Following the Chris Brown and Rhianna incident, there has been an explosion of opinions weighing in on the issue of violence against women. This has brought to light a popular childhood lesson, “boys don’t hit girls,” which most parents teach their sons and daughters. This lesson makes a lot of sense because, even though young children, on average, tend to be roughly equal in size regardless of their gender, by adulthood the average male is significantly bigger than the average woman.

The problem with the childhood lesson “boys don’t hit girls” is that in the long run it does little to deter or stop violence against women. Parents who are sincere in their resolve for their sons not to become abusers of women should refrain from the passive double standard we have been taught by a majority of our ancestors. The double standard in reference pertains to boy-on-boy violence being tolerated a lot more than boy-on-girl violence, for which there is zero tolerance (at least in the public eye). As parents we should teach our children to never resort to violent measures when experiencing a conflict with another person. The same intensity of disapproval shown to a boy who hits a girl needs to be shown to a boy who hits another boy or two boys of equal strength involved in a physical altercation. Think about it—if a young boy’s reason for attacking his male peer is because of hurtful remarks his peer made towards his character, it is logical to presume that if those same hurtful remarks had come from a female peer, the student would have resorted to the same measures. For naysayers on this issue, I would further propose that most aggressive boys don’t fight girls in school only because most of the girls are usually afraid of them and choose not to associate with these boys. The only children who have no problem confronting aggressive boys are fellow aggressive boys.

When we only tell our children that “boys don’t hit girls,” without teaching them nonviolent strategies towards resolving conflict and genuinely condemning all violent behavior they resort to, our children will only learn one thing in regards to boys not hitting girls: “Girls are not to be hit in public.” Unfortunately this is the case when we have boys, young men and adults who do not have the cognitive maturity to peacefully resolve conflicts with others. In order to avoid experiencing shame and disapproval from others, they hit women in the absence of witnesses, in response to conflicts they experience—with women. In addition, teaching children “only” that boys are not to hit girls, promotes an unhealthy division between the sexes at an early age. Because without learning peaceful conflict resolutions strategies, most boys will simply learn to ignore girls in public, during heated disputes. This also leads to children internalizing that women are not to be taken seriously.

I could go on and write about how the mass media contributes to our collective acceptance of violence, but most well-intentioned parents reading this article might find that overwhelming. Instead I would suggest that parents who struggle with bad-tempered and aggressive children should seek out mental health professionals who specialize in working with children and young teens in peacefully resolving conflicts. From my professional experience and in spite of cultural influences, I find that clients with a history of violence fully embrace therapy dealing with anger management and conflict resolutions. Most of my clients have later shared with me about how empowered they felt with the learned cognitive strategies they practiced.

Ugochukwu Uche MS, LPC
Ugo is a psychotherapist and a professional life coach