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Body Safety Rules for Our Children in the Age of #MeToo

#MeToo

Since The New York Times published an investigative report on October 5th, detailing decades of sexual harassment allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, hundreds of thousands of women have come forward to speak up about their own experiences with sexual misconduct using #metoo. Actress Alyssa Milano put out the call on Twitter, asking:

My first #metoo moment happened when I was 8 years old.

I was outside, climbing on the playground at my after-school daycare. An older, much larger boy named Bryce chased me around, thrusting his pelvis provocatively in my direction while singing the “Come on and do the Humpty-hump,” refrain from The Humpty Dance song.

I ran inside screaming. I felt scared, uncomfortable and downright icky. It was the first time a boy tried to push his private parts on me. Maybe he thought it was a joke. But I didn’t find it funny.

It was my first encounter with sexual harassment, but it wasn’t my last. 

I’ve been catcalled on the street with lines like, “Whooooh, baby. How about you bring that over here?” more times than I can count.

I was told by my boss at a waitressing job in college that I was hired because I was “hot and skinny.”

I’ve been groped on the dance floor at clubs and I’ve seen it happen to other girls.

I’ve rescued countless drunk college girlfriends from going home with guys who clearly had lecherous intentions. And they saved me once or twice too.

When I worked in the advertising industry, my 60-year-old, male Creative Director told my 24-year-old self, “I respect you for not using your body to advance your career. Because you could.” We were on a production trip in NYC at the time, and I’m still not quite sure if this was a backhanded compliment or a come-on.

I was told by another male co-worker, “Man, your boobs are big,” while I was pregnant.

Not counting the random guys on the street and in bars, these men were my superiors, my mentors, my colleagues. Why they were even talking about my body at all in a professional context, still blows my mind. It’s inappropriate, uncalled for and just downright gross.

This type of sexual misconduct, and worse, happens to women all the time.

Luckily, I’ve never known the horrors of sexual violence or rape. But I know other women who have. Women who have kept it quiet, or were told by those in power to keep it quiet.

The countless #metoo posts published over the past week have given voice to what for decades has been percolating, unspoken, just below the surface. That sexual harassment and assault have happened to many of us, in many ways, for far too long. These posts have given us the sense that we’re not alone. A sense of solidarity.

But solidarity won’t keep it from happening in the future. To our children.

Remember my icky encounter at age 8? Well, the National Sex Offender Public Website (NSOPW) statistics state that 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls are sexually abused before the age of 18.

And now, sexual predators can touch our children through the Internet, too. The NSOPW reports that 1 in 7 youth Internet users received unwanted sexual solicitations and 1 in 25 received a sexual solicitation where the solicitor tried to make offline contact.

It’s sickening, I know. But we can’t just wish, hope and pray that it won’t happen to our children. We can’t just post #metoo. We have to do something about it.

body safety

We need to teach our kids about body safety, body control and boundaries.

How soon? As soon as they can talk. My 3-year-old son, who’s in daycare, has already had issues with a girl dragging him to the ground to wrestle with him, girls forcing hugs upon him and a boy in the class who was grabbing and punching other kids’ penises (not my son’s, thankfully).

For these reasons, we’ve begun discussing body safety issues with him. And I’ll repeat these conversations with my daughter when she’s old enough as well. Because the truth is, I won’t always be there to protect them.

They’ll be going to school, summer camp and sleepovers faster than I know it. They’ll be interacting with teachers, coaches, counselors, classmates, their classmates’ parents and siblings and a whole host of other people who we hope have good intentions, but don’t always. 

Here are the important areas we’ve covered:

He doesn’t have to hug and kiss anyone he doesn’t want to.

Not grandma and grandpa, not his teachers, not his babysitters, not our family friends, not anyone. If someone asks, he’s allowed to say no without punishment.

Guilting a child into giving a relative a hug because “Aunt Edna will be sad,” or because “Aunt Edna gave you a present,” sends the signal to your child that affection is somehow “owed” to people, especially adults. And I never want my son or daughter to feel that way.

body safety

As an alternative, we’ll ask if he wants to shake hands, fist bump or high five instead, but if he’s still not comfortable, we don’t push it. This teaches him that his body is under his control. He decides who can touch it and who cannot.

When he asks us to stop touching him, we stop.

Whether he’s wrestling with daddy or tickle fighting with me, when he says stop, we stop. No ifs, ands or buts. We remove our hands from his body and stop.

This teaches him to use his voice and express when he feels uncomfortable, even to adults. And because we stop when he asks, he learns that grownups must comply with his boundaries. We’ve taught him that if they don’t, that’s not okay, and he needs to tell mom and dad.

