As a mom of two daughters, I’m well aware of our culture's emphasis on teaching our daughters to protect themselves from sexual assault. But as the mother of a son as well, I get frustrated by the lack of conversation about how to raise our sons to not be the assaulters. Of course, sexual violence and abuse—and any kind of violence and abuse—knows no gender or sexual orientation boundaries. Research says one in six men has been sexually abused or assaulted, and some of those perpetrators are women. It's extremely important to teach ALL of our children about respect, consent, and healthy boundaries.
The best resource I’ve come across for teaching your kids to embody these values through everyday life is Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21. Its authors, Alyssa Royse, Julie Gillis, Jamie Utt, and Joanna Schroeder, are writers and educators who strongly believe that these issues necessitate an ongoing conversation, and it's worth beginning it with your children as young as possible.
Below are just twelve of their tips—things you can start doing today with your young children, and a few for older children and teens as well. Read the full original piece for even more, for all age groups. So, you've been wondering how to make a difference? Start today, with your own child, and may the benefits pay off for decades to come.
1) Teach your children to ask permission before touching or hugging a playmate.
Use language such as, “Sarah, let’s ask Joe if he would like to hug bye-bye.” If Joe says “no” to this request, cheerfully tell your child, “That’s okay, Sarah! Let’s wave bye-bye to Joe and blow him a kiss.”
2) Help create empathy within your child by explaining how something they’ve done may have hurt someone. Use language like, “I know you wanted that toy, but when you hit Mikey, it hurt him and he felt very sad. And we don’t want Mikey to feel sad because we hurt him.” Encourage your child to imagine how he or she might feel if Mikey had hit them, instead. This can be done with a loving tone and a big hug, so the child doesn’t feel ashamed or embarrassed.
3) Teach your kids to help others who may be in trouble. Talk to kids about helping other children*, and alerting trusted grown-ups when others need help. Ask your child to watch interactions and notice what is happening. Get them used to observing behavior and checking in on what they see. Use the family pet as an example, “Oh, it looks like the kitty’s tail is stuck! We have to help her!!”Praise your child for assisting others who need help, but remind them that if a grown-up needs help with anything, that it is a grown-up’s job to help. Praise your child for alerting you to people who are in distress, so that the appropriate help can be provided.
4) Never force a kid to hug, touch, or kiss anybody, for any reason. If Grandma is demanding a kiss, and your child is resistant, offer alternatives by saying something like, “Would you rather give Grandma a high-five or blow her a kiss, maybe?” You can always explain to Grandma, later, what you’re doing and why. But don’t make a big deal out of it in front of your kid. If it’s a problem for Grandma, so be it, your job now is doing what’s best for your child and giving them the tools to be safe and happy, and help others do the same.
5) Teach your kids that “no” and “stop” are important words to be honored. One way to explain this may be, “Sarah said ‘no’, and when we hear ‘no’ we always stop what we’re doing immediately. No matter what.” Also teach your child that his or her “no’s” are to be honored. Explain that just like we always stop doing something when someone says “no”, that our friends need to always stop when we say “no”, too. If a friend doesn’t stop when we say “no,” then we need to think about whether or not we feel good, and safe, playing with them. If not, it’s okay to choose other friends. If you feel you must intervene, do so. Be kind, and explain to the other child how important “no” is. Your child will internalize how important it is both for himself and others.
6) Encourage children to read facial expressions and body language. Scared, happy, sad, frustrated, angry and more. Charade-style guessing games with expressions are a great way to teach children how to read body language.
7) Teach your children that their behavior affects others. You can do this in simple ways, anywhere. Ask them to observe how people respond when other people make noise or litter. Ask them what they think will happen as a result. Will someone else have to clean up the litter? Will someone be scared? Explain to kids how the choices they make affect others and talk about when are good times to be loud, and what are good spaces to be messy.
8) Teach your kids to look for opportunities to help. Can they pick up the litter? Can they be more quiet so as not to interrupt someone’s reading on the bus? Can they offer to help carry something or hold a door open? All of this teaches kids that they have a role to play in helping ease both proverbial and literal loads.
