How to talk to boys (about haircuts and girls)

“You’re going to have all the girls at school chasing after you tomorrow.”

This was the problematic remark made by a mother about her son’s haircut, when I was waiting for my own hairs to be cut earlier this week.

It is one of many tropes uttered without thought as to the wider implications of the relationship we have between the sexes and that which we have with ourselves.

In one foul swoop the mother has reduced her son’s interaction with women to that of a satin bowerbird collecting blue bottle tops for his nest. She sets up for him some sort of Georgie-Porgie, pudding and pie scenario where he’ll have a sex-crazed flock of girls swooning after his lusciously lopped locks. There’s a solid notion that he is somehow a reverse Samson whose newly cut hair will provide prowess to attract women.

Let’s start with the mother’s own relationship with men and how this statement may reflect her outlook on the male species. She obviously likes a well-manicured crop of hair on male heads, as she happily sat providing commentary for the duration of both her sons’ haircuts, and then her husband’s. Is it too much of an extrapolation to assume that the main thing attracting her to her own husband was his haircut? Probably (and hopefully) not. Yet she made the above throw-away remark, which would insinuate that this was the main thing – not his personality or intellect. It puts her in a position of appearing superficial if we are to assume haircuts are the main attraction she has to men.

Secondly, let’s think about the boy. It doesn’t do positive things for his self esteem to be told that he’s defining feature of attraction is the follicles on his noggin. There’s much dialogue surrounding the default position of complimenting young girls on their appearance, when adults can’t think of any other ways of engaging. To flip an old adage on its newly shaven head, ‘even if you only have nice things to say, you should on some occasions still say nothing at all’.

Phrases such as “what a pretty set of shoes”, or “what a lovely bow”, or “what a sweet smile you have” are no longer welcome, as they put primary value on appearance. Similarly, boys should be built to value their positive traits and abilities. The boy has made no contribution to the growing of his hair, nor the cutting of his hair. So why make him value it as a strong feature. That’s not to take away from the need to have pride in appearance and professionalism that a neat hairdo brings. But this should be for the purpose of his own pride of self and not for the enticement of the female species.

Finally, and most damagingly, the mother’s remark devalues women. The boy will be left with the impression that one of the main interests of girls is hair. She didn’t say “some girls”. She didn’t say “maybe a girl”. She didn’t say “a few girls”. She said “all” the girls. That’s right. All of the female students at the school will be chasing after him tomorrow. (Without considering the fact that it would be vastly intimidating to be chased by a lynch mob of people enamoured by the way your hair was sculpted) it is not a sensible notion, to give an impressionable young man, that women are so vacuous as to only be concerned with a man’s appearance from the eyebrow’s up.

An innocuous comment can hold clues to a deeper set of values. And in this case I think some reflection is needed – not to mention that perhaps Harry Haircut may want “all” the boys at school to notice his haircut. His mother didn’t think of that either.

Kid #23 – Smacking A Parent

The twenty third-kid I hated hit his mother repeatedly in front of the entire playground.

The mother just stood there taking it. She had such little self-esteem and self-respect left that she allowed this seven year old boy to continue hitting her again and again. Sure he was seven and doing little damage, but it was concerning she allowed him to do this without reprimand or consequence.

She stood there, looking completely unsure what to do.

The classroom teacher needed to intervene. The teacher guided the boy to a bench and sat down with him and started going through the reasons he shouldn’t hit his mother. The mother also sat with them silently allowing the teacher to do all the talking.

It concerned me how little authority the mother had over her own child.

It also concerned me that teachers are having to fill such gaps in parenting.

What was more concerning was a bigger-picture problem where mothers are disenabled by their male counterparts within their own families.

There’s the old catchphrase, “Wait until your father gets home!” used by mothers throughout the decades.

But in the old days, this phrase was used as a final stage in a long series of sanctions. Normally the mother had complete control over the situation and wanted to add the cherry on top of the guilt that was the discipline pie implemented in her home.

However, in some families I’ve witnessed situations where the women are seen and not heard.

Often in these families the mother has told me, “I don’t know what to do. My child doesn’t listen to me. They only listen to their father and he won’t be home for a couple of weeks.”

I ask myself, What will happen in the meantime? Are we all expected to withstand the belligerence of your offspring, while Daddy’s off abroad wheeling and dealing?

The answer I come up with is ‘No’. Children are very in the moment. They don’t need hierarchal systems. You must establish your own relationship with a child and the respect will operate within that framework.

If a child respects your boundaries for behaviour and achievement, then they will respond accordingly. If you have disempowered yourself by always referring them to third parties, they won’t be interested in what you ask of them.

More at fault of course are the men who have devalued their wives and daughters.

One father I dealt with had a wife who always looked very sheepish and began every sentence with, “My husband was wondering ….” or “My husband would like our daughter to …” or “My husband wishes to…” She was always very pale and nervous looking, speaking quietly and continually appearing sleep-deprived.

When I finally met with the father, I was surprised to find him a most amicable character. But soon enough it became evident where his values lay. He would speak about how successful his sons were academically and that he liked to see them pushed. But his daughter, whom I taught, he said was not as gifted and he was simply content to know she was happy at school and would have the skills to be able to look after herself and family when she was older.

It sounded like he was planning to raise a 1950’s housewife.

Turns out his daughter was quite intelligent. More intelligent than her brothers. Definitely more intelligent than her misogynistic father.

But then these are the sort of fathers who lead to such incidents as what I witnessed in the playground that day. A mother, who had no means by which to discipline her own child. A mother, whose own father had presumably taught her to be subservient to the whims of men. She’d married a man who then asked her to look after the household and left her to solely look after the kids; probably to return to a chaotic home, demanding why the children’s behaviour was so out of line.

It was no wonder the child had such little respect to start laying into his mother publicly. His mother was a metaphoric punching bag for the father, so now the child had brought the metaphor to life.

In a generation where hitting your children is frowned upon, perhaps the balance had shifted the wrong way. If his mother had given him the odd smack, perhaps he’d have known his place. But then again, her inability to control came from the father’s own misplaced family values.

Either way if I ever met this child again, I doubt I’d join him for a round of ‘Whack-a-Mum’.