Kids and “Affection”: Why I’m NOT Teaching My Kids To Be Polite
By Amanda Scott
I was around 7 years old the first time I was sexually assaulted. The man was a grandpa-type. He gave me special attention, he gave me treats and soda. He invited me to sit on his lap. I didn’t really want to but I’d been taught to obey my elders, to not make a scene, to be polite. So I sat on his lap. And I didn’t scream when he started stroking my small inner thigh. I didn’t protest when he pinned my tiny hand to his groin. I didn’t fight when he grabbed my vagina. I just closed my eyes. And continued to be polite.
When it was over I remember him approaching me later as I sat with my grandparents. He put his hands on my shoulders and spoke to me. I wouldn’t answer. But my Grandma instructed me to answer him and not to be rude. I endured a hug from this man who had just violated me. I was a “good girl” and I obeyed.
When I became a parent, one of the first lessons I remember teaching my sons is “be polite”. Use your manners. Don’t raise your voice. Answer people when they ask you a question. Smile. If someone offers you a hand, shake it. If someone wants a hug, don’t be rude, just give the hug.
But then I had a daughter. Someone at church wanted to hold her hand and she didn’t want him to. And it all came flooding back. And I realized that my sons needed to be protected as much as my daughter. I decided I would no longer make my children hug anyone they didn’t want to. I explained to my husband what I was feeling and we decided we would also do our best not to use physical force with our children. Although I didn’t blame my parents or grandparents for that childhood incident, I thought if I could change the way I taught my own kids, I could save them from being hurt. So I started teaching them that they are in charge of their own body, and to speak up if they are uncomfortable with something.
While men and boys can also be victims of harassment and assault, women and girls are far more likely to be victims. I think now of how women in particular are conditioned to endure physical touch. To put up with stares. To be flattered by attention from men. If someone stands too close to us, we are conditioned to pretend it’s not awkward, to question ourselves before we question others’ motives.
I think of the things women endure without much of a second thought. The older man’s hands on your shoulders, the hand on your waist, the lingering hug, the brushing past just a bit too close, the suggestive look, the “my how you’ve grown up”, the overt sexual innuendo directed at other women in your presence.
And we do endure this behavior, don’t we? We not only endure but actually question ourselves. How often have you shook off an incident thinking, “I’m sure I’m just being paranoid”, “it’s just the way he is” or “he’s just being affectionate”?
Why else do we endure it? Historically, women who speak up are more often than not subject to character assassination and personal attack. Many women who have stood up for themselves have paid a big price. Consider Anita Hill, who had nothing to gain by coming forward about allegedly being harassed by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Her life was upended, she was insensitively and brashly questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee. She even received death threats. (Hill, n.d.)
A recent well-publicized incident inspired millions of women to share their stories of sexual assault under the hashtag #NotOkay. Some of those women were called vulgar names and even threatened. This is evidence of not only the huge number of women who are victims of sexual assault but also the victim blaming that is rampant in our culture.
We are conditioned to brush off sexual harassment and assault, whether it happens to us or to others. “She’s just being dramatic”, “she’s attention seeking”, “it was just talk”. It seems that if there is no physical proof of the incident (no matter how much emotional and psychological damage has been done), the incident might as well have not occurred at all. The sad fact is that when it comes to sexual harassment and sexual assault, the burden of proof lies with the victim. Unfortunately, many victims are not believed– even though one study showed that incidence of false reporting accounts for a mere 2.1% (Heenan , 2006). Loved ones should always believe the victim.
Whether the behavior is conscious or not IT IS PREDATORY. It’s a form of grooming. It’s not just about sex, it’s about control. And we are calling on all Moms and Dads to give our kids control over their bodies and empower them to speak up.
How do we help our kids understand this problem and know their rights?
- Teach them about their body, including anatomy
- Teach them their worth, their intrinsic value and their potential
- Teach them to listen to their instincts
- Teach them boundaries
- Teach them it’s never their fault
- Teach them to stand up for others as well as themselves
- Teach them about forced affection
- Teach them that boys can also be victims
- Teach them that no one has the right to comment on their body
- Teach them to call people out on their behavior, even if it’s not aimed at them. Practice by giving them the words they’ll need to say.
- Teach them to report incidents to you or another trusted adult right away. But remember that if an incident isn’t reported right away, it doesn’t mean they’ve lost the right to report it. Only 344 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police. That means about 2 out of 3 go unreported (RAINN, 2016)
- Teach them that you will support them. If your child cannot find their voice or is too shy to stand up for him or herself, you must be their voice.
- Teach them that it CAN happen to them. 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18. (Daniels, n.d.)
- Teach them that only 10% of perpetrators are strangers and that perpetrators can also be other children. According to the US Department of Justice only 10% of perpetrators were strangers to the child and 23% of the perpetrators were children themselves! (Daniels, n.d.)
It’s time to put an end to sexual harassment and assault! It’s time to teach our sons and daughters to have a zero tolerance policy for discomfort and unwanted contact. In these books, you’ll find great ways to start all of the essential conversations listed above. Don’t put it off, start talking today. You might be saving your child by teaching her or him to not always “be polite”.
Amanda Scott is Executive Director and Head Writer for Educate and Empower Kids. She has written for various magazines, newspapers and blogs and has been active in the journalism industry intermittently for the last 15 years. She studied Journalism and Communications. Amanda is from Lancaster, Pennsylvania and now lives with her husband and their four children in San Antonio, Texas.
Anita Hill. (n.d.). Retrieved October/November, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anita_Hill
Heenan, M., & Murray, S. (2006). Study of reported rapes in Victoria 2000-2003: Summary research report. Retrieved from the State of Victoria (Australia), Victoria Police: http://www.police.vic.gov.au/retrievemedia.asp?Media_ID=19462
The Criminal Justice System: Statistics | RAINN. (2016). Retrieved October/November, 2016, from https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system Original source: National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS)
Daniels, N. (n.d.). 10 Ways to Teach Your Child the Skills to Prevent Sexual Abuse | Child Mind Institute. Retrieved October/November, 2016, from http://childmind.org/article/10-ways-to-teach-your-child-the-skills-to-prevent-sexual-abuse/