Whether they’re doing it in Boston or Botswana, guys raising sons have one primary concern: Make sure they’re not little shits. Promundo, an international nonprofit that promotes gender equality by engaging with boys and young men, is concerned about that, too, which is why they just launched Adolescent Boys and Young Men: Engaging Them as Supporters of Gender Equality and Health and Understanding their Vulnerabilities. The report takes a deep, deep dive into the attitudes towards, and experiences with, gender norms and sexuality of teenage and 20-something males all over the world. The results are a little alarming, and while you might find it comforting to know you can always blame your own kid on “society,” many of the report’s recommendations fall squarely on your shoulders.
The report collates data from studies on all 6 continents (sorry, Antarctica), which examine things like prevailing notions of masculinity and attitudes toward safe sex and promiscuity. While much of the findings focus on the developing world, one section in particular should resonate with parent in North America and Europe: Social Media And Violence.
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According to The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), coauthor of the paper, gender norms and male engagement was only a priority for 22 percent of governments globally. The UNPFA and Promundo argue that this leaves a void for media to fill with unhealthy, aggressive definitions of masculinity, like pornography. In the UK the average age for seeing porn has dropped from 15 to 11 in the past decade; clearly, the days of “finding dad’s stash” are long gone. This, combined with images of violence and aggression in movies, television shows and advertisements all contribute to how boys define being a man. As a general dad rule, if your kid is learning more from porn and Mad Max movies than from you, you’re doing it wrong.
The report stresses that how your son defines masculinity can influence whether or not he’ll ask for help in school or report being a victim of bullying or sexual violence (to say nothing of his likelihood to perpetrate either). It can even affect how aggressively he drives, as the World Health Organization reports that men under 25 are 3 times more likely to die in a traffic-related injury.
The authors of the report say that kids “stand to reap lifelong benefits when young men and boys are engaged in a more holistic approach to gender equality,” and while the internet comes in for a sound thrashing, they point out it can also be a useful tool for change. Websites like Everyday Sexism — which allows girls to share their stories of gender discrimination and violence — give teachers (that would be you) powerful tools with which to engage boys.The good news is that your son is more than capable of looking at things with a critical eye (just ask him what he thinks of your face), and gender norms are just another thing to tackle.