A few months ago the “#metoo movement came to a rise. Women were sharing their stories of horrible abuse. Men using their power over them, making advances, touching them without permission, and worse. I’m sure that more women than not have experienced repeated offenses over their years.
One of my first experiences with unwanted attention was in elementary school. This boy, Terry Watson… (yeah I called you out) used to beat me up consistently after school on our way home. FOR YEARS! My parents tried to get me to stand up to him and fight back, but I just let him hit me and I ran away if I could. Now that I am looking back on this, I don’t know what the cause of this was… as I don’t think we knew each other (he was a grade ahead of me). But eventually, the solution was that the school held this boy after school for 10 minutes every day so I could get home before they released him from school. This went on for two years before he moved up to middle school.
Then in high school, a boy (Doug) bothered me over and over, tapping me, pulling my hair, poking me. I asked the teacher, Mr. Pears, to move my seat. This guy was on the football team, he towered over me. And just so you know… I was not by any means popular or pretty in high school I was a straight-up nerd with no sense of style or self who seemed to just slide under the radar. The teacher told me to smack him, HARD. I responded that I didn’t want to get in trouble and he said I wouldn’t if he (the teacher) didn’t see it happen. Outside of my character I was forced to use physical violence to solve this boy’s problem, it took all my courage, but I smacked him. The whole class saw it, the teacher saw it and I didn’t get in trouble and he left me alone.
Then in my 20’s, at my first “real” job. I will never forget the young woman who was teased relentlessly until she quit because she reported a co-worker who had made unwanted advances.
At this same job, the dishwasher (don’t remember his name), was constantly flirting with me, placing his hands on my shoulder, grabbing my arm. Every time he did this I was firm.. “I am not interested, do not touch me.” He acted like his advances were going to change my mind. After what happened to my friend I knew that management would be of no help. I finally had enough and grabbed him by the shoulders, pushed him against the wall, looked him in the eyes and said: “If you ever F#$%ING touch me again I will kick your ass.”It is really unsettling to me that in each case my solution was to resort to violence, which is way beyond my character. I hate that this was the culture for me and I find that not much has changed. We raise our children with moral standards and teach them social rules, but not everyone follows those rules and even though we are slowly moving toward a culture that treats women with respect we still have a long way to go.I really believe that giving our children ownership over their bodies is key to helping end this cultural issue. When we empower our children, we teach them, and those around them that they have the right to say “no” and that affection should ALWAYS be mutually agreed upon.
I have had people scoff at the empowerment I give my children to say “no” to any physical attention. Why? Because they have the right to say no.
“Come here, Uncle Joe wants a hug.”
“Aw come on.”
And at this point, if I force the hug, I am telling my child they do not have the right to say “no”, they do not have autonomy over their body, it is okay for people to demand attention from them and they must comply.
At this point, as a parent, if I force the hug, I am telling everyone who can see (other children, other adults, the adult demanding the hug) that this is okay. It isn’t okay. We don’t force our children to give out affection. It must be mutually agreed upon. And besides who wants a forced hug anyhow? Really, think about that!
“Sorry Uncle Joe, Jill just isn’t in the mood right now, maybe later.”
“Just one little hug.”
“No, we don’t force our children to show affection.”
“But I’m family.”
AND? Family doesn’t get a free pass to force affection on anyone. And to be honest, I would think family would be the first to understand and want what is best for them. And when children are sexually abused, it is most often FAMILY. So, again… NO.
And how does this scenario play out if Uncle Joe is in his 40’s and Jill is 13? What if Jill is 16, or 21? Why should age play a factor?
How to help your child develop a sense of body autonomy:
1. Talk to family and friends and let them know they need to allow for consent for kisses, hugs, cuddles, even tickles.
2. Start at a young age. Talk to your infant, let them know what you are doing. Obviously, little ones cannot consent, but until they can, talk to them. “Are you ready to be picked up?” “How about some cuddle time?” “Ready for your diaper to be changed?”
3. Look for cues, let your child take the lead. If your child is not comfortable with physical attention, stop. If someone else is giving them that attention, tell them to stop. If you are tickling them and they say stop, stop. Honor your child’s body autonomy by listening to them and looking for body language when they cannot speak for themselves.
4. Use proper language for body parts.
– Vulva for exterior female genitals (the vagina is internal space between the vulva and the cervix)
– Penis and scrotum for male genitals
– Anus – Where solid waste leaves the body
5. Acknowledge that respect for our bodies applies to everyone. Males, females, children, and adults. If a child wants to cuddle and you are not in the mood, it’s okay to say no in a kind and honest way. If a child wants to kiss another child, and the other child doesn’t want to, give the other child permission to say “no”.
6. Be the example and demonstrate respect for yourself and for others. Children learn most of their social cues not by what we say, but by watching what we do. Interactions with your significant other, family and friends are modeling socially appropriate behavior for your children.
Obviously, there are things that need to be done, like changing diapers, cleaning, medicine, etc. It is those times when honoring our child’s body autonomy can be tricky. We can still talk to our children and explain what is happening. “I’m sorry you are uncomfortable right now. If I don’t clean you up, you could get a rash, and then it would hurt more.”
It can be a tricky balance at times, but giving your child ownership of their body will teach them that they have the right to make decisions, it gives their feelings value and it teaches others around them the same.
For more information about how you can further develop your child’s sense of body autonomy check out: FIVE WAYS TO HONOUR YOUR CHILD’S BODY AUTONOMY – Lulastic and the HippyshakeCheck out all the great books on Amazon.com that can help you and your family talk about body autonomy.
Amber is the proud Homeschooling mother to four beautiful children, Damian (24), Rosaleigh (10), Carlyn (7), Naomi (4) and a wife to her loving husband, Chancellor. Her family also includes three cats.
She loves being a stay-at-home mom and feels blessed to be able to care for her children full-time and provide them with so many opportunities through Metro Detroit Mommy.