Mixed messages

USA Today offers a fascinating article on the difficulties young adult men are having finding their role and right behavior in a culture that is sending mixed messages.  Young guys try to read society’s road map for success quotes a number of social science researchers.  I’d encourage you to read it all, but here is an excerpt:

In the past, images of manhood glorified drinking and womanizing, researchers say, but today, they note, there seems to be equal pressure to be sensitive.

“A large proportion of young males view drinking and having sexual conquests as the appropriate way to begin to prove they are an adult male,” Good says. “Their male peers are saying ‘Be tough’ and girls are saying ‘Tell me about your feelings.”

Guys pal around and do “guy” things, like play video games, talk sports, watch porn, binge-drink and hook up, which sociologist and gender studies expert Michael Kimmel of Stony Brook University-New York discusses in his new book Guyland. It’s based on surveys of 13,000 students at 17 colleges about sexual “hooking up.” And he interviewed 400 young men, most in their 20s.

“The middle-class white idea of proving masculinity becomes the dominant form on campuses today. It’s more intense and pervasive than ever before,” he says.

Not surprisingly, a sidebar piece about additional research advances the idea that parents are most responsible for the messages that their sons receive, saying:

A lot of the mixed messages that young men get about gender and sexuality come from their parents, new research suggests.

A study of 92 male high school students recently presented to the American Psychological Association took a closer look at the extent of the messages and their effects.

Nineteen percent said they got “a lot of messages” about two seemingly conflicting ideas: being tough and being nice. The messages were specific verbal comments or implicit unspoken ones.

“They did endorse that they felt conflicted,” says researcher Marina Epstein of the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, noting the most commonly heard message was to “be nice.”

Half reported at least one set of conflicting messages; the more conflicting messages they got, the more confused they felt.

Other messages involved endorsing either traditional roles or gender equality. Messages promoting equality were associated with greater body esteem and parental attachment; messages endorsing the idea that sexual activity is OK for guys but not girls were associated with more sexual partners and more alcohol use.

Much of what I read in the article felt like “common sense” to me, but there is a cultural shift that caught my attention as both a parent and a youth worker. I wished that the online article linked to the research, as well.

As parents, adults who are involved in the lives of youth, how much attention do you pay to your verbal and non-verbal messages about gender roles?

As a youth worker, what steps are you taking to ensure that your teaching offers help to navigating cultural gender messages for both young men and young women?

As pastors to families, what resources have you found to share with parents that help in raising young men and women of character as regards their own role, and that of the other gender?

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