Children and tricky subjects

My conversation with Debra on Ordinary Chaos, included some talk about child sex trafficking or the sex slave trade. Between that and some statistics she gave on domestic violence, I felt it appropriate to put a warning at the beginning of the episode and also to mark it explicit in my podcast hosting service.

Many parents would not want their child to listen to the episode. Many people wouldn’t listen to it themselves. These are hard subjects, and it’s definitely easier to pretend they don’t exist than to give them time and energy.

Part of the overwhelm for adults is helplessness. “This is a significant problem and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Most of us don’t have the drive to become champions of the cause, whether because we’re already at our limit, because there’s something about it that’s too close, because we’re already championing something else, or a variety of other reasons. Without time or money, what can we contribute?

One thing that leads to long-term growth is to teach the children. 

Model a healthy partnership to children you have at home. 

Teach children (in age-appropriate ways) not only how to avoid unsavory people but how to avoid being unsavory people. Collectively, we put a lot of focus—in prevention and in blame—on victims and not enough on perpetrators. (Article here and TED talk here scratching the surface of that idea.)

Teach children of all genders to respect personal boundaries. That no means no. (On the flip side, when you say yes, mean yes. Say what you mean.) That you can’t have things that don’t belong to you. That the way people react to you is their baggage, but if you’re consistently getting the same feedback from a variety of people, some introspection might be in order.

Introspection is rarely inappropriate.

The problem with all of that ground-up work is that it’s harder for many of us than just donating $50 to an organization or running a organization-sponsored 5K and calling it a day.

To some degree, this also addresses the question of talking to kids about tricky subjects. 

Let’s say you’re talking about physical touch and respecting people’s boundaries about being touched. As a young child, this would include hugs and sometimes kisses (some kids are kissers!), laying on people, general clinging. As they get a bit older, those still apply, as would sitting or standing very close (personal space), resting your hand on backs, legs, shoulders, etc. As they’re getting into puberty, that all remains in place and expands to romantic or sexual touching of any kind.

So you’re talking about them respecting other people’s boundaries, about reading body language to some extent (because not everyone uses words … yet), about asking if they have permission, etc. 

The conversation of course also includes setting their own boundaries, not being required to hug people they don’t want to hug (which includes relatives!), and so on.

All of this leads seamlessly into how other people might not always respect their boundaries. Maybe some tips or role playing on how to decline touch politely and in what circumstances being polite is not necessary. (Being polite is not always necessary and being firm is not inherently impolite.) 

Teaching and modeling this to and for your kids might help you to improve in some of these areas as well. Most of us need practice.

(Coming back around to the initial mention of children and the sex slave trade—many kids nowadays are groomed online. It’s important for kids to know and understand this in an age-appropriate way and know how to function safely in online space.)

(What is age-appropriate is different than it was when we were kids. Forced naïveté is the easy button for parents and a disaster down the road for kids. Also, it’s different for different kids. Age isn’t the ultimate factor.)

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