Katie Patton
September 13, 2013 11:00 am

I am not a parent. I will clarify that up front. However, I can confidently say, regardless of my lack of offspring, that raising a child is likely the most difficult thing that any one human being will do. I am also a firm believer that there are a great many ways in which to bring kids up in this world; criticism is often unnecessary and hurtful to parents who are simply doing the very best they can to make the right choices for the human life of which they are responsible. Seriously, kudos to all of you for your efforts. Over the years there have been many times where I have questioned parental guidance or action in my mind, but have never dared to give my two sense out loud in fear of disrespect and, quite frankly, because I was not asked for my opinion on child rearing. Then again, up until today, I have never had to read a mother blog about how teenage girls would do well to take proper photographs and protect their image in order to prevent the impure thoughts of teenage boys. On this parenting topic, I have a very loud opinion.

Last week, in a blog post entitled, FYI (if you’re a teenage girl), mother of four Kim Hall discussed her disapproval of photographs posted by her teenage sons’ female friends on social media. The beginning of her post patronizes the young girls whose pictures are in question, informing them that when they are friends with a Hall boy they are friends with the entire Hall family; and while they generally like staying connected with them, their recent “self-portraits are extremely unfortunate.” She goes on to explain her distaste and the family’s resulting actions, informing us that appropriate resolution in her household meant blocking these photos and friends from her sons’ newsfeed.

That post doesn’t reflect who you are at all! We think you are lovely and interesting, and usually very smart. But we had to cringe and wonder what you were trying to do? 

And now- big bummer- we have to block your posts. Because, the reason we have these (sometimes awkward) family conversations around the table is that we care about our sons just as we know your parents care about you.

There is no doubt in my mind that Mrs. Hall thinks she is dong the right thing, protecting her sons from a world filled with social media mistakes and increased sexual activity among teenagers. However, in my opinion, she is doing both her sons and the young women of this world a severe injustice. The photos prompting the post are not disclosed, so we can not be sure of just how revealing or inappropriate they actually are. Regardless of their nature, Mrs. Hall clearly throws into question the intelligence and positive characteristics of these young ladies based off of what she sees in a picture. In addition, she makes it known that she has blocked the girls from her sons’ pages because she cares about them. It would seem that this course of action merely teaches her sons that a girl who expresses herself in a way deemed inappropriate by their mother is unintelligent, uninteresting and not worthy of their time.

Again, I understand that the mother of four, one daughter included, is simply trying to protect her children, but it is seemingly at the expense of someone else’s daughter, of daughters all over the country. She goes on to inform teenage girls everywhere of the consequences of their actions, the impure thoughts that they are breeding in the minds of young boys.

I know your family would not be thrilled at the thought of my teenage boys seeing you in only your towel. Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress he can’t quickly un-see it? You don’t want our boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?

And so, in our house, there are no second chances with pics like that ladies. We have a zero tolerance policy. I know, so lame. But if you want to stay friendly with our sons online, you’ll have to keep your clothes on and your posts decent. If any of you try to post a sexy selfie (we all know the kind) or an inappropriate YouTube video- even once- it’s curtains.

As I sat and read this woman’s blog post over and over again in preparation to write this article, I had a hard time gathering my thoughts. It is difficult to imagine that Mrs. Hall also has a daughter to raise or is even a woman herself. We live in a world where slut-shaming is not only a well-known notion, but a practiced one; a world in which rape cases involving high school students are highly publicized because the victim endures hate crimes while the accused are vehemently defended; in a world where well-known public figures deem it appropriate to ask if a woman is ever “asking for it.” This is a day and age where women should be sticking up for other women and where mothers should not only be teaching their daughters about self-respect, but also teaching their sons about how to respect a woman in all situations; even when she may not give herself that same courtesy.

Mrs. Hall could have done any number of things in this situation. If her findings were truly unsettling and her worry for these young women was from a genuine place, she could have reached out to their parents, politely expressing her concern for their children. She could have sat her boys down and had an honest conversation about appropriate social media behavior and the personal consequences of lewd internet conduct. Presumably, she could have taken this opportunity to let these young boys, whom she is trying to shape into respectable young men, know that it is never acceptable to disrespect a woman, no matter her behavior or the behavior of others around them; that the actions of a woman are not the sole determinant in how you ultimately think about or act toward her, but that you and you alone as a young man decide how you treat people. Mrs. Hall had the opportunity to teach her sons that real men have control over both their actions and their thoughts. A mother certainly could have helped three boys understand that regardless of outside influence, they each have the power to decide how they view and treat a woman but, instead took the opportunity to publicly shame the teenage girls for their behavior. Perhaps she said all the right things in the comfort of her own home, but openly on the internet it appears that she is instilling that these girls are “slutty” and at fault for any impure thoughts that had run through her boys’ minds; she is instilling that they were asking to be seen this way and I do not believe it is a stretch to say this lesson fosters a larger, more harmful cultural ideal that women could ever be “asking for it” in any light.

