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Teaching Kids Not To Assault

November 30, 2017

I turned off NPR today on the way to taking the kids to school because the topic was sexual assault and I didn’t want to explain it to my kids, but of course, as soon as I turned the station, my 8 year old daughter asked what sexual assault is. I told her that it had to do with touching people in their private areas without permission. That was about as far as I was ready to go into that conversation, but the idea of permission is one that we have been exploring extensively in our house.

Permission, consent and that no means no are reoccurring lessons in our home.

This past Sunday, my 10 year old son and 8 year old daughter were playing in the back yard with neighbors and my daughter ran in followed by the girls to tell me that her brother had just bit her. Bit her!!! What the?!!! How are we dealing with biting at 8 and 10? So my husband and I reacted as appropriately as we thought we could in the moment and punished my son. Can there be an excuse for biting? Did we even need his side of the story?

Well…turns out we did because this issue blew up into a huge discussion on assault.

They were playing a hostage type game. He was holding her hostage which meant physically restraining her. She told him to stop and he didn’t.

That was the first lesson. When someone says stop, the game is over. Yay! We did our job as parents and taught: “No means no.” We had a clear boundary. Easy peasy. Parenting win.

Yet no…not yet.

We explained this to both of them. He thought she was just saying that as part of the game because of course a hostage would say that. I told him it didn’t matter. We are just going to, from here on out, end a game if someone says stop. However, my daughter was unhappy with this. She had not wanted the game to stop. Her objections were part of the game. Her no did not mean no.  And then, in her play protest to being held hostage, she bit him.

SHE BIT HIM! Ughhh…..

So he bit her back and that put us in this situation where I had treated him as the aggressor and her as the innocent victim, but she was not innocent.

She had said stop and didn’t mean it. He knew she didn’t mean it. Then she assaulted him and he retaliated.

Can you see a black and white lesson here? I didn’t so this one was really hard. There was no clear villain and victim. What lesson could I possibly pull from this? I’ve been processing this for days, along with listening to media reports, and I have admittedly felt overwhelmed with the responsibility of getting this lesson right. We are experiencing a cultural shift and with that, I need to make sure my parenting prepares my children for the brave new world where assault is taken seriously.

I am very grateful for the conversations that are happening now on assault and sexual impropriety. These conversations have helped me frame events that happened in my past and given validity to the victimized feelings I had.

All of this, processing my own past, parenting my kids and the daily onslaught of media coverage of sexual assaults has forced me to define what I want to teach my kids about assault and consent. While they are both too young to understand sexual assault, they are not too young to understand that hurting others is wrong and how to avoid causing distress. Sexual assault is about power. My kids can definitely understand not abusing their power and since they are Spider Man fans they also know that:

“With great power comes great responsibility.”

I will tell them that my son is older and stronger than his sister. Therefore, he holds more responsibility in the altercations. He cannot abuse his power. If he is confused on her consent to the game, he must err on the side of her safety.

I will tell them how a parent, coach and teacher holds power and should not abuse that power.

I will tell them that a boss holds power and should not use that power to cause pain or humiliation to his or her employees.

I will tell them about the power of inebriation and how a drunk person has given up his or her power. The sober person is now responsible for the drunk person and cannot abuse that power. I will also advise them NOT to give up their strength and wit to the beer bong.

I will teach both of my children that they are strong and gifted and that they must use their power to help and not to hurt.

In the end, all of the parenting lessons I learn are lessons I need for me. I hold a huge amount of power over my children and the absolute best way I can teach them to honor and care for others is to model that behavior.

I have a lot of work to do.

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