Protecting Our Kids Begins With Respecting Our Kids
We recently visited some friends and their parents. One of the older adults pulled out a package of cookies and told Levi that if he gave them a kiss he could have the cookies. The people who are closest to us all know that we don’t allow that sort of behavior around our kids as it erodes healthy boundaries. If it’s okay to exchange a kiss for a cookie when they’re 5, why isn’t it okay to go spend “special learning time” with their hockey coach who then wants to see them shower, or expect sex in exchange for supper on a date when they’re 19?
Unfortunately I was stunned enough that I muttered something about it being “quite the deal… but not how it works in real life” and nothing else. Levi kissed the person and ran off with his treat. I kicked myself for not speaking up for him on the spot and made a note to talk with them at the first opportunity, but also to talk with Levi again about boundaries and his body.
One of the first sentences we taught Levi was "hands off my body" if ANYONE touched him in a way he didn't like.
No please. No sorry. No excuses. Just a straight-up Hands Off. We also talk with him about how he is in charge of his body, the adults who can help him be safe, clean, and healthy, listening to his intuition, etc.
With Jian Gomeshi being acquitted and the above incident occurring in the same week, the issue of consent has been on my mind a lot. I’ve been thinking about how abuser’s choose their victims, the subtle ways abusers undermine built-in mechanisms for self-protection then infiltrate their victim’s life, and how the effects of all this can last long after the actual abuse has occurred. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about how I can protect my children now AND raise them to be people who understand in their bones what consent really means.
I believe protecting our children from abuse begins with respecting our children at home.
When we respect that a child is their own person…
…that they are entitled to bodily integrity and autonomy…
…that they have human rights just like adults do and more…
…that we do not have the right to unquestioningly impose our wills on them…
then they grow up believing that they deserve to have their rights respected.
When we understand that we do not ‘own’ our children but are responsible to help them grow to the best of their ability…
…When we honour them for who they are…
…When we recognize that their opinions and ideas and feelings and experiences MATTER …
…When we teach with kindness and compassion and love…
then they learn that their voice counts and will be listened to.
I can’t emphasize enough how important all this is. When we expect children to give physical affection for ANY reason other than they truly and genuinely want to, we teach them that how THEY feel about their body is less important than how OTHERS feel about them, and that makes them vulnerable to abuse in all forms. Forcing children to hug relatives, sit on Santa’s knee, shake hands with strangers, or even say Hi to someone they don’t want to, teaches children to ignore their innate mechanisms of self-protection. The longer these mechanisms are over-ridden, the more vulnerable to abuse the child becomes.
When we allow an adult to buy a child's physical affection with gifts or treats, we teach that child they can be bought and that it is okay for them to give up a piece of themselves for the right price. That might not be the intention when an adult says “You can have this treat if you sit on my lap” but it is the message sent nonetheless.
You want to know how to start protecting your child from being abused? How to teach your child to respect people? You start by respecting them. Absolutely. Without exception. There are no guarantees, but respect and compassion lay the groundwork for open communication and that open communication will serve you well no matter how your story unfolds.
You respect your child enough to have conversations that make you uncomfortable. You answer questions in an age appropriate way. You listen to all the little things they tell you that seem trivial so that they know you’ll listen when they need to tell you something big. You deal with your own issues around sex and bodies and shame so that you don’t pass them on. You seek help from people you can trust if you feel like you’re in over your head. You dig deep and you explore your underlying assumptions about children and culture. You respect yourself. You respect your child. You teach them that all people deserve to be treated with kindness and respect and you model this in your life. Protecting our kids from abuse isn’t about a seminar or a book or a technique (although each can have their place). Protecting our kids from abuse is about teaching them their value and place in this world so that they are confident they deserve to be free from harm and so they are confident that you’ve got their back no matter what.
Protecting our kids begins with respecting our kids.
To learn more, check out the following links:
10 Ways To Talk To Your Kids About Abuse
Tricky people are the new strangers - abuse prevention tips
The Gift of Fear
Human Rights of the Child