Monday, February 7, 2011

Think Before You Speak

(This one’s for the Daddies out there – current and future. Mommas, listen up, too!)

I stopped at Target this morning on the way home from dropping off Bear and Ballerina at preschool. While I pondered which colored highlighters to purchase – a critical decision in grad school world – a man around my age wandered into my aisle chattering away on his cell phone.  Either that or he was speaking to a black plastic object... I choose to assume sanity first.  Anyway, these words came out of his mouth and made me flinch, “… And I told her in no uncertain terms that boys only want one thing and they’ll say anything to get what they want. I was a boy once, so I know how boys are.”

Raise your hand if you’ve never heard something like that before. Anyone? Anyone? It’s a common statement, right?  Well, if you have girl children and are planning to have this discussion… don’t. Please.

First, what does this have to do with my current education? A lot. In our psychology class we’re learning about behavior, reinforcement and motivation. Understanding this has everything to do with helping a blossoming, still innocent girl avoid having a boy take advantage of her. This also relates to research I did for my job several years ago on how incentives rarely accomplish what they’re intended to do. 

The long and short is this… think past the warning to its not-entirely-logical-because-I’m-still-at-a-formative-age conclusion. Think through the entire stream of logic as it may be understood by the girl:
  • Girl WANTS boy’s attention and approval.
  • Dad SAYS boy wants sex.
  • Therefore, GIVE boy sex, GET boy’s attention and approval.
Do you see where I’m going with this?  And forget piling on the warnings.  How effective are the following warnings in preventing undesirable or dangerous teenage behavior?
  • Smoking is addictive, makes you wrinkle, costs a lot of money, causes lung disease and may kill you.
  • You may make really stupid decisions when you’re drunk, and driving drunk may kill you or someone else.
  • If you get in a car accident while not wearing a seatbelt, you’re much more likely to be severely injured or die.
  • Not everyone looks good in jeggings, and those that don't look good look bad.
Those warnings don’t even convince adults to make smart choices!  The impotence of a warning about boys’ motivations + a girl’s innate motivation to be accepted by her peers (and boys) + a girl’s innate (and even minor) rebelliousness + daddy's helpful hint as to how to gain a boy’s attention = all the ingredients to help a girl make a bad choice.  On top of that, if a girl at a young age becomes convinced that boys’ romantic desires and overtures are all focused on sex, she is likely to grow into a woman who believes the same holds true of men.

So what can you do? Well, think about your goal first.  What do you want your baby girl, who is no longer a baby you can protect at all times, to believe?  Then, think about what your daughter wants, most of all.  Figure that out, and then tell her the truth, tell her exactly what you want her to believe. And talk with her, not at her.  Trust that even young girls can understand glimmers of “real” in your words.  And remember, she wants to learn, she wants to know things, she wants to understand how things work and she wants to please you... though that last part gets lost sometimes when she's swoony about a boy.

For me, someday I want to tell my baby girl that some boys have only one thing in mind, let's be honest, but that so many other boys out there are like budding versions of her Daddy. They want a friend first, someone they can talk to about anything and everything, someone to share secrets with and to laugh with unselfconsciously, someone who will understand tears, someone who is not afraid either to apologize or forgive. I want to tell her that many boys are wonderful, so if she finds someone who tries to pressure her into physical intimacy, she can feel secure in the fact that he may be just a wrong choice, no matter how appealing he seemed before.

And then I want her to give me the name of that boy so I can go teach him a lesson of a different sort.  ;)

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