In recent months our culture in the United States of America has been permeated with #MeToo. This movement appears to have its roots with several Hollywood actresses coming forward with allegations against powerful film mogul Harvey Weinstein. Several now successful celebrities of film and television claim that Mr. Weinstein sexually assaulted them when they were trying to break into the business. In my humble opinion I find it sad that so many women, and men also, have spent years of their lives suffering from past traumatic events, without having the support and courage to speak up and seek justice at the time of the attack or assault.
The #MeToo movement has reached tidal wave proportions in our country. It has been joined by #WhyIDidn’tReport #BelieveSurvivors and other hashtag efforts. There is not much that can be done to change the past, but is there anything that we can do to better teach our children so this climate of assault and abuse can be lessened going forward? Isn’t this really about issues of power, respect, entitlement, and consent?
As is certainly the case with most issues facing parents, there are no quick and easy answers or methods to ensure that our sons and daughters will grow up to be respectful and empathetic. But I believe it is vitally important to talk about such issues with children from a very early age and continue to reinforce such qualities until they are young adults striking out on their own.
This is not just about boys. Both females and males have the basic human rights of deserving respect and freedom from abuse of any nature. Respecting other people must be taught and reinforced at every age. Even toddlers can be taught about other kids’ boundaries. Not every new little friend might want to be touched or hugged. There are many opportunities at the middle and high school levels for teens to exhibit respect for their peers by not automatically assuming that others want a kiss, a hug, or more. And it is critical to teach kids that the manner in which someone is dressed is that, and only that, not an invitation.
We also need to exercise caution in what we say when little ears are listening. Telling little girls that they cannot be strong, or athletic, or assertive is, in fact, conveying a message that they are somehow helpless or weaker than their male counterparts. We also need to stop sending negative messages by using phrases such as “boys don’t cry,” “boys will be boys”, and “you are acting like a girl”. Both boys and girls can be sensitive to others, and both need to learn to be responsible for their own actions, especially as those actions relate to other people.
Of optimal importance in this area of child rearing is practicing what we preach. We need to break negative gender associations, not reinforce them. Mothers and fathers need to share the chores that make up everyday family life. Girls can help with yard work and trash detail. Boys can wash dishes and vacuum. Be very careful not to use derogatory language about either gender, even when talking to other adults. Believe me, children are listening. It is also important to show males the same tenderness with hugs and kisses that is too often reserved for our female children only. Children learn through example more than any other method.
One of the main reasons both males and females tend to dominate and use or abuse other people is their own lack of security and self-value. Healthy people develop these qualities in childhood, largely from interacting with their parents and other adults they are in contact with through the maturing process. It is up to all of us to help guide the children in our lives along the correct paths to healthy, mutually respectful relationships with others. Parents and other caring adults should teach children kindness towards everyone. This boils down to basic courtesy, which should be assertively practiced by females and males alike toward people of either gender.
Toddlers, children and even teenagers are going to have “slip ups” in the areas of respecting boundaries and personal space. Rather than inflicting harsh punishment parents, teachers, and other adults should use these as true teaching moments and inspire growth in wisdom and kindness in our children.
All of us are created lovingly in the image of our Creator. I can only imagine how it hurts our Father in heaven as He watches His children demean, abuse, and hurt each other in any way. It is our responsibility to Him and to our world to be agents of change.
1 Samuel 27 – 28
“I asked Him for this child, and He gave me what I asked. So I am dedicating him to the Lord.
As long as he lives, he will belong to the Lord”.