This blog post by a mom of teen boys has stirred something in a lot of people. Some people are praising the message of modesty while others see disturbing ideals lurking beneath a mother’s warning. I see a little of both sides and have my own thoughts on this mother’s tactics.
I understand her plea for modesty. We all raise our daughters with the intention of producing confident strong women who don’t have to trade or rely on their looks to make it in this world. I want my daughters to celebrate their intellect and humor and creativity. I also recognize, however, that everyone has a little vanity. Even those who proclaim complete humility and modesty surely secretly celebrate something about themselves that is completely superficial or cosmetic. Maybe it’s a nice smile, graceful hands or shiny hair. There’s no need to be ashamed of celebrating something about yourself that is god-given, purely the lottery of genetics. Just because you didn’t earn it and were graced with it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t wear it proudly. This is coming from someone who suffered through the longest awkward period known to adolescence and had to wear a horrific looking back brace for many years. On top of that I was a dorky teen girl struggling with confidence. During that time I learned to focus on other features that I thought were appealing and avoided looking in the mirror at anything below my neck. This tactic got me through those years without feeling depressed or sorry for myself. At the end of it all when I was brace-free and back to looking like a normal 13 year old do you know what I took from that experience? That I’m tough, that I got through something extremely painful and humiliating and came away stronger. So, you see, that little bit of vanity helped me get to the end of an otherwise difficult process. My point is that while I don’t necessarily want to see my daughters preening for selfies with a pout on their face and their back arched, I realize that some of this is a normal part of growing up in today’s world. I will certainly educate them on the perils of posting any pictures of themselves on the internet, but I am not naive enough to think that some of that will happen without my knowledge.
Other responses have referred to the comments that perpetuate the “rape culture” that sadly still exists in our society. A girl posing in her p.j.’s without a bra on or in a bikini shouldn’t mean that this mom’s teen sons (or anyone for that matter) can never see her in any other way, “that once a male sees you in a state of undress that he can’t quickly un-see it”. She goes on to admonish the girl saying “You don’t want our boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?” That’s a disturbing comment on many levels. First, I give my son more credit than that. I’m trying to raise a gentleman who will respect women and can handle seeing his friends in cute bikinis and not view them as sexual objects forever after. Yes, I know he will take notice and at some point ( a LOOOOONG time from now!) find it arousing on occasion. But I trust that he will also be able to see girls at school or the mall and not just look at them in a state of mental undress. Second, the notion that a girl should be responsible for how a boy responds to her appearance is insane. It makes my blood boil. I don’t care if she is posing like a Victoria’s Secret model, or wearing a mini skirt, that should not put upon her the actions or thoughts of others. There is a culture that subscribes to the notion that women should not provoke men with their physical appearance, that men can not be expected to control themselves if the women is any way exposed. Those cultures usually require women to wear burkas….
Finally, this whole method of parenting, of sitting around the dinner table with your teens perusing their friends’ Facebook Pages, struck me as counter-productive. If I could teach one thing to my kids, it’s to trust their gut, their instincts, their inner compass…. whatever you want to call it. I try to teach them how to recognize when your gut is telling you something’s not right. If they can learn this they will avoid (hopefully) danger, poor choices, unsavory friends and multi-level marketing schemes. I can explain this to them all I want, but at some point all they hear is “Wah wah wah” (insert Charlie Brown teacher voice here). The only way they’re going to truly get it is by trial and error, by experiencing the pain of ignoring that little voice in your head warning you. I think this may be the hardest part of parenting. We spend so much time and energy wanting to protect them from everything, so it’s so incredibly difficult to cut the cord and let them try to navigate things on their own. As they are going through their adolescent years, this is the crucial time for them to learn these lessons. They may become friends with someone who’s a bad influence. They may date someone who is unseemly, they may see things about their friends on the internet that are cause for concern. Well, as much as each scenario scares me into wanting to move to Amish country, better that they encounter some of these things now and learn how to spot the bad seeds and how to extricate yourself from bad situations. I would rather my kids confront these things while they are under my roof, with curfews and limitations that I set. Better than learning the hard way when they go off to college and the consequences can be much more dire. Better than when they are an adult and marry the wrong person who makes their life hell. It’s going to royally suck to see my kids go through any such situations, but if they do I will be here to guide them, to comfort them and support them so they can learn from each situation and come out of it with more knowledge and self assurance. I know this isn’t fool proof, and it is the scariest part of loving these people that we are responsible for raising, but I whole heartedly believe that insulating them and holding their hand on every little thing, including their Facebook viewing, will not lead them into adulthood with the worldliness and knowledge they will surely need. Just my thoughts…..