by Tori Nevel, intern at WISE, Lebanon, NH
The holidays are upon us and for some of us that means family reunions and get-togethers with friends. No one wants to be the parent who raised rude children and so we ask our kids to greet distant family members politely with a hug or kiss.
Later down the road when we teach our teens about consent in sexual relationships, expectations from when they were young undermine this lesson. Think about it. We tell our teens that they should always get consent and that it should be an enthusiastic yes, but only a few years before we may have been telling them that they had to kiss grandma or had to endure their aunt’s cheek pinching even if they didn’t want to.
These actions can also have disastrous effects for children who are abused. In 88% of child abuse cases the perpetrator is known to their victim: often a relative, family friend, or babysitter. When we teach children that they must hug or kiss a relative even if they are uncomfortable with it, we invalidate their instincts. Children are taught that they have to do what their elders tell them to do, which makes it scary for them to “tell on” an adult who may be abusing them or making them uncomfortable.
So though we think that we are teaching our children to be respectful when we tell them that they have to kiss Uncle Jack, though we think we are teaching children to be friendly and accept a hug from a friend, though we think we are upholding tradition to make children sit in Santa’s lap, in reality we are teaching them that consent is not important and that adults are in charge of their body.
There are actions we can take and messages we can reinforce to support our kids in establishing a healthy understanding of consent.
Teach children other ways to politely greet people.
There are alternatives to hugs and kisses. Ask your kids if they’d rather give a handshake, wave, high five or blow a kiss and let them know that it’s perfectly okay to do so. Never make a child hug or kiss anyone.
Teach children that “no” means “no.”
The same goes for “stop” means “stop.” If you are tickling your child stop the moment they say, “Stop.” They will let you know if they were having fun and actually want to continue. If your kids are roughhousing and one of them says “stop” make sure that everyone stops and let the kids know that the game is no longer fun unless everyone is having fun. “No” and “stop” are important words and should always be respected.
Lead by example. Continue reading