Yes to all these things.
But the one I see missing, is how to raise your kids to NOT be sexual predators.
Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Bill Cosby, Kevin Spacey, Louis CK were all boys once. How do we make sure our kids grow up to be Ryan Gosling, feminist icon, instead of someone who rapes, harasses, coerces, and gropes?
You know what sparked me to create this blog post? Seeing pictures of crying children on Santa’s lap.
Stay with me here. First off, if this is your kid, I get it. Kids emotions can change on a dime, I know. I also know that you are doing everything in your power to keep your child happy and safe.
But those photos make me think. As a society, how do we respond to children who express, either through words or behaviours, activities that they don’t want to participate in but are part of our socially accepted culture? Like going to sit on Santa’s lap?
As adults, we know Santa to be a kind friend to children. But children don’t instinctually know this. So if we encourage them to ignore their impulses that reject sitting on Santa’s lap, aren’t we teaching them that they should prioritize culturally acceptable behaviour over their own internal alarm system?
It’s that alarm system that helps keep them—and us as adults—safe. We should teach them to always listen to, to stand up for those instincts that tell them “safe” vs “not safe.” And when they are young, they need their caregivers to acknowledge, validate, and protect this system.
At holidays, many families get together after not seeing each other for extended periods of time. We often encourage children to give auntie or uncle a hug or kiss, instead of asking children if they want to do so.
This is not the behaviour we want to entrench in our children: telling them with who and how to express affection. They might not even feel affection for relatives they haven’t seen for a while. So, what we are in effect doing is demonstrating that their bodies are not their own, they can be used to smooth social interactions, make others feel better, all while ignoring their own preference. If this pattern is repeated often enough, it can set the stage for them to be unable to express their own bodily autonomy later in life: when they are adolescents beginning to experiment with sexuality, when an adult wants them to do something inappropriate, when a partner is violent.
So ask your children if they want to hug auntie or uncle. Show them that they can say no. If the relative balks or gets upset, you as the caregiver have to back up your child’s right to not be touched. May I suggest something like this: “Johnny doesn’t want to hug you right now. I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings, but in this family, we don’t make each other touch anyone they don’t want too.” That should shut down any hurt feelings. And honestly, if it doesn’t? Too bad. Your child’s healthy development is more important than an adult’s hurt feelings.
The last part of this—and I think the most important part, the one that goes back to teaching kids how NOT to grow up to be predators—is how to accept a no. This is a life skill. One Harvey, Kevin, Matt, and Bill don’t have. (An aside. Yes, women can be predators. Yes, men can be victimized. Of course.)
We are quick to teach teen girls to say no.
Let’s expand that.
Let’s ask little girls who and how they are comfortable touching—so they can learn to say no AND yes when they are older, when the consequences are more severe. And learn what it’s like to have their reply—whether yes or no—accepted and respected. To learn to accept the disappointment when they are told no.
Let’s ask little boys who and how they are comfortable touching—so they can learn to say no AND yes when they are older, when the consequences are more severe. And learn what it’s like to have their reply—whether yes or no—accepted and respected. To learn to accept the disappointment when they are told no.
Yes the previous two paragraphs were deliberately identical, because we so often give boys and girls vastly different messages about appropriate touching and interaction, when they should be the same.
This personal autonomy is foundational for so many elements of a happy and fulfilling life: positive sexual expression; joyous relationships; learning what hobbies and career make them happy; goal setting—the list goes on and on. If we don’t have personal autonomy—we have nothing.
So please. Take the opportunity this holiday season to start or reinforce good personal skills for your kids. Teach them their bodies are their own to control and enjoy.
Next post—learning how to ask. Another lesson dreadfully lacking in our culture.
Sex Educator and Writer
When Jenn isn’t travelling the world in search of inspiration and excitement, she calls Vancouver and Tokyo home. Her writings and teachings embody her passion for sexual empowerment and freedom of sexual expression.