I’m sure you’ve encountered it- if not personally than you have probably witnessed it. Adults forcing or coercing their children into showing affection to other adults, and the consequent shaming that sometimes results from those who were supposed to be on the receiving end of the affection.
You may hear a parent order their child to “Give Aunt Rosie a hug” or hear a well meaning uncle feign hurt and disappointment, exclaiming “I don’t get a hug?” when his niece who sees him once every five years doesn’t warmly embrace him on demand.
While we want our children to be polite and friendly, we can unknowingly damage our children when we encourage them to give up autonomy of their bodies at the expense of pleasing others.
While I am lucky to have loving adults whom I trust in the lives of my children, we cannot bury our heads in the sand when confronted with these disturbing statistics:
According to the Department of Justice, 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys will be sexually assaulted by the time they reach the age of 18, and nearly 6 out of 10 sexual assaults occur in the victim’s home or the home of a friend, relative or neighbor. http://centerforfamilyjustice.org/community-education/statistics/
These are things no one wants to think about, let alone speak of but we have to think about it, and we have to talk about it, because the stakes are too high if we don’t.
Even if our children are not exposed to adults that may harm them, once they enter adolescence, they have to navigate a world of relationships where rape culture is disturbingly prevalent. If children are encouraged from a young age to put the wishes of others above the rights of their personal space and body autonomy, it sets the precedence for helplessness that encourages victimization.
I want to be extremely clear that I am not in any way saying abuse is the fault of the victim – however, I know from experience that adolescence can be a real challenge for someone raised to be a nice, polite girl who always thinks of others often at the expense of herself.
I sometimes think of how I could have been spared a lot of heartache as a teenager if I had just been able to find my voice, and to stand up for myself. I’m not blaming anyone for my timidity, and I’m not blaming myself for the unwanted attention I got nor am I saying that every teenage boyfriend I had was a predator. I am just trying to create awareness about the issue of consent, and how knowing how to give consent, how to seek consent, and how to deny others access to your body isn’t something that is always automatic, it’s something that often must be learned.
This conversation needs to start early and it needs to start now and it needs to start something like this:
“I’m sorry Aunt Rosie, but Lucy isn’t ready for a hug. Maybe next time she’ll feel like giving you one.”