Oppressed teenage boys unlikely to show respect to others

I went for a run in the Domain – well a schlep, really. Yes, I know, exercise is vile but turns out to be less vile than taking antidepressants.

Anyway on this particular day I found myself in the midst of hundreds of teenage boys in matching kit being made to run around, disconsolately.

It must have been the cross country or something.

They were being bossed about like they were in the army. It looked so miserable, poor luvvies.

They were students from Auckland Grammar, the “prestigious” boys school.

I live in the Grammar Zone, which is supposedly an advantage, although I could no more imagine sending my son to that school than I could packing him a cheese and pickle sandwich and waving him off to Mars.

But maybe I’m being a little unfair. Because Grammar principal Tim O’Connor has introduced a “healthy relationships” programme to try to teach young men to have respect for women and be informed about consent.

(My mum used to teach sex education at Hamilton Boys High. Seemed to be the thing in the 70s – the era of the Little Red Schoolbook. We also did a lot of tie-dyeing)

I don’t want to be a downer, but I wish I was as upbeat as Mr O’Connor in thinking that a school programme could have “a major effect” on how young men form relationships. I’m not sure any school lesson can teach you not to be an arsehole.

Because you don’t learn about gentleness and empathy on a whiteboard.

We learn the most important lessons, not from book learnin’ or even by being instructed by a teacher with an expensive PhD and a cheap suit, but by mirroring the behaviour of those we see around us.

This happens below the level of conscious awareness, so it is not easy to change even with the most well-motivated campaign. Continue reading

  • Deborah Hill Cone is a NZ Herald columnist.
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