When a young woman was accused of distracting her neighbor's adolescent boys, she pointed out that it's parents' job to raise their sons to take responsibility for their actions.

By Maressa Brown
April 13, 2021
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Although parents are having more conversations around topics like consent and making strides to empower girls, it seems the antiquated, toxic messaging that "boys will be boys" still runs rampant. A viral Reddit post, which has since been deleted, illustrates just how quickly a parent can be to embrace and defend that dated belief. The original poster (OP) shared that she was recently accused of "distracting" a neighbor's adolescent sons—by simply swimming at the beach near her house.

An image of a father and a son talking.
Credit: Getty Images.

How the Post Showed a Problematic Belief About Boys

The OP explained that there's a condo overlooking the spot where she swims—as well as a shop beneath it—and she would occasionally see a drone hovering around the area. Recently, she went into the shop after her beach visit and ran into a woman who said she lives in the condo, and her 11, 12, and 13-year-old sons often wake up early to watch the OP swim.

The woman then told the OP that she's been "distracting" her boys, warning her that they were watching her with the drone. "Weirded" out, the OP told the woman to discipline her sons instead of warning her about them. The mom countered that her kids are going through puberty so the OP shouldn't be surprised and even concluded that the OP shouldn't come to the beach if she feels uncomfortable.

Redditors quickly pointed out that the mom of three is the one who's in the wrong. One commenter, writing under the handle r/downvotelizard, shared, "This woman thinks it's normal and okay for her teenage sons to creep on a woman and then has the nerve to tell you it's your fault, and you shouldn't go to a public beach." Another named r/kidnurse21 summed it up: "She's raising predators."

Why Saying 'Boys Will Be Boys' Is Dangerous

As unnerving as this particular situation might be, the mom's attitude is far from new or uncommon. "Unfortunately, this view that 'boys will be boys,' so women and girls must mind their bodies and behaviors so as not to inflame [them] has a long history in Western culture," says Danielle Egan, practicing psychoanalyst and professor of gender, sexuality and intersectionality studies at Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. "Heterosexual men's sexuality is seen as impulsive, reactive, and uncontrollable—once inspired, unstoppable."

And if you say send the harmful message that "boys can't help themselves," you're also saying sexual ethics is not something they should be concerned with, says Egan. "By not talking about consent, sexual ethics and responsibility, parents create a context where their sons do not consider their female peers as individuals worthy of respect and humane treatment," she notes.

This can set the stage for deeply problematic perceptions and interactions later on.

What Parents Can Do to Raise Boys Who Become Responsible Men

"Parents need to remember that the messages they send their children about sex, sexuality, and gender shape their perceptions, beliefs, and actions," notes Egan. That said, here are several tips for steering clear of toxic beliefs and helping kids develop a healthy mentality around sexual ethics.

Communicate about sexual curiosity more—and earlier. It's important to remember that sexual curiosity is normal, so Egan recommends parents talk to their children, both boys and girls, about their rising desires and curiosity. "It is important to start these conversations long before adolescence. In much the same way that parents talk to their children about why they should not hit others, why they should share, and why they should be kind-—it is important to talk about consent, respect, and ethics," she notes.

Be more aware of your own shaming remarks. You might not realize that you're sending certain subtle—or not so subtle—messages to your kids when you slut-shame or make derogatory remarks about women who dress in ways you find too revealing, says Egan. But these comments can have negative effects on both boys and girls.

Discuss bodily autonomy. In preschool, when kids get angry, we tell them to use their words versus their hands or feet, and we emphasize the importance of kindness. This can serve as a roadmap for talking about bodily autonomy, says Egan.

"Talk to your children about the fact that their body is a wonderful thing and that it is theirs, and no one should ever touch, take pictures, or grab them," she advises. "And equally important, they should not do that to others."