Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Talk To Your Daughter...Talk To Your Son

As parents we all want our children to grow up to be happy and successful, however you define it. To that end there are a host of virtues we try to instill in them, such as perseverance, independence and strength of character. Likewise, not wanting our kids to be jerks, we want them to show empathy and consideration for others.

In today's society it seems even more important to stress those strong qualities with my daughter and those compassionate qualities with my son. That means making sure that both my son and my daughter learn how to defend themselves. That means making sure that both my daughter and my son learn about respect and consent. But talking to young children about things like consent is not always easy.

One common approach I see is parents telling their kids to "keep your hands to yourself," but I question this approach. Do we really want to teach our kids that it's wrong to touch each other? Is it realistic to raise them that way when there's really no guarantee that others will be raised the same? Will it confuse them when they receive mixed messages later in life? Consider that what we teach our kids needs to stand the test of time. Once kids are forced to discount things we teach them, they discount everything we teach them. Respect and consent can be very nuanced and we're better off treating it as such, and teaching kids how to navigate life's subtle cues when they're young.

When I read Avital Norman Nathman's essay on Raising Children Who Will Speak Up to Prevent Rape, Not Defend It I tried to look for opportunities to follow suit. Not long after two serendipitous events occurred. First I heard a report that my son got a little too physical with another boy in gymnastics. Then I witnessed a boy push my daughter to the ground in the playground. This presented the perfect opportunity. While I realize that the decisions children make on the playground with their peers is not anything approaching the topic of rape, I also believe that it is never too early to teach one's children about respect for self and for others, and to help them understand the impact that their behavior and decisions have, even in situations we as adults sometimes just consider children's rites of passage.

Apparently the (little) boys in the playground were playing a fighting game and my daughter was watching. She did not want to play this fighting game, but did not feel that she could tell them to stop. Meanwhile, my son thought he was not being inappropriate as this is normal behavior in the dojo.

We talked at length about the need to demand and respect consent. That means feeling free to demand that others treat you with respect, as well as respecting other people's boundaries, both reactively and proactively. We talked about being careful not to wind up in bad situations where others might not respect your demands, and being aware of how others might feel uncomfortable speaking up, and sticking up for them as well.

Even though we talked at length, and both kids seemed extremely receptive, I have no delusions that this is behind us. This was just a stepping stone for future conversations. I expect there will be many repetitions of "remember that conversation we had about respect and consent?"

As soon as she started the 1st grade my daughter told me about the game they're playing in the playground where the boys chase the girls. Apparently the boys chase the girls and put them in a cage. But as long as it is all consensual, I can chalk it up to good fun. She went on to say "but we like it. Even though we act like we don't want them to chase us, we really do." Okay, so the girls want to be chased, so they act like they don't want to be chased. And the lesson is...looks like we have some more talking to do.

Thanks to Upworthy, Political Loudmouth, and UniteWomen.org for sharing this photo.


Authors Shannon Bradley-Colleary and Laurie Halse Anderson spoke very eloquently about kids and consent on Talk of the Nation.

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