There's a story in the news this week about how a well-meaning father took pictures with his arms around his daughter's Homecoming date; mimicking the couple's pose. A comment was later added, and the picture posted on social media. "Whatever you do to my daughter, I will do to you." The original article came out on a Fox News affiliate in Orlando, and was dubbed "hilarious".
Now. The full story is that both families were at the photo shoot and it was intended to be a joke, okay'ed by everyone involved. Therein, I'm not trying to judge this particular story, more use it as an example of the old-fashioned norms in which we continue to mindlessly participate.
While the role of overprotective father is not a new one, it is a tired concept that needs to just die, already. Aside from the assumption that my daughter (yes, I also have daughters) is incapable of good judgement and protecting herself and her standards, this ridiculous concept imagines my sons likewise incapable of the same good judgement and standards.
"But I've been/known a teenage boy," You say. "I know how they think."
Which is total baloney. Because here's the thing -- thoughts are not equal to actions. And rationalizing that young men have overwhelming urges that cloud their judgement and force them to make poor decisions regarding young women is nothing more than excusing bad behavior. "Boys will be boys" needs to STOP.
My oldest son is 16 and his life does not need to be threatened when he takes his date out for dinner. My son is 16 and yet he has enough sense to be respectful to his grandmother, his mother, his sisters, and, amazingly, his girlfriend. I, as his mother, take offense to the thought that he is some hormone-drunk sloppy boner-machine (man he's going to hate me for writing that phrase in a public forum) who is completely blinded to good sense and morality. I have raised my son to be respectful and responsible young man, and he portrays those qualities in outside situations, as well.
It's not "funny" to threaten my son. It's not "cute" to treat your daughter as if she has zero common sense.
If you'd like to protect your daughter, raise her in such a way that she can protect herself. Give her the tools to decipher a dangerous situation. Teach her the language of consent and how to exit a situation that makes her uncomfortable. Help her be confident about her decisions, and show her how to make good choices about the people she spends time with. Take the time and be involved in her life. Protect your son in the same ways. And, for goodness sake, if you have good reason to distrust their judgement, make sure their activities are safe and monitored.
Above all, realize and come to terms with the fact that teenage sexuality is not a "boy thing". Teenage sexuality is a teenage thing. Young men and young women alike are going to be curious, interested, and looking to learn more about sex. Your daughter is just as curious as my son, I can virtually guarantee it. Yet you don't see me polishing a shotgun when she comes over to do homework. You don't see me posting pictures on Facebook with watered-down threats about personal harm should I find out she gets handsy with my son.
The idea of threatening young women to keep their hands off young men is ludicrous, yet when roles are reversed it's completely accepted and even encouraged. Why? In order to raise a generation of kind and respectful men we have to stop telling our boys they're inherently bad (but it's not their fault because hormones.) In order to create a culture of strong and competent women who can save themselves, we must first stop teaching girls that they need to be saved.
Why don't we, as parents, mutually do our best to raise responsible and capable children, instead? Why don't we guide our children to better choices, and help them learn how to recover when (not if) they screw up? Why don't we remember that this is all part of the process and focus on the examples we're setting for them and the messages they're receiving at home? Then maybe we could all take a collective deep breath and be more confident in the kids we've raised.
Kasey Ferris is a freelance writer and mother of five. She eats too many Oreos and thinks life is much better when you're laughing. Find her on facebook.