Why Boys Are Mean To Girls Who Don’t ‘Like’ Them — And What Parents Can Do About It

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Every boy needs to learn how to handle hearing the word "no".

On Sunday, September 10th, a man named Spencer Hight walked into a party and opened fire. He killed his estranged wife, Meredith Hight, and eight other people before a police officer entered the home and shot him, ending the massacre. At the end of the day, eight innocent people were dead, and one other wounded. 

This story is upsetting, but if you're paying attention, you're probably not surprised. Men in America have not been taught how to deal with rejection — and women are regularly killed as a result.

In this case, it wasn't just his ex who was murdered, but 7 other hope-filled young people, too. 

This happens so often, Ebony was able to assemble a news round-up of twelve black women who were killed for saying "no." Twelve beautiful lives cut short for rejecting a man. And that's just the beginning. This is a violent epidemic that spans race and ethnicity in the United States. Nobody is immune. 

As women and girls, we learn young that there isn't a good or safe way to reject a man.

Many of us have worn "decoy" wedding rings so that we could say "no thanks" to a man without him feeling personally rejected, and therefore becoming angry. 

When I was in eighth grade, before I was even allowed to go on a date, I broke up with a boy I was "going with". At track practice later that day, he threw a giant stick at my face and broke my nose.

There was never a moment in my mind when I didn't think that broken nose was my own fault.

I shouldn't have broken up with him. Or I should've done it nicer. Or I shouldn't have agreed to be his girlfriend in the first place.

Somehow, his choice of violence was never his fault — and he was never punished. I guess because I rejected him. 


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As a parent of older kids, I see how our boys are still woefully unprepared for romantic or sexual rejection — not only in serious ways like the stories above, but in more minor (but still damaging) ways. 

For instance, earlier this year, a friend's daughter was confronted by a group of kids at her middle school and asked which boy she liked. The girl replied that she didn't like any boys at their school — a seemingly safe answer. 

Turned out, a boy who liked her felt rejected and started teasing her, spreading rumors about her, and generally making her feel awful. This poor girl never even knew he was interested in the first place. 

This seems to be the beginning of sexual harassment. It's also the beginning of boys being taught that they DESERVE the attention of girls and that they have a RIGHT to a girl's attention, should they want it. 

And that is dangerous. 

So why aren't we teaching boys to deal with rejection from girls as part our normal sex ed or parenting conversations? We all know that rejection is normal, and that nobody goes through life without being told "no." Rejection is normal. But something about sexual or romantic rejection seems to trigger a deep reaction within too many men and boys.

And so it lands on us, the parents of boys, to help make the world safer.

Nobody thinks their child is going to grow up to be a rapist, a bully, or one of those men who chase women down the street, hurling insults after she refused to share her phone number — but every single one of those guys was somebody's baby once.

I asked Dr. David McFadden, a marriage and family therapist (and father of four grown kids), for some insight into how to talk to boys about rejection from girls.

And while I recognize that not all boys will grow up to like girls, this dynamic seems to be particularly bad between men and women (and boys and girls), so I asked Dr. McFadden to focus on the boy-girl dynamic.  

First, he says, "Start early and let them know that they will have lots of feelings related to girls and that this is normal. From the beginning, work hard as a mom or dad to communicate that you are one of the best resources for them if they get hurt in a relationship."

Dr. McFadden also suggests sharing some of your own experiences with rejection and explaining in how you learned to handle it properly.

Jamie Utt, a sexual violence prevention educator, agrees that starting young is crucial. He explains that teaching kids to handle rejection is about a lot more than having just one "talk" with your kids. 

That's because it's a lot tougher to start a conversation about romantic rejection when a kid is 13 or 14 years old.

Kids naturally tend to become private about these issues. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't still try to connect on a regular basis with our sons, even if we haven't set the stage for "rejection education" from a young age. 

Utt explains, "That conversation is going to feel darn near impossible if you are talking about it for the first time when the kid is already going through a rejection. They’ve had thirteen years of messaging that tells them they are entitled to that attention."

The best way might be to try to establish a regular conversation with them about who they’re interested in, who they’re dating, and all that kind of stuff. If that can’t be you, figure out what adult ally might be able to help be proactive about it."

In other words, be there for him! Help him grow into learning how to handle being dumped or told "no".

"When you’re having that conversation regularly," he continues, "there are a lot more open doors to ask questions like, 'How did it feel that the person said no to going to the dance with you?'" 

Then you have the opportunity to process through the emotions together, so their feelings can be handled healthfully, not just cloaked in anger or entitlement. 

Teaching our kids to handle hearing "no" doesn't have to be a lesson about hurt and pain. It can actually be a huge lesson in love.

Sonja Raciti, Ph.D., explains, "Parents need to help sons and daughters cope with losses in a graceful manner while staying true to their own feelings and experience, explaining that love has to come willingly and freely and not be forced or persuaded." 

Jamie Utt shared a similar sentiment that was very moving to me, and totally reframed a lot of what I'd been taught about relationships. He explained, "Often, saying ‘no' is be the best thing for person saying it — but it can also be the best thing for both of people involved."

