My husband and I work very hard with our 7-year-old son to make sure that he acts like a gentleman at all times. It’s not an easy task, but it’s one we take seriously.
We make sure that he opens doors for young and old ladies.
We scold him when he does not help a woman, and sometimes an elderly gentleman, with their groceries.
And we constantly jump on his case about remembering one of our golden rules: “Be slow to react, and quick to think.” After all, a gentleman knows that he will be held accountable for his actions, and must act like such.
The biggest hurdle with training my child on how to be a gentleman is teaching him to resist rape culture and street harassment. That means keeping his hands to himself, and more importantly, teaching him the importance of not telling every little girl that he thinks is beautiful, that she’s beautiful. In fact, we try to drill into his head that he shouldn’t tell any girl he isn’t married or engaged to that she’s beautiful. Ever.
I know it sounds weird, but it’s almost startling how many girls are uncomfortable with hearing it. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen or heard about my son telling a little girl in his first grade class that she was beautiful, only for him to be cursed out (yes, 7 and 8-year-olds can curse like Sailors), told he was stupid, and sometimes punched.
My husband and I have talked about this subject in great detail, and we both agree that when he starts dating, it’s more important that he makes the girl or woman he’s with feel beautiful, as opposed to telling her. He can give her flowers. He can draw her pictures, and take her to the movies. He can even hold hands and talk with her.
But under no circumstances is he allowed to tell a girl he isn’t about to lock down that she’s beautiful. Especially when he sees a particularly lovely girl or woman on the street.
Yes, casual compliments are completely off limits. If he sees a pretty girl in school or on the street, he is not allowed to tell her that her dress is cute. Or that her hair color is awesome. And he shouldn’t even think about telling her that she’s pretty. His job as a boy growing into a man is to never make any woman or girl feel uncomfortable, even if it means sacrificing some compliments.
But I have to admit that what I’m teaching my son breaks my heart. My child is not one to mince words, and when he sees a little girl that he thinks is beautiful, he’ll tell me in a heartbeat. It just sucks that he could never tell her that himself.
As much as it stinks, it’s better that he understands the importance of not making any girl feel uncomfortable. I’d rather he be viewed as a jerk who can’t give a compliment, than a jerk who thinks it’s okay to recycle rape culture and street harassment.