The last few days, my newsfeed has been filled with #MeToo. Seeing women’s public responses has been eye-opening, moving, empowering, and disheartening. Yesterday evening, I scrolled through testimony after testimony about sexual harassment and assault, each story weighing heavier and heavier on my heart. Looking up, my tear-filled eyes first landed on my beautiful daughter, innocently playing with her magnet blocks, and the full weight of her chance at escaping this same experience fell upon me.
Not ‘will it happen,’ but ‘when’? Would it be high school? Would it happen at a gas station? Would she tell me? Then, my gaze fell upon my three-month-old son who lay quietly in my arms. He looked up at me with a big toothless grin, his whole face lit with joy. Sweetheart, I thought, you have the chance to take a stand for these women. And I will do everything in my power to teach you both how to stand and fight.
As caregivers, as mothers and fathers, we are on the front lines of this battle. We are raising little humans to navigate this world, love one another, respect one another, and contribute to society. We are raising little boys to be men and little girls to be women. This is both a daunting task and a beautiful blessing we’ve been given.
In this post, I’ve offered ways to respond to the #MeToo movement as parents. There are certainly more, but here’s a start:
Say It With Words Not Your Body
I was at an indoor playground when a bigger boy accidentally knocked over my then two-year-old daughter. My daughter was a shy, introverted child, who didn’t like touch. Rarely did she even offer a lingering hug at home. The dad looked up and told his son, “Now, you better go give her a hug and say you’re sorry.” My daughter instantly started backing up, fearful, as this boy approached her with a grin and arms wide. This moment was unwanted touch, but my daughter was being told to receive and accept it, and the boy was being told to give it.
Instead of teaching your children to respond with their body, teach them to respond with words. Instead of demanding a hug goodbye, allow them to say “goodbye” and respond as they wish physically. And, when a child doesn’t want a hug or a kiss from a relative, parent, or kid, stand WITH them. No means no. Teach them that it’s okay to refuse touch, and don’t guilt them into accepting touch.
Teach Proper Anatomy
As parents, many of us shy away from blunt anatomical terms. And, we wince thinking about our kid yelling out “my penis itches” in the middle of a church prayer, even though what he may be expressing is completely true; however, there is a strong case as to why we should be teaching our children the proper terms.
Teaching “cute” child euphemisms for anatomy inadvertently sends the message that these are parts to hide, to not talk about, or be ashamed of, especially if we speak to them as if trying to keep it a secret ourselves. Instead, plan a time to intentionally and boldly talk to them about their body, and teach them that their body is theirs alone.
The Small Things are Big Things
Little children have BIG emotions and BIG expressions. At night, my daughter has to sleep with her favorite shoes on her nightstand. Of course, as a tired, exhausted parent, I get frustrated when our bedtime routine is interrupted with tears over something as trivial as finding her shoes. But, to her, this small thing IS a big thing.
In these moments, as trivial as they may seem, we have a moment to show our child that we care for their emotions, we want to listen to their concerns, and that we will value their thoughts. As parents, we are their guide through these big emotions, and we want to allow them space to safely voice their anxiety, fear, and concerns. When they learn to communicate with us the little things, they learn it’s okay to also express their feelings about the bigger things.
Value and Cultivate Hearts and Minds
I often find myself telling my daughter she’s beautiful, but how often do I balance these compliments with complimenting her heart and mind? As adults, we do this too. It’s easy to tell a friend “awesome outfit,” less so to say “your willingness to serve others is beautiful.”
Help your son to view women as not just a body, but a mind and heart. Teach him to value this, cherish it, and protect it. Point out the achievements of women. And, allow your daughters to earn your affections, your focused attention, your praise in their aspirations, their thoughts, and their actions, lest they begin to believe that it’s only by their body that they can/should earn recognition. A woman is not a decoration, but a feeling person to be treated with dignity and respect.
Teach and Practice Empathy
As a society, we do well to help our daughters practice empathy. By playing dolls, girls learn to role play and interpret and respond to various emotions. We allow girls space to express their emotions and we ask them questions about their feelings.
Unfortunately, we don’t always cultivate emotional intelligence in boys. As parents, we should make sure that we ask our sons questions so they can practice empathy. When we read them a book, we might ask them what a character may be thinking or feeling based off their expression or words. Or, when they take a toy from their friend, ask them to look at their friend’s face and help them notice facial cues that display sadness, hurt, fear, or betrayal. In doing so, we are teaching our sons to feel deeply, read social cues, and value thoughts and emotions of others.
Stand Together and Speak Up
While we encourage our children to speak up about behaviors that have made them uncomfortable, they are also at the forefront of hearing and reporting behaviors that happen to their peers. We should teach our sons (and daughters) to not encourage or take part in conversations that objectify women/men, and to hold those accountable who constantly demean women. We should embolden our children to report suspected abuse and stand with a woman (or man) who becomes a target, not simply be an idle witness.
If a child reports abuse to you, Dr. Joseph White, a clinical child psychologist in Austin, Texas, who is Board Certified in Sexual Abuse by the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, suggests these 5 steps: 1) tell the child you believe him or her and that it’s not his or her fault, 2) contain your own emotions as much as possible allowing the child to tell you the full extent of the offense and circumstances 3) contact the authorities, a child abuse hotline or police 4) avoid leading questions, instead listening and reflecting on his or her feelings, and 5) seek professional help with a counselor or psychologist who specializes in work with children.
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My hope and prayer is that someday we live in a society that recognizes sexual abuse and harassment as the epidemic it is, that we stand together to prevent predatory behavior instead of only reacting to it, and that we teach our children from a young age how to respect, value, and love one another.
If you have any other advice, resources, or links you’d like to share with us regarding this topic, please add a comment below!
- Photo by Haley Kinzie