Setting boundaries of appropriate behavior and instilling the idea that everyone is equally deserving of respect is an ongoing project.
Every parent’s goal is to raise children who are strong and confident — and most would agree it’s equally important that they’re respectful of their peers and good team players who possess the humility to admit when they’re wrong and know when to follow the lead of more experienced individuals.
Over the past two years, the national conversation about the conduct of men and high school boys has come to the forefront — especially when it comes to their treatment of girls and women. It has caused people everywhere to rethink how parents, and society as a whole, are raising boys and what we can do to teach them from an early age about setting boundaries of appropriate behavior and instilling in them that everyone is equally deserving of respect.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are some tips from educators and a parent.
Lead by example
Patty Thumann, mom to twin 9th grade boys and a 12th grade daughter at Annie Wright Schools, emphasizes the importance of leading by example and being conscious of the environment in which her children are raised.
“In addition to the example I set, it’s about the environment I put them in, and ensuring it is diverse. The people I surround [my children] with is very important,” Thumann says. She is very conscious of where she sends her kids to school and which activities they’re involved in — not to limit their world, but in order to make it more real. Thumann also makes sure her children are aware that they’re responsible for giving back to their community in any way they can and taking care of other people.
Expose boys to girls and women in leadership positions — and normalize it
Susan Bauska, Director of Annie Wright Upper School for Boys, says it’s crucial that high school boys are not always the ones in positions of power. Instead, they should grow accustomed to sharing positions of leadership with women and learn to follow women in leadership. For example, all the prefects in the school’s dormitories are girls because prefects must be seniors, and Annie Wright didn’t have an Upper School for Boys until 2017, so there are currently no male seniors. Next year, the Upper School for Boys will offer grades 9, 10 and 11, with the first graduating senior class in 2020-21.
“The boys have had to look to young women as their mentors and as their student leaders in the dorm,” Bauska says. “It normalizes the relationships between boys and girls and hopefully men and women as they grow older where leadership is a shared enterprise.”
As Director of Athletics at Annie Wright Schools, Mike Finch makes a point of ensuring that the boys he coaches are aware of the amazing things that are being accomplished by the young women at the Upper School For Girls — both in programs and individually. As an example, he cites a basketball scrimmage between the boys’ and girls’ teams this year in which the girls emerged victorious.
“We started a boys’ basketball team for the first time this year and they practice on the same court as the girls. The girls were further ahead than the boys in basketball, and our boys respect that,” Finch says. “They see a group of highly talented basketball players that are on the court with better developed skills than the boys currently possess, and I think that goes a really long way. It’s not a knock on the boys, but it does show them to respect the work and the work ethic that these young women are putting into their craft, whether it’s in sports or in the classroom.”
Talk with kids about current events at home
Discussing the news is an excellent way to start conversations about important topics. “When we hear about something that’s not right or something that’s positive, we talk about it openly,” Thumann says. “We talk about these things a lot more than I think we ever would have with our parents when I was their age.”
Because of these open and ongoing conversations, Thumann says her children are more open to lots of things — most importantly, people who are different from them.
“They’re understanding of it and they just try to be empathetic,” she says. “And that’s something I’ve tried to work on with them since they were really little. You have to have empathy for everyone and try to understand what they’re going through. Rather than looking at what’s in front of you, look a little deeper.”
The most important lesson Thumann aims to impart to her children is a simple but crucial one: To exercise empathy in their interactions with people.
Founded in 1884, Annie Wright Schools serve students from age 3 through high school. Annie Wright Lower and Middle Schools offer coed programs in preschool through grade 8. Separate Upper Schools for boys and girls offer day and boarding options in grades 9-12.