By Dr. Tiffany Rhodes
As a mother and an Ob-Gyn Physician this moment of #MeToo has struck a nerve with me. How do I raise my son to be respectful of women and navigate the minefield of dating in the teenage years? As an Ob-Gyn, how do I help my female patients to be safe in a dating world filled with some men and boys that feel entitled to their bodies and a culture that teaches girls they are responsible for inappropriate advances and sexual assault? In this article I will explore these questions and attempt to guide parents through raising boys and girls in the time of #MeToo. How do we keep our kids safe while dating?
In my opinion it starts early. When children begin to talk teach then the proper anatomical terms for their genitals. There are many reasons for this. Knowing the proper terms for penis, vagina and testicles may make children less vulnerable to sexual abuse because prospective offenders understand that these children’s parents are willing to discuss these subjects and inappropriate touching. If something bad does happen, children with proper terminology can tell what happened much easier than a child who is using terms like “cookie” or “boo boo.” While this security issue is certainly important, in my opinion, much bigger for future dating life is the effect that nicknames has on a child’s body image. Giving genitals a nickname gives the impression that it is dirty or bad and discourages questions. While it may be uncomfortable for you as a parent if you did not talk about genitals in your family, opening the line of communication at an early age will help you in the teenage years when things get much harder. Encourage questions about the penis and vagina. Always answer them open and honestly. Most importantly, do not make you child feel ashamed for asking a question. This open and honest dialogue will pay off in the teenage years when dating comes into play.
In elementary school teach your kids to say no. We are often focused on being everyone’s friend, sharing, helping others, but when it comes to our bodies we can say NO. Teach your children the following:
- Permission is important: this can be as simple as borrowing a toy at a young age to physical affection as they get older.
- It’s OK to change your mind: Even if they said Yes at first you can change your answer to No, this can be due to the experience, fear, etc. Answer of Yes is never a forever Yes.
- Allow Kids to say No: Don’t force affection. Allow kids to express affection of their own terms. “Don’t force a hug.” Expect others in their life to respect their decisions as well.
- Ask them for consent: Practice asking your children for consent. “May I have a hug?” “May I have a kiss?” This small gesture can show them that they have a say who touches them.
- Model the behavior: Let your children see you respecting other people’s No. Every time you respect others you are teaching your children about respect.
With this list, I am not saying that your kids can get away with saying No to you all the time to you. Believe me, my son would be out of control if I let him get away with that. I am just saying acknowledge you hear them, even though you can’t give them everything they want.