The following post, is an open letter to popular boys in senior high school. For fluidity concern, the letter will address the intended audience using the singular.
Dear ‘popular boy’ in senior high,
If you are reading this letter, you probably know who you are.
If you identify as one of the popular boys in senior high school, you most likely embody all of the greatest gifts life can offer to a teenage boy. You probably have the looks and the athletic abilities that our society glorifies. If you are part of the leaders of a sport’s team, you already have the favors of your school administration.
Everybody likes you and everybody wants to be with you.
Most guys, probably want to be just like you.
You are extremely lucky.
You should feel grateful for the “gifts” that life has given you.
However, I’d like to issue a few words of warning which I truly hope will be helpful. Some of them are based on my own experience as a young man; others come from what I have learned in my life journey.
I want to issue those warnings now that you are still in high school: to leverage your influence as a senior and to prepare your path before college.
By now, you probably assessed that you already have a great influence on people around you.
Everything seems easy.
You know, the great “gifts” that I mentioned earlier? The ones that have been given to you by life? They are called privileges.
Privileges are a little bit like winning the lottery at birth:
- If you are one of the popular boys, many doors will be opened to you.
- If you are a popular white boy, you will be given a pass on many of your mistakes.
- If you are a popular straight white boy, you are on top of the privilege chain.
Financial and social statuses are exponential amplifiers for any of the scenarios described.
But I digress.
While it felt important to touch on this delicate point especially in 2018, this letter is not about race. I am not asking you to apologize or to make you feel bad for being who you are.
This letter is about how you choose to use your influence, AND your privileges.
As one of the popular boys in senior high school, your choices and your behavior have life-altering consequences on your peers and on most of the people you meet.
Make no mistakes, when you have so many privileges, there are a lot of responsibilities that come with it.
When you have such great power over others, it can be intoxicating.
- It’s easy to lose sight of people’s humanity when everybody seems to love you, not matter what you do.
- It’s easy to lose sight of people’s humanity when everybody seems to endorse you, to enable you, and to forgive you.
- It’s easy to take advantage of the people that have less power than you.
From privileges often comes entitlement, and it can be very dangerous when unconscious.
This is the reason why I am imploring you to take advantage of those privileges to set a great example around you.
As one of the popular boys in senior high school, you are in a unique position to shift an entire school culture AND to contribute to societal change.
Yes, you have that much power.
As one of the popular boys in senior high school, you have the unparalleled opportunity:
- to be an advocate for healthy masculinity;
- to be a great example for your buddies, especially for other popular high school boys who are lacking the empathy, the emotional intelligence or the confidence to make the right choices.
You may ask yourself, what do you want from me? What should I do?
Here are three places to get started.
1. Educate yourself on what the Man Box is.
Depending on your environment, you might not have been given the full spectrum of what it means to be a man. If you think that a “real man” is supposed to be physically strong, tough, emotionally stoic, straight and sexually dominant, let me save you a lot of time. This is horse shit.
There is simply no other way to say it.
There is not one way to be a man.
If you want to be a real man, be real. Period.
Responding to a rigid and toxic set of socially created norms and expectations, won’t make you a real man.
If you feel puzzled or angry about what I just wrote, you are probably living inside of the man box, without knowing it exists. I would like to encourage you to watch this Ted Talk from Tony Porter that transformed my life and the one many men I know. I was already a father when I watched it the first time. I wish this kind of content was around when I was your age. While I am still pretty young, (I am 34 years-old), the notion of acceptable forms of masculinity were very one-dimensional. Don’t get me wrong, the toxic culture of masculinity still exists but things are finally starting to shift.
If you are one of the popular boys in senior high school and openly gay, I will take this as a great form of social progress. According to a 2018 study about bullying and masculinity, 42% of male aged 18-24- reported being made fun of because of their sexual orientation. As an heterosexual man, I won’t have the audacity to pretend to understand your experience, nor will I try to lecture you in any way. All that I can offer is my best attempt for empathy. I would simply encourage you to be proud and unapologetic, in order to give permission for less popular boys to do the same.
I understand that it might not be easy, possible or even safe to do so.
There is also a great Ted Talk from ex-NFL player Wade Davis, that might be insightful for you. It was for me .
2. Take an interest in the experiences of girls and women.
While this portion is especially relevant if you are a straight young man, I believe this is important for all boys and men.
Because in this #Metoo era, we all have skin in the game as men. Regardless of age. Truthfully, we should have been caring all along, but somehow, we were led to believe that gender equality was a women’s issue.
It is not.
Gender equality is a human issue.
Do not feel bad if you have not thought so before. As men, we are desensitized at a very young age, and we are not “educated” or socialized to care; especially about the experiences of women and girls. It took me almost three decades to realize this. It took me having a daughter to FINALLY get vocal about it. It’s never too late to do good, regardless of what the nay-sayers tell you.
My point is, as rightfully said by Terry Crews, masculinity can be a cult.
As I mentioned earlier in this letter, it is easy to not see women as human. Especially when you are one of the popular boys in senior high school.
When I started this letter, I initially promised myself not to insert multi-media content and to rely only on words. But this video is simply to “on point” not to share.
If you need some more facts to convince yourself to take an interest in the experiences of girl and women, here are some alarming statistics:
- 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime
- 1 out of 5 females will be sexually assaulted while at college.
- Men represent 98.9% of individual arrested for forcible rape in the U.S.
- 8% of men commit 90% sexual assault on college campuses
- Women around the world aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria
As one of the popular boys in senior high school, call out sexist comments when you hear them! I understand this can be hard especially when they come from buddies of yours, but you are one of the only one that can stand up effectively to peer pressure and shift the culture.
You can make a great impact.
A great organization named A Call to Men, that I highly encourage you to follow on social media, always share great resources.
Take their pledge as you are about to enter to college.
Do it for your mom, your sister, your cousin, your aunt, your girlfriend.
3. Stand up to bullying.
Stand up to all bullies when you see them. Being in high school, it won’t surprise you that between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school. But, did you know that when bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time?
A lot of guys are most likely modeling their behavior after yours. When they see you stand up to bullies, especially if those bullies are also popular boys just like yourself, they will feel safer and empowered to stand up for others. Contrary to popular beliefs, bullying does not end in high school.
High hopes are placed in you.
If you made it this far in the letter, I think you got the message. If you identify as one of the popular boys in senior high school, you are in a great position to create societal change. Use your influence wisely.
Some people might argue that you are too young to understand some of the topics that I mentioned in this letter.
Others will claim that this is too much of a burden to take on.
I do not believe that.
I am sure you will have the maturity to understand and the courage to act right.
Your future self and society at large will thank you for it.
Just another dad.