And as children get older:
9) Nip “locker room talk” in the bud. Middle school is the age where sex-talk begins in gender-segregated environments, like locker rooms and sleep overs. Their crushes and desire are normal and healthy. But as parents and educators, we need to do more than just stop kids from talking about other kids like they’re objects. We also need to model how to talk about our crushes as whole people If you overhear a kid say, “She’s a hot piece of ass” you could say, “Hey, I think she’s more than just an ass!” You can keep it jokey, and they’ll roll their eyes at you, but it sinks in. They need a model for grown-ups who are doing things right. Even saying something like, “It’s also cool that she (or he) is so awesome at tennis, isn’t it?”
10) Explain that part of growing up is changing hormones, and sometimes hormones make it hard to think clearly. Sometimes that means our desire feels overwhelming, or that we’re angry, confused or sad. It’s common, and perfectly okay, to be overwhelmed or confused by these new feelings. Tell your kids that no matter what they’re feeling, they can talk to you about it. But their feelings, desires and needs are no one’s responsibility but their own. They still need to practice kindness and respect for everyone around them.
11) Mentor teenage and college-aged boys and young men about what masculinity is. Men need to talk to boys about what’s good about masculinity. Ask what hasn’t been so good about our culture of masculinity in the past. How can we build a more inclusive form of masculinity that embraces all types of guys: from jocks to theater kids to queer folks to everyday you-and-me? These conversations can encourage a non-violent form of masculinity for the future. Boys need to start talking about building a healthy masculinity starting in middle school and continue through college, because transforming masculinity is vital to transforming rape culture.
12) Talk honestly with kids about partying. Make it clear that you don’t want them drinking or using drugs, but that you know kids party and you want your kids to be informed. Ask them questions about how they are going to keep themselves and others safe when they’re drinking. Questions such as:
- How will you know when you’ve had too much to drink?
- How will you handle it if your driver has had too much to drink? (Make clear that your child can always call you to come get him or her if needed).
- How will you know if your drinking or drug use has reached a dangerous level, or crossed into addiction?
- How does your behavior change when you’ve had too much to drink? How can you protect others from yourself in that situation if, perhaps, you become an angry drunk or start violating people’s space or safety?
- How will you know whether it’s okay to kiss someone, touch someone, or have sex with someone when you’ve had a lot to drink? Explain that decisions sometimes become cloudy, and signals become unclear when we are impaired. How will you be sure that you are reading the other person’s signals accurately? Suggest that they always ask for permission to touch or kiss another person, especially when there’s drinking involved.
- Although it should be obvious, explain that a person who is drunk, high or otherwise impaired should not be touched, harassed or sexually assaulted. Teach your children to stand up for, and seek help for, a fellow partygoer who has had to much too drink.
- Be careful about the language you use with your kids about partying. The responsibility is never on the victim to have prevented his or her assault. It is always on the perpetrator to make the right decision and not harm anyone.
13) Keep talking about sex and consent with teens as they start having serious relationships. Yeah, they’ll tell you they know it all, but continuing the conversation about healthy consent, respecting our partners, and healthy sexuality shows them how important these themes are to you. It also normalizes talking about consent, so talking openly and respectfully with partners becomes second nature to teens. They want to learn, and they will find a way to get information about sex. If you are the one providing that information—lovingly, honestly and consistently—they will carry that information out into the world with them.
Having good information encourages kids to be UPstanders, not BYstanders. Not only does the world need more Upstanders, but kids really want to be a force for good. And we can give them the tools to do so.
Again, see more of their tips here:
See more about the authors of these tips. Alyssa Royse, Julie Gillis, Jamie Utt, and Joanna Schroeder.
Andrea Bonior is a licensed clinical psychologist, media commentator, professor, and author of The Friendship Fix and the Washington Post Express's longtime advice column Baggage Check.
Want more? Follow her on twitter @drandreabonior or Facebook.
Photo credit: Gabriela Pinto