, and
often cause men to be angry, ashamed, and violent. Teach your sons to respect women as
equals, and the “don’t hit them” message becomes unnecessary.
We need to love our sons, nurture them, and teach them that to be a real man has nothing
to do with power—it’s about character and kindness. Let’s worry less about our sons
growing up to be weak, and instead focus on raising them to be good people, caring fathers, and respectful partners. Let’s create a generation of men who are strong enough to cry, to hug, and to love their partners as equals.
Wouldn’t that be a great legacy?