But if we are solely focused upon not being rejected, we’re never going to realize that. We are just so wrapped up in our own hurt and defensiveness.

Dr. Raciti agrees and adds that as their parents, we need to be role models for how to handle rejection in a healthy way.

"Make sure your actions reflect the lessons you want to teach your children," she instructs. "Including being kind within your own relationships even when you feel angry or hurt. Show them how to react to losses with empathy as well as with strength and emotional maturity — not lashing out and taking the easy road." 

"This is especially vital for boys," explains Dr. Raciti, "as there is a fine line between persistent and harassing behavior. Once a girl has said 'no,' they need to understand this as a firm boundary and accept the rejection."

So how CAN parents teach our boys to handle rejection better? 

It can start young, and boys and girls can use these skills to help them have better friendships and relationships. Handling rejection with grace and respect can help them in their future careers, too.

Here are a few quick tips to help us get started:


1. When your child feels rejected, let them feel their feelings.

Recognize how much it hurts to be left out, or not chosen for the team. Explain that you know how much it hurts when the person you like doesn't like you back. 

Give lots of hugs (if your child wants) and let them cry or vent, if needed. 

Show your child that you're there to listen so that he or she doesn't just bottle up their feelings. Bottled-up feelings eventually explode, and that's when you've got a serious problem on your hands. 

This is where the "man-up" and "be a man" type of parenting becomes so dangerous. Our boys have feelings, just like our girls. And a breakup or friendship issue is going to hurt them, just like it would hurt our girls. They deserve a special trip for ice cream or a fun movie night with family just the same.

Here's a great example of how men can be of particular support for boys, from one of my favorite commercials of all time. What a great model of fatherhood: 


2. If your child isn't chosen for a team or to go to a party, resist the temptation to blame the other children or the coaches. 

When it comes to parties and playdates, explain that sometimes you can't invite everyone in the class. Point out that the child hosting the party or playdate probably didn't mean to hurt your kid's feelings, and try to walk in the other child's shoes to understand that it just might not be personal. 

When it comes to sports, there will always be someone better than you, even if you're Michael Jordan or Odell Beckham, Jr. You won't always be picked for the team, you might not make the cut, and you can respond by working harder and getting better or you can just get mad and blame the coach.

And no matter what, do not say, "That kid is a jerk! How dare she not include you!" or "That coach has it out for you, I'm going to call and give him a piece of my mind!"

Life isn't fair, and retaliation and insults won't make it fair. They just teache your child to lash out when they're hurt.


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3. Don't be a "Yes Man" to your kids.

Giving our kids everything they want, or giving in when they beg, only encourages attitudes of entitlement. 

Every grown-up knows that life is full of rejection, and as parents, we have to say "no" to our kids — not just to keep them safe, or because we can't afford something they want to buy — but also so that they learn that "no" can be said with love, and that healthy relationships have boundaries.


4. Watch movies together where someone's heart is broken.

Most movies feature a love interest, so it's easy to find examples for kids of any age. Point out examples of healthy love and unhealthy love, of kind and unkind behavior, even with little kids. The movie Frozen offers many opportunities to do this with little ones. 

As kids get older, you can use movies like Harry Potter or The Princess Diaries to show how people react differently when they are rejected. 

Dr. McFadden agrees, suggesting that it's best to make a point of doing this little exercise with your son both before and after he starts getting involved with the other sex. 

He suggests planning an evening in which you spend some time reviewing a few rejection scenes from movies. You can find some via a source like CutPrintFilm.com.

"Make it clear that one rule you in your family is that we don't deliberately, harmfully or hatefully hurt people who hurt us. This means not only that we don't hurt people physically (especially girls) but that we don't hurt them with our words either," he explains.


5. Separate out self-esteem from social acceptance. 

Dr. McFadden explains that there is a serious danger (for any of us!) in linking our sense of self-worth to how people feel about us. 

That's why you're really giving your child a gift when you help them understand this distinction and model for them how to have a healthy sense of self-worth apart from how people feel about you. 

"This can be very difficult for some children," Dr. McFadden explains, "and may take many talks after various disruptions in friendships that they experience." But you can use the many friendship shake-ups they'll experience as kids (yes, it happens to everyone!) as examples. 

The more your child learns that he can, and will, survive a social rejection, the easier it will be for him to handle romantic or sexual rejection as he grows older.


Raising kids today is challenging! With phones and social media and the accessibility of friends and partners all hours of the day, it's hard to know the best way to teach our kids about love and life.

But the truth is, our kids' hearts aren't different than ours were at their age. Be tender with them and teach them to have empathy for others.

Helping to end this epidemic of domestic violence and violence toward women (and tragic bystanders) is worth the effort of teaching your boys some new ways of thinking about rejection. 

As parents, we have the opportunity every single day to make the world better by parenting thoughtfully and thinking about how to raise kids who can make the world a better place.

It's in our hands, and that's a beautiful thing!


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Joanna Schroeder is a feminist writer and media critic whose writing has appeared on sites like Time, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed, Babble, Everyday Feminism, and more. She serves as Senior Editor, Experts Division, at YourTango. Follow Joanna Schroeder on Twitter.

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