A father is concerned his son doesnt realise how serious his actions were. Mariella Frostrup says its up to parents to confront teenagers who think this attitude to women and girls is OK
The dilemma My 13-year-old son, who lives with his mother, has been caught sending a sexually explicit email to a teacher at school. He did it from a schoolmates phone that had been left unattended. He denied it until he realised he was totally busted.
He has always had parental locks on his electric devices and we have both stressed discretion on the internet, and respect for women. Since the incident a search of his phone and iPad reveal three Instagram accounts that hed set up with images of scantily clad woman.
The school has punished him suitably, bearing in mind his previous good record. His internet access is on shut down for everything but essential school work and his iPhone will be swapped for an old phone with no connectivity if there is a sniff of anything else going on.
My big problem is that he appears to be just going through the motions of saying hes sorry. How can I get it into his head what a bad thing hes done and get him to realise the severity of his actions?
Mariella replies Set up home with him on another planet? There are few places on Earth where a child can escape the relentless barrage of indoctrinating imagery suggesting womens bodies are there to be exploited. Its proved extraordinarily durable propaganda.
Part of the problem is that we women are complicit. Where once we donned dungarees and burned our bras, today were queuing for Victorias Secret. If we really have earned the right to choose then what weve chosen is to perpetuate the presumption that our appearance matters more than what comes out of our mouths. Its no longer something that we can blame on boys and men. We actually need to do a little navel gazing ourselves, which shouldnt be so difficult in a world where theyre just one of the many female body parts abundantly on display!
Weve made huge advances in terms of our right to work, to study, to make our own choices and generally take control of our lives since the 1970s. But its a source of bafflement and frustration that they havent come hand in hand with major modifications to a misogynistic culture that preys on the insecurities of women and girls. Instead, weve swept boys into its embrace, too, with rising depression and anorexia just a couple of the psychological side effects.
In our supposedly emancipated corner of the planet, women are still paraded across magazines, TVs, PCs and billboards. The smartphone gives our kids instant access to this sexually charged, commercially dominated world, abandoning them to navigate their own path as we career into the future, enthralled by technology but blindly ignorant of its impact.
Those of us dubious about tomorrows world feel as ineffectual as Canute holding back the tide. Pornography, liberated to enter our homes and our childrens psyches via the internet, normalises the objectification of women and children. It compounds sexual stereotypes, renders emotional connections obsolete and teaches our children how to perform sex acts, but not about the riches of human relationships. We are all sexist now! The 70s was a Neanderthal era, but at least in those early feminist days there was also a degree of common sense and solidarity to mitigate the misogyny.
Today, those pioneers are often men from organisations such as Good Lad and Great Men. They work in universities and schools, respectively, creating ambassadors and encouraging conversations about masculinity, sexuality and attitudes to the opposite sex. They work on the premise that young boys are as much at sea in the new sexual politics as girls ever were and need basic tools to recognise and articulate their problems.
If you dont have one of these groups operating in your sons school, organise an invitation for them or set up something similar. Boys desperately need male role models to guide them through the morass of messed up and mixed up messaging out there. We need to be talking to our children and encouraging their critical thinking. We need to teach them how to assimilate and process the tsunami of news and fake news, explicit imagery and morally questionable advertising at their fingertips.
Its an ugly sexist world out there that insists on keeping boys and girls in designated boxes. Its one where boys dont cry and all girls deep down want it! As parents and citizens we need to set about changing this pernicious climate that encourages your 13-year-old to think its a gas to send explicit emails to his teacher.
Finally, you mention he lives with his mother. I hope its not a sign youre offloading responsibility. You need to work together to make clear that just because hes surrounded by poisonous sexist rubbish, he doesnt have to roll around in the mire.