This year the focus of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is “Prevention is Possible.” And it is. There are so many ways prevention is completely possible.
I read an article today about prevention with teens. The article talks mostly about conversations to have with those that are in dating relationships and has some wonderful suggestions. I definitely recommend checking out what it has to say and figuring out how you can make those same points in the lives of your kids.
There are two bullets, though, that I want to talk more about. Healthy attitudes about sex and relationships, that will go a long way in sexual assault prevention, start young. Maybe our conversations to that effect should too.
In the article they say:
- Tell your younger children that it is okay to confide in you if something bad happens, whether it involves a friend or relative.
- Let your children know that no one has the right to pressure them into doing something they don’t want to do and that they shouldn’t pressure someone into something they don’t want to do.
Let’s talk a bit more about these. The first point is one that I frequently have to remind myself about because I think it starts long before the kids are telling me about inappropriate touching. “Something bad” can mean a whole host of things to kids and it’s my job as Mama to listen and give them a safe place to tell about anything they perceive as bad.
This doesn’t mean that I condone tattling or constant telling on siblings. Kids also need to learn how to work out their own stuff. But when they want to confide a worry or concern or bother – I try to listen. Their “something bad” might be humorous to me, but it’s serious to them, which I also try to remember. And if the occasion ever arises, and I hope it doesn’t, but if it does, that my child needs to tell me about someone touching them I don’t want them to think I’m just going to laugh at them or can’t be bothered because I’m busy.
The second bullet point hit home a few years ago. A friend pointed out to me that when I was making my son hug me while he was pushing me away I might be telling him that when an adult wants a hug, you have to give them one. I thought I was being playful and touch is how I show my love – hugs and kisses. My son was 7 or 8 at the time and I couldn’t believe he was already too big for Mama’s lovin’, so I resisted her comment at first. But it stuck with me and I thought about it.
I concluded that for our family, we were going to change things. I didn’t want to force my kids into physical contact they didn’t want with me. I started not making them hug relatives they don’t want to. As a military family, especially, our kids only see aunts and uncles every few years. They don’t remember them. And obligatory hugs aren’t fun for anyone – even me who loves hugs! So, they can turn down a hug or kiss, even when everyone’s watching.
They can also state that they don’t like tickling. I’ll support them in not wanting to sit on someone’s lap. I’ll stand with them and stand up for them with any sort of action that I once saw as playful and “just the way things are.” My hope is that they are getting the idea that they are in charge of their bodies – now and always. They can say no and it should be respected. They can show love in other ways too. (I have had to learn this with my son – who still doesn’t hug me. We definitely have different love languages! And that’s okay, just requires some effort from each of us in how to communicate our feelings in a way that the other is receptive of. And since we do love each other, we find a way to say so.)
I’ve taken this even further with my kids. When they’re wrestling, playing cops and robbers, or any other make believe gave with physical contact I remind them often that saying “stop” is enough. The underdog doesn’t have to beg or cry before the one on top stops.
Just about anything the kids do can have a lesson attached to it, I think. I try hard to make mine about consent whenever I can.
And then there’s sex. Not just intercourse. Kissing, rubbing, touching, feeling, cuddling – all the stuff that can be completely non sexual if done like so or completely sexual if done like so. Know what I mean?
It’s hard to explain a lot of times. It’s hard for kids who don’t know what sex is yet to understand that licking people (because they’re pretending to be a dog) isn’t always appropriate. It’s not always clear why little kids can hold hands and cuddle but older kids don’t need to – and what age that change happens. It’s a lot for adults, let alone kids in the midst of it, to wrap their minds around. But you know what helps? Conversations. Lots of conversations.
And what about intercourse? Oral Sex? Hand jobs? Yup…I said all that. When do we talk about that? Do we have to?
My opinion: You don’t have to, but you might want to. And the answer to when is when it comes up. And it might come up by viewing a commercial (the things a 30 second spot can bring up now-a-days are incredible!), hearing a song, or someone just asking a question. It might come up when your kids are five years old or not until they’re ten years old. But, your kids aren’t going to learn the things you want them to unless you’re the ones who teach them.
So, those are my two cents on talking to, talking with, and guiding your children. Prevention of sexual assault starts with each one of us – including the youngest among us. Trust them to guide you and start answering their questions, teaching them to respect themselves and others, and loving them in ways that are comfortable for both of you. All ways to reach our goal – healthy attitudes about sex and relationships, that will go a long way in sexual assault prevention. Start ’em young.