We call private parts by their proper names.

Penis. Vagina. That’s it. And we ask our son’s caregivers to do the same. No “wee wee” or “winky,” “hoo-ha” or “flower.” I’ve never understood giving cutesy names to kids’ private parts.

You’d never call their knee anything but a knee. So why change the names of private parts? His penis is nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about, so I refuse to give it a nickname. 

Also, giving alternate names to private parts or lumping all parts together (like calling their vagina their bottom) can make children’s reporting of abuse confusing.

His private parts are just that. Private.

We teach him that his private parts are the parts of his body under his bathing suit – his penis and his bottom. And that no one should touch those parts unless they’re a parent or caregiver washing him in the bath, helping him go potty, or they’re a doctor doing a medical exam with a parent in the room.

He knows it’s not appropriate for grownups or other kids to show their private parts to him or ask him to touch their private parts, and he’s not allowed to do those things either. In addition, no one should be taking pictures of his private parts, or showing him pictures of private parts either.

body safety

We don’t keep secrets in our family.

This one is fairly new for us. But lately, my son has been saying, “I want to tell you a secret.” The secret is usually just something he’s excited about that I don’t know yet like, “I got a lollipop after my haircut!”

I thank him for telling me because we don’t keep secrets in our family. I try to redirect his language and have him say, “I want to tell you something,” instead of a secret. Because secrets aren’t a good thing.

Sexual predators often encourage children to keep the abuse a “secret,” with the threat of violence to the child or the child’s family if they tell anyone. I want my children to know that secrets are wrong and that they don’t have to keep secrets from mom and dad, ever.

He doesn’t have to be polite to people who are touching him inappropriately.

If someone, anyone, whether it’s a stranger or a person he knows grabs or touches him in a way he doesn’t like, we’ve taught him to say “No, leave me alone,” loudly and firmly and then run away from the situation.

If the person tries to keep him captive, he should kick and punch, even poke them in the eyes if he can. His daycare teaches the children to “be nice” “don’t hit” and “use a gentle touch.” But we’ve told him he doesn’t have to be nice or polite to people who touch him inappropriately. And when he gets free, he should run and tell mom or dad or another adult he trusts.

If we’re in a public place and he can’t find us, we’ve taught him to find a store employee or another mommy with children and explain what happened. I know many people teach their children to seek out a policeman, but how many times have you seen a policeman in Target or at Publix?

Share These Body Safety Rules with Your Children

I was so happy to find Educate2Empower publishing, a niche publisher established in 2014, specializing in children’s books and resources that focus on consent, gender equality, respectful relationships and body safety education. They aim to educate and empower children and the adults who care for them to have conversations about these important topics.

This downloadable body safety poster covers many of the topics I mentioned above, and also teaches kids the early warning signs of abuse and encourages them to name five trusted adults to their safety network.

They also have an animation of the body safety rules that you can watch with your kids, as well as books you can purchase on the topic such as, “My Body! What I Say Goes!” and “No Means NO!”

Let’s vow to stay silent no longer.

Let’s teach our sons and daughters they have authority over their body, and the right to speak up when they feel uncomfortable or violated. Let’s give them the tools to handle these types of situations. Let’s tell them we’ll always believe them, always protect them.

Fit the discussions in naturally, when you’re bathing, dressing or helping your child on the potty and already talking about body parts. And repeat the message over and over again. If you speak with the confidence and seriousness the matter requires, they’ll pay attention. 

In the age of the #metoo movement, we can’t afford not to.

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2 Responses to Body Safety Rules for Our Children in the Age of #MeToo

  1. Ashley Murphy October 23, 2017 at 8:31 pm #

    THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU for writing this, Vivian! These are the hard, uncomfortable conversations that nobody really tells you about parenting that are soooo incredibly necessary for our children to learn body autonomy, consent, and what is okay when it comes to their bodies. I’m so grateful that Sarasota Moms Blog is being bold enough to talk about this. Thank you!

    • Vivian Owen
      Vivian Owen October 27, 2017 at 1:17 pm #

      Thanks for your support, Ashley! It’s true, these are tough discussions to have (mostly for us parents), but we’ve got to do it in order to keep our children safe. I’ve found in talking to my son that he’s not really phased at all by the conversations. I just tell him the information as a matter of fact and then I quiz him afterward, saying “So which parts of your body are your private parts?” Then I praise him when he answers correctly. It’s just one more thing I’m teaching him. He has no reason to find these discussions uncomfortable at this point. So I’d encourage all mamas to just do it!

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