The Four Letter Words I'm Teaching My Son

by Kristin Vanderhey Shaw
Originally Published: 
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His name was Michael, and I knew he had a crush on me.

It was my junior year of college, in 1991, and I was living with 16 rowers in a former sorority house. The season was over, and it was time to let go; we hosted a big party with plenty of alcohol. I drank too much of it, over-imbibing Purple Passion until the room started to spin.

I threw my arm around Michael and leaned against the door, and my teammate Jen grabbed his arm and told him, “Make sure she gets to her room safely.” I got into bed, and he wrapped a blanket around me and grabbed another one to sleep on the floor beside me. He didn’t make a move on me, in my compromised state; the next morning, I woke up with a pounding headache and Michael was there, making sure that I was going to live to see the next day.

His name was Jason. He went to high school with my roommate, and I met him early in the school year at a party. He seemed likeable and was built like a linebacker with a growing beer belly.

I was a freshman when I went to a party at a fraternity house where Jason was rushing and hoping to pledge. I had been to the house before for parties, but only to the big party room downstairs, and I trusted Jason when he offered me a tour of the house. We walked up the stairs and he kept the banter lighthearted, albeit slurred, as he had taken in quite a few drinks by that time.

He led me into a darkened room and as I followed, he pushed me down on the bed and tried to unbutton my shirt. I struggled underneath the weight of him, telling him to knock it off. I shifted, pushed with all of my might, and he lost his balance and fell to the floor. I raced downstairs by myself and got out of the house as quickly as I could.

His name was Glenn, and he was the senior backup quarterback on the football team. At least, that’s what he told me at Uncle Woody’s tavern. At closing time, he offered me a ride back to my dorm in his fancy red sports car, and I accepted. How naïve I was. I invited him upstairs, and pulled out a chair for him. I faced him sitting on another chair, and nervously talked and talked. After a short while, he realized that this wasn’t going where he thought it was going, and left politely but with no intention of coming back.

His name is not important to repeat; I’ll call him Charles. He was the boyfriend of a friend, and he called me to ask me to come to his dorm room under the guise that he needed advice. “Please,” he pleaded.

We were friends. I went over.

He offered me a Coke, and then a backrub.

You’re so tense. Let me help you.

Before I realized what was going on, I was pinned on my stomach and crying and telling him to stop.


He didn’t stop.

Now I have a little boy, and I am teaching him about that word: the most important four-letter word I can think of. STOP.

If we are wrestling and I am smothering him with kisses or tickling him and he says, Stop, I stop right away. He knows that it is safe to play because I respect his boundaries. He has been taught that no one is allowed to touch him anywhere a bathing suit covers. He has been taught that his body is his own, and others have ownership over their own bodies.

You asked me to stop, and I stopped. This is important for you to understand, I tell him. And I fully expect that this lesson, side by side with lessons on kindness to all and respect for women, will result in a man who would never dream of pushing anyone past his or her physical comfort zone.

I will not raise a Charles. I will raise a Michael.

As the mother of a son, and as a woman who has seen the good and bad sides of men, I have a responsibility to teach my son what it means to be a good man. And I am fortunate that I have a husband who sets an excellent example, as well.

I don’t buy into the “Boys Will Be Boys” mentality. Boys must be taught to be kind and loving and helpful. We don’t have to assume that boys have impulses they can’t control, or that boys will fight and hit each other, or that boys are going to run wild. If we expect better, they will be better.

I’m teaching my son to respect his body and others right from the start. I will teach him that it doesn’t matter what color, religion, or fashion sense a person has; they deserve respect. I will teach him that he is not entitled to anything or anyone. I will teach him patience and kindness. And I will pray that he’ll remember what I teach him, always.

The problem with “boys will be boys” is that it lets them off the hook. And we are all on the hook for our own behavior; accepting that boys can get away with certain behaviors because that’s how it has always been is not acceptable.

I have some other ideas for four-letter words I want my son to learn, and are just as important as the first one:

Boys will be Kind.

Boys can show Love.

Boys can exhibit and inspire Hope.

Boys can Help.

And if he picks up the other four-letter words along the way, they won’t be nearly as important or as big of a deal as the first ones I taught him.

Related post: 10 Things Moms of Boys Must Do

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