Yes, I posted this hashtag this fall – as did the majority of my friends. The screaming pendulum of sexual misconduct allegations finally made this topic more socially acceptable for discussion; its constant appearance also made me think about my son. My 12-year-old boy-man is growing up; welcome to the body changes, hormone swings, and confusion that comes with it all.
As a former healthcare worker, I have no filter, nor do I have patience with baby terms for body parts or processes; our conversations are honest, factual, and open about both the boy and the girl side of things. We also speak about the equality of men and women, and work hard to represent that in our home life. However, society and media certainly still influence him (ex: “laundry should be done by mom” comment turned into 12-year-old learning how to do his own laundry – #momwin).
But, sadly, I can honestly say that we have not actively spoken of sexual misconduct; and we certainly have not attempted to discuss the variations and nuances of those situations. Fortunately, this full pendulum swing blew the door wide open for us as parents. Ready or not, here it comes! If that thought fills you with dread, I say consider this; teaching appropriate social behaviors at younger ages will lead to healthier societal relationships, ON ALL LEVELS. Doesn’t that make sense?
News flash – the old parental lecture about “inappropriate adult touching” is not going to cover this new realm – the former is what I would consider child abuse, the latter is a society-wide issue that does not always involve a difference in age. This new realm is also not limited to physical acts – the verbal components are just as damaging.
To that end, I believe we need to explain that ‘touchers’ and ‘talkers’ might be friends, coworkers, acquaintances, or even similar aged strangers. We also have to recognize that the misconduct may occur in a sneaky media format. We must coach our children to realize that sexual misconduct of a physical or verbal nature is never appropriate and they should always speak up if they feel uncomfortable. The mantra for this could be: My body is my temple; I owe no one any part of it, for any reason, either physically or for discussion.
To go along with that, our children must also learn to notice how they approach others as well; which friends like to be hugged, which friends only want a high five, which friends are good with a wave. Truly, this is a variation on the theme of teaching a small child to not hit or hurt someone. The mantra for this could be: Their body is their temple; they owe no one any part of it, for any reason, either physically or for discussion.
For my boy, the conversations are more direct – do not touch anyone unless they have told you its ok (ex: wrestling match with friends or soon, being around a girl, in his case). Consider what you say about or to someone. If someone says knock it off, that is exactly what you do, immediately. Do not allow someone to mess with or talk about your body in a manner that you do not like. If you say knock it off, that is exactly what they should do, immediately. If not, get out of the situation and let an adult know.
For me, addressing this issue does not run along gender lines – boys and girls both need to know and understand sexual misconduct, how it might feel, and, the most confusing of all…how that fine line will be drawn differently for each person they know. While that might come across as a massive undertaking, it really isn’t. It all boils down to respect, the most critical tool in our human relationship tool box. Simply put, no means no, stop means stop, and leave me alone should not ever have to be repeated.
We are in a position to catch the pendulum as is starts to swing back. How we bring up our babies will have an enormous impact on the prevalence – which I hope is actually absence – of sexual misconduct. Let us approach it as a means to teach respect about body temples and the humans that reside within them. And let us hope that the respect lesson carries over into other areas of their lives as well.