In case you’ve been living under a rock (or just avoid social media to the level that I do) the #metoo campaign is about bringing awareness to how many women are sexually abused by prompting people to post #metoo if they have been affected by sexual abuse or harassment. It can be frightening to see how many of your friends and colleagues have been affected. It’s almost unlikely to find someone who hasn’t. Yup, #metoo.
Now I have to say that I hope your kids are not on Facebook. As useful as it is for connecting and sharing info there’s a lot that gets posted that is simply inappropriate for children, and some things, once seen, can never be wiped from your mind.
But people talk and kids listen (always) and this is something worth talking about. So if your kids come across it, well, what do you say to them?
I don’t have an easy answer for you on that. It honestly depends on the age, sensitivity and maturity level of the particular child you’re dealing with.
I do not believe in fear mongering, but here and there a little dose of healthy fear can help in survival. I’ll give you an example…
When I was a teenager my mother told me to never hitchhike. Yeah, whatever. I hitched a ride whenever I could. I even once caught a lift with a car so full of people they put me in the boot. Nooo problem!
What my mother didn’t tell me was that when she was a teenager, her and a couple of friends hitched a ride on the back of a bakkie which never stopped when they were supposed to get off. My mom and one friend jumped off and the other friend was gang raped.
If I’d had that information, I highly doubt I would have been so flippant about how I got myself from A to B.
Information has power. Too little information can get us into trouble. Too much information can create fear that stunts our growth and ability to thrive in the world. And the goldilocks balance is different for every child.
What we do need to talk about, regardless of how much detail we do or don’t go into, is respect, consent and basic human rights.
The best example I’ve seen of the issue of consensual sex being handled with finesse and without fear and in a way that even the simplest of minds can understand was a Youtube video called “Tea Consent” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fGoWLWS4-kU
It’s great for adults and teens, but for the littler kids this one gets the point across too, without the sexual references: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h3nhM9UlJjc
The main way that children learn consent is by getting to practice it themselves. They need opportunities to say “no” and also to have “no” said to them and to learn the appropriate responses. As adults, we violate this in so many subtle ways every day, like forcing kids to give grandma a kiss or to sit on their uncle’s lap or to hug your friends hello or giving them a spanking or even when we insist on washing them when they’ve made it very clear they don’t want to be washed. We teach them that bigger, stronger people get to override the wishes of smaller more vulnerable people when it comes to their bodies. We use guilt and disapproval to get children to do what we want and then wonder why this perpetuates into adulthood.
These messages also come across in millions of different way through media. Our children need us to interact with them when they interact with media – to watch their TV shows and movies with them, to engage with them online and to discuss what they are seeing and hearing and the messages that they may or may not be picking up. There are so many opportunities to point out to our kids what are acceptable and unacceptable ways to treat other human beings.
And as parents we need to be aware of how we are treating others and allowing them to treat us. Particularly in those first seven years of life while our children’s conditioning is being laid down about what is ok or not ok, and what relationships should look like. How do you and your spouse treat each other (whether divorced or not)? How do you speak about members of the opposite sex? How do you react when you see subtle forms of abuse playing out on TV? Your kids are watching you all the time to figure out how things work in the world. Make sure that you are a great role model of respect, consent and human rights.
We would all like to change the world, to create a society where #metoo becomes the vast minority or is even eradicated for good. The truth is, the best change we can really make is in ourselves. When you can honestly say that all forms, overt and subtle, of disrespect, lack of consent and violations of basic human rights have been removed from your life and in your home, then you become an example to those around you of how it’s done. If we want our kids to be part of a world without sexual abuse we need to start bringing respect and consent into all aspects of our lives. Let ‘s raise a generation with the hashtag #meneither