It was Valentine’s Day and I had just picked up my 11-year-old from an extracurricular activity. I asked how his day had been, and specifically, how his Valentine’s Day had gone, and he proceeded to tell me the following:
A classmate (a girl we’ll call Morgan for the sake of anonymity) gave her crush (a boy we’ll call Devin) a love letter folded inside a heart-shaped box of chocolates. Morgan’s feelings for Devin were apparently not mutual, but instead of politely accepting the gift with a simple thank you—Devin rejected the candy and letter in a very hurtful way. Ripping the letter into pieces and putting it back inside the heart-shaped box of chocolates, Devin pushed the present back into Morgan’s hands. Predictably, heartbroken Morgan began to cry.
What happened here? I thought to myself. Where did Devin’s parents fail? Where did Morgan’s parents fail? Would Morgan remember this incident for the rest of her life? Would it scar her? Would Devin grow up to treat women badly, or was this just typical playground behavior to be expected of a boy who still thinks girls have cooties?
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Before I could find answers to these questions, I had pulled up to the curb of my older son’s high school. I asked my older son the same questions I had asked my younger son: “How was your day? How was your Valentine’s Day?” Unfortunately, my son proceeded to tell me another story of ungentlemanly behavior.
A classmate, a boy named “Jeremy”—gave his girlfriend a huge bouquet of roses and a large teddy bear. So what’s the big deal? This sounds very sweet, right? The big deal is that Jeremy also secretly gave a smaller bouquet of flowers to his other girlfriend who goes to the very same school. Somehow the girls found out about each other and proceeded to make it physical while everyone stood around chanting Fight! When the dust had settled, clumps of hair, drops of blood, and rose petals littered the high school hallway floor.
Now more questions flooded my mind. Would Jeremy grow up to be an adulterer? Did he find all this amusing? Was he proud of what had happened? Certainly his male friends must have been laughing and congratulating him. Why did the girls attack each other instead of confronting Jeremy? Would they continue to fight each other for him? Would they grow up lacking self-respect? Would these girls grow into women who put up with abusive, cheating men?
I don’t know the answers to these questions and I never will. All I know is that I have my own two sons and I will do everything possible to teach them to be the kind of boys who would accept a gift with a polite Thank You, even from a girl in whom they’re not interested. I will teach them to be the kind of gentlemen who turn away unrequited love honestly yet gently; I will teach them to be the kind of guys who treat others, female or otherwise, with respect. I just wish more parents took the time to do the same.