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Teaching Boys to Be Kind and Brave

In the months since the news broke about the horrific case in Steubenville, Ohio, the nation has been reeling from it and the attempts to cover it up. The questions about what’s been called our “rape culture” are flying around: “How was this situation allowed to spiral out of control? How could two high school boys so heinously assault, humiliate and exploit this girl? Why didn’t anyone try to stop it? How could the victim be the one shamed by both adults and kids in her community? And, what does all this tell us about ourselves and our culture?"

Parents are also haunted by questions: “What if my kid was there in that situation? Would they have been passive to the victim? Would they have protected the girl despite the social pressure? Or horrifically, would they have participated in this abuse like so many did?”

If Steubenville reveals anything, it’s that our particular culture tends to shape our moral imaginations towards passivity and narcissism. If we expect something more from the next generation, we’ll have to instill in them an understanding of right and wrong, and the courage to act, in spite of our culture.

Kim Simon makes this point in a thoughtful Huffington Post article, titled “Prevent Another Steubenville: What All Mothers Must Do for Their Sons.” Simon, who describes herself as “a feminist and a mother,” is convinced that mothers who teach their sons to be kind, brave, responsible and communicative “can prevent the next Steubenville.”

“Those young men in Steubenville,” according to Simon, “… were afraid to ruin their hard-earned reputations, afraid of what their peers would think of them. They were afraid of getting in trouble, afraid they wouldn't know what to say. Teach your boys,” she says, “that bravery can be terrifying. Courage can be demanded of you at the most inopportune times. Let them know that your expectation is that they are brave enough to rise to the occasion. And show them how.”

There’s irony here, considering that so many modern feminists have condemned male strength as what’s wrong with the world, while at the same time calling women to be more like men. But protective male instincts don’t need to be suppressed; they need to be cultivated. When left on their own, men end up using their strength to harm, not help. They become predators instead of protectors.

Now that we see a generation of “men without chests,” as C.S. Lewis would say, we don’t like it. But many of those young men and women who trouble us have never heard or seen that any sort of moral responsibility is expected of them. They’ve been cultivated towards relativism, which produces only moral passivity.

Moms and dads, talk about and model moral expectations now, before the incident when they have to decide what to do.

Christians, in particular, have the perfect model in Jesus Christ, a man who exemplified both kindness and bravery. He identified with the downtrodden and victimized, freely offering physical and spiritual healing. His love and courage took Him all the way to the cross. We could not possibly ask for a better role model for our sons and daughters.

Let me also recommend my colleague Eric Metaxas’ new book Seven Men and the Secret of Their Greatness. I can’t think of a better book for dads to read with their sons.

We have the tools we need — now we just need to use them. We can’t just sit around waiting and fearing another Steubenville. Moral dilemmas that call for action happen every day. And if our sons and daughters can handle those with responsible courage despite the social pressures they face, we’ll have good reason to think they won’t be passive when the stakes are even higher.

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: April 11, 2013

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