“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” ~ Margaret Mead
This is one of the most important tasks we have as parents. Under our guidance, children should be taught to question things. They are going to be told a lot of things in their lifetimes that simply are not true. While there are some non-negotiable rules in society and in our households, anyone has a right to question why they exist and perhaps even suggest a better way. We cannot have a society filled with “yes” people, with glassy, dead-eye stares that follow all that they are told complacently and quietly. We must encourage our young people how to reason, think critically yet compassionately; to question laws, ideals, concepts and even the things society has deemed “factual”, to shake things up and find better ways of living rather than merely existing as another cog in the machine.
Focal Point I: Consent
We must teach our children about their bodies, hormones, feelings, sexual reproduction, activity and orientation. It is absolutely our responsibility to teach about waiting until marriage, but we must also discuss options for birth control, consequences of their choices such as pregnancy, STD’s, all of the things that can alter their lives in a heartbeat. Face it, reality is, despite all of our efforts, they may make decisions they feel are correct and it may turn out to be not the best choice.
Beginning at a very young age, we need to teach about Consent. Trust me, they will get it. Start when they are like little sponges and then, it becomes a natural part of who they are as they mature. This goes for both boys and girls. We most often hear about men assaulting and raping women (young & old), but there are equally aggressive women out there and boys/men need to know it’s okay to say “No” as well. Both genders need to accept and respect this answer–ALWAYS!
Where Do We Start?
It starts as early as a year old. NO one should be forced to give a parent, grandparent, sibling, other family members or friends, a hug or kiss. If a person does not want to touch another or to be touched, it is their right to say NO and our duty as human beings to accept that answer. No one should be forced and no one should even be asking “Come give grandma a kiss”. Children will learn to be affectionate on their own as they watch and learn from the example of other kind, loving, respectful people in their lives. Yes, I am not naive to believe that everyone grows up witnessing love and respect in their households; that’s why it takes a village to teach our young people how to think on their own. Let the child think about the situation and the person involved. If they choose to give the person a hug on his/her own, that is their thoughtful decision.
I read this story the other day and I will paraphrase here: A father picks up his 2.5 year old son from daycare. As they get ready to leave, the little boy goes over to a girl about the same age and wants to give her a hug goodbye; a simple, sweet act. The girl pulls away and said “No”. The dad witnesses this and pulls his pouting little boy aside.
“Son, not everyone wants hugs or to be touched all of the time or any time. So maybe you just wave ‘bye’ instead.” The child was sad and confused for a minute, but then simply waved and said “Bye! See you tomorrow.” The little girl waved and they moved forward.
Later that night, the son went to hug the cat but the cat squirmed and ran off. The son stopped, paused and said “Oh, bye kitty!”, excitedly waving. He gets it.
As They Grow
As they grow, we teach them that inappropriate touching certainly involves their most private areas, but it also applies to holding hands, hugging and kissing or even a pat on the back. By giving him/her loving examples within the family and with friends, the children learn to stop and assess the situation and to ask the other person if it is okay or to say NO when someone touches them. I am not recommending that there shouldn’t be any spontaneity between loving partners and spouses, it’s simply leading and teaching by appropriate example. The kids will get it.
I have had the talks about pregnancy, STD’s, etc. My focus has been on consent for years. I focus on teaching him, that while teen hormones are raging, he has to stop and think about any actions that could lead to poor choices. Respect for and honoring the other person is asking if you can hug or kiss them or touch them. I have also taught my son that while he needs to think about his actions and behaviors before proceeding, he also has a right to say “NO”. There are some very forthcoming females out there as well, we just don’t hear about it as much. He has just as much right to be asked and to give his consent before being kissed or touched in any way.
Complying with a NO is a duty all of us must respect. This NO may be for a number of reasons (and it does not always need to be verbally stated):
- The other person wants to get to know you better
- They aren’t ready; nervous and unsure
- They don’t feel well
- They are not sober or conscious
- Or, as difficult as it is to hear–they just aren’t that in to you. We need to accept that and not become bitter, angry, resentful or seek any type of vengeance through stalking, etc.
What They Learn
Learning to seek consent and complying with the response 100% of the time, makes us respected and respectful human beings. We are honorable, live with integrity, are kind and compassionate. When we each take a moment to stop and our consider our own actions or how we will respond to the actions of others, we are learning to think on our own; critical thinking is essential for success and survival. We are learning and practicing self-respect and how to honor others. We are empowered not powerful. We are not taking advantage of the vulnerabilities of others and we are not allowing ourselves to be used.
No is A Complete Sentence
While we can’t say no all of the time (there are certain laws and rules we must obey), NO is a complete sentence when it comes to how we wish to be treated. No, I don’t want you to touch me in that way. No, I don’t want to give grandma a hug today. No, I do not want to go “all the way” with you. No, I am not in the mood today. No, I will not obey you and become a slave to your whims and desires. No, I will not tolerate your emotional and physical abuse. Every one of us needs to respect the NO!
It’s never too soon to begin teaching about consent and definitely never to early to teach our children not be little robots who simply mimic us as parents or society as a whole. Learning to be critical thinkers and students of the universe will serve society well as a whole. Encourage them to become voracious readers. Encourage them to seek information from more than one source (we all know how the media is today). Encourage them to question others and yes, that means questioning adults also (respectfully of course). No one person has all the answers and who knows in this day and age, who even has all of the right answers. Education is key; knowledge is powerful.
Next Up: Focal Point II–Questioning Authority Respectfully