Austin Babinsack is a 16-year-old high school student and proud member of the soccer team at Highlands High School in Natrona Heights, Pennsylvania. His enthusiasm for being part of the team was evidenced by the fact that he wore his warm-up jersey every day, and sometimes he even wore it to bed. Austin was so happy to have found a place where he felt like he belonged as that had always been a struggle for him because he has autism.
Unfortunately, his feeling of belonging was short-lived.
Two of his teammates took him to the soccer field on Sunday evening. They didn't go to practice or hang out. Instead, as part of a hazing activity, they allegedly duct-taped him to a goal post and left him there. CBS Pittsburgh reports he was screaming for help and crying hysterically when a woman walking by heard and saw him. She and an off-duty state trooper helped free Austin.
His mother says he was traumatized by the event and she contacted the school with her concerns about what had happened.
Many are labeling this bullying, because it was especially cruel since Austin has special needs, and they're looking for criminal charges to be filed. Some consider this a team tradition gone wrong. A few think nothing was problematic and this is being blown out of proportion... and then someone said it: "Boys will be boys."
That expression sets me off instantly.
Let's be very clear here. Boys are not a**holes by nature. It's not in their genetic makeup to automatically be mean-spirited or cruel. Being born with a penis does not predispose anyone to being the kind of person who will bully or hurt others. Boys may be more likely to engage in physical play and want hands on activities, but there's no connection between being kinesthetically oriented and intentionally damaging others or causing them pain.
So, can we just stop with that?
I have a son. There have been plenty of times he's been mean to his sister, didn't always play well with friends, and there have been times he's talked back and been rude. Not a single one of those instances had anything to do with the fact that he's a boy. Because, let's get real -- I fought with my sister growing up and I was a mouthy teenager. I said things I shouldn't have to my parents and I excluded my sister when we were younger... and I'm not a boy.
These behaviors need to be addressed, not brushed off or allowed under the guise that it's just a matter of fact that "boys will be boys." I spent my fair share of time grounded or on punishment as has my son. These are the times when we need to say we expect better.
We cannot hand over a free pass for hurting others -- and that's exactly what happens when people say "boys will be boys."
When people excuse bad behavior by attributing it to "just being boys," they're removing personal responsibility. If we don't hold our kids accountable for their actions, we can't be surprised at the future results. When young kids are taught that being mean or physical with someone else is basically expected and justified because "boys will be boys," they learn they don't have to be accountable for their actions. And, as they get older, they become accustomed to having their inappropriate behaviors exempted and they become bolder and commit more egregious acts -- like duct-taping a boy with autism to a pole.
No matter how awful the behavior, the message being sent is you're not at fault and that there are no other options. They couldn't have done anything else, really. I mean, they're boys. What were they supposed to do? NOT tape a kid to goal post?? (Yes. That's exactly what they were supposed to do: NOT tape a kid to a goal post.) Those kids who restrained Austin didn't do it because they're boys.
I've known thousands of high school kids -- about half of them boys. I've seen no predisposition to being a jerk based on whether someone checks the box Male or Female. None. So let's not excuse physical aggression, volatile behavior, cruelty or any other kind of undesired behavior with "boys will be boys" because when we say that, the other message being sent is you can't do any better than that, boys, it's just what you're wired to be. And I, for one, believe that my son -- and all boys -- CAN do better.
We have to replace "boys will be boys" with a much more acceptable idea: Boys will be what we expect them to be.