Furthermore, Hall ends with more shaming, urging her sons’ friends to run to their Facebook and take down the photos that force people to see them as one-dimensional.

…RUN to your accounts and take down the closed-door bedroom selfies that makes it too easy for friends to see you in only one dimension.

Will you trust me? There are boys out there waiting and hoping for women of character. Some young men are fighting the daily uphill battle to keep their minds pure, and their thoughts praiseworthy- just like you.

The message Mrs. Hall sends is a closed-minded, one-sided one to say the least. No, a young girl should not post inappropriate pictures of herself on the internet, in no way is that being condoned; but the thought that her photo is solely responsible for tainting the mind of a young boy is ludicrous. Young men, her sons included, are responsible for their own thoughts and actions; they do, indeed, have control over whether or not they look at this photo and what they do upon seeing it. A young man’s inappropriate thoughts may be sparked by a photograph, but his continued thoughts on the subject or resulting actions can not be blamed on a young girls decision to post said picture online, no matter how poor that decision may be. Throughout the blog post, there is little to no indication that mom Hall feels her boys are in anyway responsible for their thoughts or actions, nor is there mention of teaching them the appropriate, respectful response to these photos. Furthermore, no one sees these young women as more one-dimensional than Mrs. Hall herself; she is hammering home the notion that a girl’s self-worth is tied to a single image without the luxury of context, while vehemently expressing the denial of second chances or explanation.

Is there a social media problem today, in that teenagers are using all forms to sexualize themselves? Absolutely. Are there far too many cases of sexting and frighteningly mature, often inappropriate selfies within today’s youth culture? Without a doubt, the answer is yes. In fact, my biggest fear is that I will someday be faced with raising a daughter, or a son for that matter, in a world that leaves little to the imagination. However, the answer to these problems is not slut-shaming. The answer is not shaming of any kind toward any gender. The answer is, quite simply, respect. The most important lesson that should be taught to children as they begin to navigate adolescence is a deep respect for both themselves and other people. No parent can control the actions of the world around their kids, they can only do their best to encourage the reaction of the children they are responsible for raising. A deep sense of respect and a sound understanding that each individual is solely responsible for his or her own actions could go a long way.

While we are at it, let’s also teach a little forgiveness. Mrs. Hall seems to hold her children up on a frighteningly high pedestal that, heaven forbid, they fall from. She seemingly leaves little room for the growing pains of young adulthood, making it clear that one mistake changes her view on one’s character, resulting in no second chances. As a child, my parents instilled in me the notion of consequences and I am a firm believer that a solid understanding of how your actions affect not only yourself, but others, is massively important. However, it is also necessary for both young men and women to realize the importance of forgiveness. Young adults must understand that while consequences exist, so do opportunities to realize wrong doing, apologize sincerely and begin again without feeling prolonged guilt or extreme shame.

The fact that this blog post exists today, let alone was written by a mother, the mother of a daughter, both saddens and angers me. Today’s youth are looking for guidance and I fear we are still teaching ignorance and hate on many levels. The best we can do is try to instill a sense of love and respect in both young women and young men today, whenever we have the chance to do so, and refute messages of slut-shaming and disrespect, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

So, young women and young men of the world, if you hear anything I truly hope it is this: Respect yourselves above all else. Nobody has to think you are “sexy” or “cool” or “experienced.” It is my promise that others thoughts on you now matter very little in the long run. Only do things because they make YOU happy and proud. Be respectful and only accept respect in return because it is what you deserve. Always. And to be clear, posting, sending, receiving or sharing nude or nearly-nude photos is usually not indicative of self-respect or respect for anyone else. I promise you, no sought after reaction is worth the price of damaging how you feel about yourself. A fantastic rule of thumb is to treat your peers the way you would want your siblings to be treated. If you don’t have siblings, treat them with the same level of respect I hope you have for yourself. Live up to your own standard, which I firmly believe is naturally high, exude dignity even in the face of less and know that you always have the power to live above outside influence. Whether you are a young woman or a young man, the message is the same. Be respectful to yourselves and each other.

Adults, parents and other people of influence, I am confident we can all do better than what was shown in this post. We can teach today’s youth how to be good people without shaming or blaming others along the way. We can teach an entire generation to respect themselves and others simultaneously. Good intention is not good enough. We must understand all aspects of the message we are sending because, unfortunately, the world is complicated enough and America’s kids are looking to us for clarification.

Featured image via Shutterstock

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