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October 22, 2013
We the Parents
by Melissa Howell

I ♥ boobies.

This is what my 10-year-old son reported was the phrase printed on one of his fifth-grade classmate’s shirts the other day. I know battles have ensued in other schools over the wearing of such phrases, and I do know my son said this classmate turned his shirt inside out at some point.

Yes, I do realize this phrase has been coined as part of a campaign to start a “positive approach to breast cancer dialogue.” No, I don’t like it. And no, I do not know whether this boy was wearing this phrase for breast cancer.

I am fully, one hundred percent in support of fighting cancer of all sorts. I have a friend currently battling breast cancer. It’s horrible, nasty stuff, cancer. All forms of it.

However, I find it highly inappropriate to think of a 10-year-old boy sporting the phrase I heart boobies. This is precisely what I am trying to discourage my sons thinking about at this young, vulnerable age. Caring for others who might be having health problems because of their breasts or brains or lungs or livers, yes. Thinking about how much they love boobies, no.

Now, I have decided previously as a parent that when confronted with unexpected words, phrases, or questions, that my initial ploy is to go all poker face.

Meaning, last year when my daughter, who was 7 at the time, dropped the f-bomb for the first time as the whole family rode home together from our son’s art awards show, I went with my plan; while on the inside I was screaming about the agony of kids losing their innocence and being exposed to such things so young, and how much I hated — no, loathed — hearing my sweet girl ask if that was a bad word — I responded calmly something like, “Yeah, it’s a bad word. Let’s be sure not to say that one again, OK?”

You see, I played the part of under-reactor. Played it well, yes I did. I’m going for the “address it directly, answer the question firmly and honestly, and keep it cool,” approach. For methinks that overreacting makes them more intrigued in whatever subject has just arisen and maybe even scares them. So I roll like a cool cat, which is not generally my nature.

Except when the “I heart boobies” was brought up. And here’s why: in support of the fight against breast cancer or no, it felt really disrespectful to me. And I cannot under-react when the subject of disrespecting women surfaces.

I have three sons. I also have one daughter. As boys and girls are indeed different, I have similar but different parenting goals for them. Specifically, I have set three parenting goals in raising my sons, and #2 on the list is to teach them to respect women and treat them very well.

My husband recounted the story to me a couple of years ago of the time he held open a door for a woman at the college campus where he works. The young woman — who appeared to be a college student — remarked to my husband that that was the first time a man had ever opened the door for her. We were both surprised and saddened by that. Even now, I encourage my 10- and 6-year-old sons to open doors for others.

Thus, I have earmarked “respect for women” as a focal point in my parenting. But in recent days, I have thought about applying it to one of the biggest potential parenting plagues facing us and our children today: pornography.

I’ll say (type) the word again: pornography. I hate the word and all it stands for. But we cannot afford to think it will never touch our lives. I mean, have you read some of the horrific articles of late citing accounts of very young children who are addicted to it, and how it completely skews their perceptions of healthy, typical relationships?

And the ridiculously high number of kids who will be exposed to it in some form in their young years. The percentage is so high, it might even be one hundred percent.

It makes me honestly feel sick to my stomach. It makes me want to put my kids in a bubble and float them dreamily through the young years. But here’s the teeny little problem with bubbles: they pop.

The effort to arm children against the addictive attributes of pornography is multi-pronged; however, I am expanding my parenting goal of teaching my sons to respect women to the pornography front. It is one of the foundations I hope to lay that can guard against potential problems.

Because when my son told me about “I heart boobies,” I let him know exactly how I felt about myself or any woman being thought of for her body parts. It’s a topic we will visit on a regular basis.

Because as I will try with everything I have in me to teach my sons to open the door for women, I will fight even harder to teach them to close the door (or the computer window) to anything that portrays women in a filthy, impure, or indecent way.

I am trying to establish in them a foundation of respect for women.

Pray for me. Heck, we should all pray for each other.

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