Three months ago, it seemed almost everyone in America became appalled when the father of a convicted rapist referred to his son’s crime as “twenty minutes of action.” We went on and on about rape culture and vilified this father, who certainly deserved every ounce of contempt directed his way. Now, after serving his three-month sentence, this rapist was recently released and rape culture is news again. But how many parents who condemned this father are raising just such a rapist?
No one wants to raise a rapist or believes that they would. My guess is that this father did not have a goal to raise a rapist. He might have stated that his parenting philosophy was to raise a happy, successful son. But while individuals may state their parenting beliefs or philosophies in words, their true philosophies are revealed by their behaviors. If we were to examine the parenting behaviors of this father a decade ago, what philosophy would it have revealed?
The parenting philosophy that is in danger of raising a rapist is one that teaches children that they can have anything they want. It teaches that when someone tells them no, they can continue pressing the issue. It reinforces the idea that pushing past the personal boundaries of others is how you gain success. It makes them believe that they are special and that because of this, people will overlook their anti-social behaviors and attitudes.
Not very long ago I was a chaperone for one of my sons’ activities, which included preteen boys and their parents. I was able to observe many parent-child interactions over the course of a few days. There was one boy in particular who was popular and athletic but seemed to have a bit of an anger issue. I noticed his repeated angry outbursts directed toward his mother. But instead of any type of boundary setting or punishment, each angry outburst tended to be met with consolation and reward.
When this boy was angry that his parent would not spend money on yet another souvenir or activity, Mom shelled out more and more money to purchase whatever was requested. When he wanted to do things that deviated from the group schedule, Mom accommodated. When met with correction from a school official, Mom did what she could to smooth it over.
As I observed the events of the week unfold, I took note of the fact that nothing seemed to alleviate the sullen mood of this child for very long. Each time he pushed past his mom’s boundaries, she eventually responded to the new demand. The boy would then give a mild apology for his mood, paired with an “I love you, Mom.” But it was quickly forgotten within the hour as a new desire presented itself, and a new cycle of emotional manipulation occurred.
This mom doesn’t think she’s raising a rapist. And I pray she isn’t. Human behavior isn’t a perfect formula. But if there was a formula, I am certain that this type of parenting would be part of the equation.
Imagine a decade from now that this boy is in his third year of college. He’s living in the apartment his parents provided, driving the car his parents pay for, insure and keep gassed up. Imagine he invites a girl on a date, and buys drinks with the credit card his parents take care of. Imagine things between them get heated up, but then she says no.
He acts sullen, and tells her he really wants her. She says no again. But he is not deterred. This pattern is familiar. In his world, people always say no a few times before they give in. He begins to act hurt and maybe angry. She still says no. What will he do now?
This young man has absolutely zero skills to handle being told no. He gets more and more angry and before long, he finds a way to get what he wants. After he has, he smiles, issues a mild apology and says, “I love you.” After all, people will forgive his anti-social behavior because he is special. And he is pleased with himself and this outcome. Until the next desire presents itself.
If we are to be responsible parents, we must equip children with the skills to handle being told no. Of course this is not the only value that needs to be instilled to prevent the next generation of rapists. Respect for women, the ability to form genuine relationships, a healthy view of sexuality and responsible use of alcohol are all critical. But the ability to respect the word “no” as a boundary is a fundamental life skill that many children are lacking.
Teaching this skill is our responsibility as parents and it is done, as a start, by not giving in after we have said “no.” It is done by not allowing our children to become masters of emotional manipulation. We must allow children to learn how to manage anger and frustration, not by removing it for them, but by allowing them to work through it and sometimes live with it. The world will tell them no at some time or another. And they will need to know how to manage the feelings that come with hearing it. If we are to be responsible parents of boys, and say we care about rape culture, and about raising responsible young men, this has to be a top priority