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Teaching Our Children About Respect and Consent

Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jf_foto/
Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jf_foto/

Friday, September 2, will be a monumental day, and not at all in a good way. On that day, a man will be released after serving half of his sentencing for raping an unconscious woman. Let’s be clear. His sentencing was six months, and he is being released after serving only three. For ruining another person’s life. For giving a woman something she must live with, and learn to accept for the rest of her life.

I am writing this blog because I am angry. No, livid. No, terrified.

I’m a mom of a little boy and a little girl, and when I saw this story emerge today, I was, for the first time in my life, at a loss for words.

What do I say to them? To these children that I am raising to be strong, to be selfless, to be kind, to be caring? What do I say? What do I tell my children when our society is set on telling them the opposite? What do I say?

Months ago, we were playing at a park.  I was watching my children playing, separately around the park. At one point, I heard my daughter say “No. No thank you, No. No means no.”

You see, my daughter has been taught that she has every right to refuse a touch – whether as simple as holding hands or hugging, or something more serious. Our escalation is that she attempts to firmly say no, and if that doesn’t work, she’s been taught to scream. I came running as I heard that, reaching her in time to see a boy with his hands wrapped around her arm, yanking her up the slide. She was crying, and I ran over to the child, telling him to let go.

His response? Pull harder.

I have never been so floored as I was in that moment. No, my kids aren’t perfect. But never before, when I’ve gone “stern mom” have they flat out refused to acknowledge me.

So there I was, responding to my crying child, with a kid who is dragging her up the slide. So, I do what any mom would do – I escalate. I pried, yes pried, his fingers off of her, explaining to him that this was not okay, raising my voice in the hopes that some kind of parent would show up to the scene.

At this point, I’m shaken, angry, and frustrated. My daughter’s entire arm is reddened and beginning to bruise – and I was there within 30 seconds. What would have happened if I had been distracted by my toddler?

What would have happened if she were eighteen and he were a good swimmer?

 

Eventually, the mother came over. I was near tears of frustration, anger, sadness. My daughter was crying, and the boy – well. He was fine. I explained to the mother, repeating our mantra of “No means No”.  No one human being has the right to force themselves on another.

Unless, of course, you’re a good athlete.

The mom convinced the child to apologize, but she didn’t take the opportunity to explain. She didn’t tell her son what this meant. Why it was important. We got a grudging apology and a shifted glance before he ran off to torment another. And I missed an important teaching moment.

I’m hoping this blog will make up for it.

I explained to my daughter when we left that his behavior was inexcusable. But… it didn’t protect her.

It didn’t change what had happened. It didn’t change, how I could imagine years from now, this scene flashing through my mind with more disastrous consequences in mind.

So. Now what?

What do we do, as parents of the next generation, to prevent these stories from happening?

First – we accept responsibility. EVERY side. It is my responsibility, as the parent of a daughter, to teach her strength. To teach her the power of no. And, unfortunately, to teach her to fight back. To teach her these advances are not her fault.

And to teach her that society is so incredibly wrong.

It is my responsibility, as the parent of a son, to teach him what it means to respect another’s privacy, their right to not being touched if they don’t want to be. To listen to our verbal, and nonverbal cues of discomfort. To teach him that “No means no.”

By no means is this conversation an easy one to have.

no-means-noMonths ago, I was exposed to the book No Means No!: Teaching Children about Personal Boundaries, Respect and Consent. This book discussed a mentality that “No Means No,” giving children of any gender the right to refuse a touch if they desired. It starts to empower children at a young age to respond to unwarranted advances in a way that gives them empowerment over their own body. Start with this. Another popular book that helps with these difficult discussions is Your Body Belongs To You. These are for children between the ages of 3 and 7.

If you’re looking for more maturity for your older children, I urge you to look into these books, to help with these conversations.

Help me. Help me build a consistent story for my children, for yours, for our future. Help me build a better community. Help me find the words to say.

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About Lindsey Sanford

Lindsey Sanford
I’m an ultimate Frisbee loving, marketing exec who loves Reno a little too much. I knit, I read, I write, and I love long walks on the beach. I’m trying out this new “standing-desk” thing – and finding that it’s not quite so bad. I’m a recent mom of two, my little one was born on September 21st, and I still can’t sleep. Above all else, I believe in being honest with our struggles, to paint a more accurate picture of what motherhood means – leading to a supportive community of fellow swimmers.

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