I have heard from many worried parents lately about the hazards of prom night for their girls, and I was interviewed on the CBS affiliate TV news show Great Day St. Louis today about how to educate our girls to stay true to themselves and set good boundaries. A large number of viewers wrote the station and asked about the needs of young men on this fun evening, so here are so thoughts on the male side of this equation.
Despite it being 2014, teens tell me it is still the responsibility of guys to ask girls out. Strong, assertive, empowered young women shrink in the face of this daunting task, and when asked why they wouldn’t ask a guy out, they respond with trepidation: “There’s no way I would want to do that. What if he said no? I’d feel terrible, like an idiot!” Which is exactly why every guy gets sweaty palms and heart palpitations when he tries to ratchet up the courage to ask a girl out. I find this fascinating.
Young men also feel like they are the ones who are supposed to take the first step when it comes to making out and more. They feel a kind of angst all night long, wondering if they should make an advance, when, and how far. Add onto that the fact that their high testosterone levels cause them to think about sex often, make that constantly, and it’s a recipe for high anxiety. What most teen boys tell me is that they wish girls would be really clear about where they are at when it comes to wanting to be asked out, and if they want to become physical. Too many girls give guys a coy yes/no body language that frustrates them beyond belief. Girls with wimpy, unclear boundaries make it harder for guys to know where they stand and what is expected of them.
Remember too that boys in our culture have been conditioned to feel like a “real man” is a horn-dog who believes the only purpose of relationships is to get laid. We need to teach teen boys and girls non-sexual ways to be close and intimate: holding hands, hugs, deep conversations, wrestling around, playing sports together, enjoying high energy fun and laughter. Young men also need good role models who act respectfully and responsibly with their dates. Most of what they see on TV shows and in the movies is not how you would want them to act in real life with girls. This training should start in the home with the way dad treats mom, and even with how much respect each boy receives from his parents. Boys who feel respected, heard, and loved will more likely become young men who are respectful, good listeners, and caring individuals.
When I have sat in circles with teenage boys, and we are able to clear the decks of bravado and get honest, what I find is that guys basically want the same things as girls: they want closeness and to be loved. Yes, their raging hormones and prehistoric brain wiring pushes sexuality to the surface, but down deep it’s intimacy that they desire. I fear that the culture has conditioned them to equate sex with intimacy, and that is a shame because boys are so much more than that. We need to create safe spaces for them to have deep, real conversations about this so that the media and culture don’t win out.
I recommend to girls that they create a list of what they want in a relationship before they ever go out on a date, and this would also be valuable for guys. It’s easier to make good choices about sexuality in the heat of the moment if the decisions about how far to go have been made when you are alone in your bedroom, with a clear head and no impulsivity involved. Teenage boys have the ability to be thoughtful and decent, but we have to treat them like they are and provide opportunities for it to come out and play. Prom night should just be the culmination of many lessons and discussions about relationships and intimacy that have occurred throughout their upbringing. Young men who haven’t had this kind of guidance and preparation are at a disadvantage, making this special evening fraught with potential hazards.