Over the weekend, two high school football players in Ohio were convicted in the rape of a drunken 16 year-old girl at a party.
You know that feeling you just got, when you read that sentence, of your blood beginning to boil? Me too. And I wonder if, when you combine all the boiling blood from all the parents all over North America, there might be enough thermal energy generated to finally accomplish something. Because the truth is that the blame for what happened in Steubenville falls not only on the people directly involved (whom I would never try to ‘let off the hook’), but there’s a little chunk to go around for all of us.
Ultimately, you get the society you enable. And while I’ve never been a fan of setting social policy based on the lowest common denominator, we keep seeing example after example of how our entire culture seems to be the victim of the ridiculous assumption that humans are ready to treat others with respect, and how the bottom-feeders in our society who abuse their rights and freedoms need to be dealt with in a far less forgiving fashion.
You might not have known this – nor did I until the wrong choice of Google searches opened my eyes today – that there are thousands of websites devoted to videos of guys getting young girls drunk and taking advantage of them. Judging by the sheer number of them, and the amount they apparently charge for access, there’s quite a market for this stuff. Why are there so many of them? Because we let it happen.
While I’m not going to make the claim that these kinds of websites turned a couple of good young Ohio men into rapists (although some are delusional enough to try), the prevalence of “drunk college girl” videos certainly makes it look like this kind of behavior is common. So to a high school kid who’s not smart enough to know the difference between “fantasy” and reality, it might even seem somehow acceptable. Why? Because we let it happen.
Why do you keep hearing stories about people getting arrested for drunk driving? Because we let it happen. If we were serious, we’d take away someone’s license – permanently – on the first offense. We don’t, because we’re not really that serious about stopping it. In fact, we could demand change about the way our culture deals with alcohol, tobacco, sex, drugs, bullying, violent video games and other things that kids should never be exposed to in the first place. If parents – who make up the largest demographic group in the world – were to actually band together as a cohesive group and demand change, change would follow. It would have to. And thanks to Facebook and Twitter, it’s easier than ever to get large groups of people together.
However, the things in our society that make our collective blood boil go largely unchanged, because the boiling is relatively superficial. You’ll read this article about Steubenville, maybe Google a couple of others, then go about your day. You won’t do anything to change it, and when I’m done writing it, I may not either. After all, I have to walk the dog.
I won’t go so far as to say we get the society we deserve; but we do get the one we enable.
That means that as parents, the burden is ours to bear, when it comes to educating our kids in such a way that they neither become the victims themselves, nor the kind of bottom-feeders that would perpetrate such an act.
Much as we discussed when the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut shook the continent, there’s a certain amount of “age appropriateness” that goes into discussing these kinds of things. I was surprised at the amount of graphic detail from the Steubenville rape that was posted in several of the news accounts I read – a couple even failed the “medium” filter settings I have in my browser, because the filter mistook it for porn. So, like Newtown, if your kids are of a certain age, they probably already know about it, and might even be talking about it with classmates. However, young children probably know very little about the story, and you get to dodge a parental bullet by perhaps keeping it that way.
For older kids, there’s just so much wrong with the story on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to start. Respect for others seems like a good place. Children who are taught to respect others – and who actually take the lessons to heart – would never dream of doing what these two Ohio boys did. So it’s up to us to build a society where a person who’s drunk and out of control is someone who needs to be taken care of, not taken advantage of. We need to teach our kids to try and have each other’s backs, instead of trying to have each other’s backsides. We need to do a better job as parents of teaching our children that being drunk at the age of 16 isn’t “fun”, it’s a sign that the rules (and the laws) aren’t being enforced. We’ve come to accept teenage drunkenness as “teens being teens”, when in fact it’s a parenting failure that’s been going on unchecked for generations.
So respect for others is one possibility, and respect for the law is another. And it’s great that thanks to your child’s school, they might have technical, process-oriented information about sex. Has anyone stopped to teach them what’s appropriate and what’s not? To teach them how it feels? To teach them that sex can be one of the craziest psychological roller coasters they’ll ever get on, and that there are millions and millions of adults who don’t have the skills to cope with it properly? Or are we too weighed down by our own awkwardness to be able to have a conversation that actually cuts through?
If millions of girls – thanks to our obsession with body image that we simultaneously embrace and abhor – have self-confidence issues, what is it in their makeup that makes us think they can deal with something that’s even beyond the grasp of many adults? Do our sons know that women aren’t something to be “conquered”, but loved, revered and respected? (One of the more thoughtful pieces about that side of the issue is here.) Again I say, we get the society we enable.
To me, this story, more than anything I’ve seen in a long time, reinforces the need to have honest, open communication with our children. Remember when people used to say “be a friend to your kids”? Even the father of one of the boys convicted in this case now seems to think that’s a terrible idea. However, you can be a parent whose kids share the same kinds of things they share with their friends, because they value your input and are made to feel glad when they do. If there’s one “tip” to glean from a tragic story like Steubenville, it’s that one. Communication and compassion can solve most every problem the world has. It’s a wonder we don’t try harder to get it right.