New Study Finds Another Reason Teen Boys Need To Understand Gender Equality

mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant By Sarah Regan
mindbodygreen Editorial Assistant
Sarah Regan is a writer, registered yoga instructor, and Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She received her bachelor's in broadcasting and mass communication from SUNY Oswego, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Image by BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy

Violence around the world, and even in the United States, is nothing short of a public health crisis—something that's likely concerning to many parents. One way that parents can raise more tolerant and peaceful children? It comes down to teaching equality—especially to boys.

New research by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh found, perhaps unsurprisingly, teen boys who view women and girls as deserving equal rights and opportunities are less likely to behave violently than teen boys who disrespect women and girls.

How norms affect behavior.

The team of researchers used information gathered in community-based settings, like after-school programs, libraries, and churches. They surveyed 866 boys between the ages of 13 and 19, asking questions about bullying, sexual harassment, and gender's role in social norms and behavior.

The surveys found one in three of the teen boys who had begun dating (619 of the 866) had reported abusive behavior toward their significant other, and 56% of all the boys surveyed said they had sexually harassed someone before. The research also found 68% said they had been in a fight or threatened someone with a weapon.

Additionally, boys who had witnessed peers disrespecting women, whether it be verbal or physical, were two to five times more likely to engage in violent behavior in general. But on the other hand, boys who reported feeling that girls and boys deserve equal respect and opportunities were less likely to report any violent behavior.

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Changing the social landscape.

Elizabeth Miller, M.D., Ph.D., lead study author and professor of pediatrics, public health, and clinical and translational science says, "The Me Too Movement brought to light how pervasive sexual violence and derogatory behavior toward women is in our society."

The findings, Miller goes on to say, show how a particular social environment can encourage or discourage certain behaviors. "Our findings highlight the wide-ranging impact that witnessing sexual harassment and dating violence has on our teenage boys, and present an opportunity to teach adolescents to challenge negative gender and social norms, and interrupt their peers' disrespectful and harmful behaviors," she contends.

As such, when it comes to raising a nonviolent boy, introducing progressive ideas toward gender to young men may help mitigate the risk of violence toward both men and women.

"Pressure to conform to stereotypes about masculinity that perpetuate harmful behaviors toward women and girls is also associated with getting in a fight with another guy," Miller adds. "These behaviors aren't happening in silos—if we're going to stop one, we need to also be addressing the other."

For some parents, all it may take is starting the conversation with your son, or being a living example of gender equality. For some ideas to get the ball rolling, check out these seven ways to raise a son who will grow up to respect women.

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