Ford v. Kavanaugh and Talking to Your Child About Consent
Like so many, I spent Thursday watching as much of the Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Justice Brett Kavanaugh hearings as I could. I am sure all those in that room would say it was emotional, frustrating and draining. But as the nation focused on the testimonies and pulled from all the recent headlines of the past, my mind wandered to the next generation, to our children and the reality that there are boys and girls – today – who are unknowingly making decisions (today) that will impact their lives 20 to 40 years from now. How do we guide teens through the significance of this?
Add to that a long conversation I had with a mom of two boys who spoke of the fear she feels raising sons in the wake of the #metoo, #womenempowerment era. On the one hand, she’s 100 percent in support of boys at all ages being held accountable for their actions. She repeatedly tells her sons: You do something inappropriate, it’s on you, forever and period. No excuses. On the other hand, she shared her sons’ real concerns that a mutual encounter, a moment that truly felt like agreement, could later turn into a “he said / she said” that could impact their lives forever.
It was a deeply packed conversation filled with true confusion and concern. What she was asking and what we should all be asking is: How do we raise minors to understand the gravity of it all and is there a guide for parents?
Yes, here’s a start:
- Move Away from Dismissive Language: As a society, let’s move away from “boys will be boys.” The statement itself is filled with excuses. No more. Why not one standard for all, reflected in our everyday conversations? Neither age nor gender is an excuse. Neither is social status nor connections. But beware, to really do this requires a review of our own social and gender biases (the very same ones that our kids pick up on).
- There’s Accountability for all when the Rules are Gender Neutral: When it comes to how to treat one another and how to carry ourselves, the rules are the same for all. Boys need to respect themselves and the girls around them. Girls need to respect themselves and the boys around them. Period. The traditional imbalance of power which has historically infiltrated the imbalance in standards must be eradicated, one person at a time.
- Consent and Boundaries Start on the Playground: They are lessons to be taught as early as possible and in explained in all situations. “Do you want to play ball with me? Yes? Okay! No? Understood.” Consent is also about the boundaries we set up for ourselves while respecting those set up by others. Talk through boundaries, personal ones and those of others. “What makes you feel uncomfortable? What might make others feel uncomfortable?” Go through age-appropriate scenarios.
- Not Fear but Honesty: If we can communicate and connect while knowing, understanding and respecting each other’s boundaries and with a clear understanding of consent, interactions do not need to be fearful. That said, adding alcohol or drugs to any situation negates your ability to do any of this. What does it not negate? The wishes of the person with you and the legal consequences of your actions.
- Time is a Continuum on which Actions Live: No matter your age today, your actions stick with you for decades to come, especially in the world of social media and online living. Our jokes and comments, our games, our dares, our partying, our socializing, our dating, our emails, our texts … all of it, have significance permanently. Discuss what permanent means and remember, age and gender are not an excuse.
- Expectations in Relationships Defined: What do healthy relationships look like, what do you expect and allow? Friendships, dating relationships, work relationships, school partnerships, teacher-student, etc… have a healthy discussion about them all.
- Emotions Matter: All our children need to be raised with empathy, in an emotionally safe and secure manner, thinking through how to view themselves and others. A great exercise: make a list of five or ten friends in your child’s life and talk through how your child feels about each (“CLAUDIA: I really like Claudia, she’s very smart”); then discuss how that friend might feel about your child (“CLAUDIA: She might not like me, I joke about her work a lot”); then how that friend might feel about him/herself right now (“Come to think of it, she’s been sad at school lately”). It’s a great exercise that gets kids thinking and connecting emotions and actions to outcomes.
- Examples Matter: Dad, you matter. Brother, you matter. Sister, you matter. Mom, you matter. TV shows matter. Songs matter. Kids watch it all, hear it all and pick up on everything. Do an inventory of the things shaping your child and talk them through. (Side note, have you stopped to read some to the lyrics of today’s most popular songs? They’re not good.)
- Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Period. When someone says stop and you say “Ok” while pushing a little more or trying a little harder, your actions will be what defined the moment.
- Outcries Will be Heard: Period. While my sincerest hope is that the sexual assault of all can just end, it’s critical we raise a generation not afraid to speak up. If anything happens to you, you must report and as quickly as you possibly can. In the midst of the trauma, try to remember anything possible and write it down as soon as possible. Go straight to a hospital if you can. If you can’t, place everything you were wearing in a separate bag. This is such a horrible reality but one we must face. To the child, teen or young person, the trauma is unimaginable but culturally, we are primed to hear you and listen. Add to that, the person you become may very much want to hold your attacker accountable. The world may need to hold your attacker accountable. Be strong. Report. Many are with you.
For today’s families, the conversations are absolutely about an equitable society, believing outcries, and raising our kids right. We love our boys, we love our girls and we love yours too. If we’re all on the same page, we’ll get through this.