Tag Archives: Save the Children

Teaching dating skills to elementary students

Dear elementary school teachers,

My daughter is dating. I know she’s dating because she told me. We talked about it.

I asked her what dating meant to her and what it meant to her dating partner. I asked if they had talked about it before they agreed to date, if they’d discussed what that word, that concept meant to them, what they wanted from their relationship, why they wanted to add this label to it. I asked if they had discussed boundaries and expectations. I asked if they had talked about what this label would change about their relationship with each other – and what it might change about their relationships with other people.

I made sure that my daughter understood that dating someone should not mean that you have to give up other friendships, and that if the person she is dating asked her to stop being friends with others or got jealous of other friendships, it was time to have The Talk – to remind her partner about mutual respect and trust, and boundaries and expectations, and the fact that we don’t own each other, not even when we’re dating.

I know this is unusual, for a parent to have this kind of conversation with their elementary school student about this topic. I wish that wasn’t the case.

Because, you see, this is the exact same conversation I have with my daughter every time she tells me she has a best friend.

Kids in love1

At this age, in this setting, there is very little difference between having a bestie and dating someone. Both need to be grounded firmly in open, honest, respectful communication. Both need to start with conversations about what this label means and why each person entering into it wants to take their relationship to “the next level.” They need to talk about what they want from this next level relationship, what it means for them, what it looks like and how it will affect things like recess activities, lunch time, class activities, etc. Often I even ask if they’ve considered what will happen if/when they “break up” because best friendships rarely last forever. (I always assumed that was the reason all the “best friend” necklaces came with the hearts pre-broken…)

My best friend broke it first.

Today my daughter came home and told me that dating had been banned at school. That the teachers had gotten everyone together and announced that there would be no more dating, that school was for learning and that they were all too young to date anyway. “Maybe when you’re in high school, or college…” As if human beings are ever too young to form and negotiate relationships.

I asked her if “best friending” had also been banned. Her eyes got wide as she made the connection I’m making here. No, they hadn’t. And wasn’t that odd? Why was she being taught that one kind of relationship forming was something she was too young for, too immature to handle? Why was she being taught that romantic love was too complex for her to navigate, while still being allowed, encouraged even to create “best friend” relationships that often devolved into battles for control, bullying and trauma. Why was one form of relationship being legislated away while another with equal potential for harm was being lauded and upheld? Why was she being taught that this one way of identifying with and relating to other students was “bad” or “inappropriate?”

She wanted to know why her teachers seemed so hung up on this word, this concept: dating.

I could only assume that it was because somehow we’ve equated dating to sexual intimacy, and that might scare teachers who are unprepared to see their elementary school students as physical beings who crave physical affection (not sexual attention, just physical touches like hand holding and hugs and heads resting on shoulders – and yes, even kissing because those things feel good…) Or perhaps it was because teachers thought about what dating meant to them as adults, or even high school students when hormones and a lack of real information pushed it toward the sexual and they couldn’t bear to think about their sweet elementary students in that way. That’s fair, but… elementary students by and large aren’t there yet either.

girlfriends

I told her I could only imagine it was because they had forgotten the sweet innocent puppy love of elementary school, the tender hand holding, the doe eyed looks, the silly gifts, the little ways of learning to say I love you, the little ways of learning how to hear I love you, the little ways that felt and what it meant.

I told her I thought maybe her teachers had forgotten this age of exploring, dabbling, trying on new words, new identities… What does it mean to date? What does it mean to be a best friend, to have a best friend? What does it mean to be a girlfriend, a boyfriend? Is it okay to have more than one dating partner? Is it okay to have more than one best friend? What do these words mean? How can be negotiated so that everyone gets what they want from the relationship in a respectful and mutually affirming way?

boyshugging

What does rejection feel like? How can they handle it? What can they do if someone they like doesn’t like them back, or doesn’t like them as much, or not in the same way? What are appropriate responses?

These are all really valid and important questions and skills that students need to practice and learn before they become adults, before they become tweens and teens even, before the hormones kick in and flood their brains and make them forget that before they get sexual, they need to get real. They need to check in and make sure that they are operating under the same set of assumptions, expectations, desires, goals and boundaries as their partner. Whether that partner is purely platonic, romantic or physical is irrelevant IF students have learned to start their relationships from a place of open, honest, respectful conversation and IF they’ve learned how to handle rejection when it comes, because it will come.

I know you all have a lot on your plates already and I’m sure that the idea of having this kind of conversation about dating with your students is terrifying. I imagine you are already hyperventilating over imaginary phone calls from outraged parents.

But what if we simply backed it up. What if we went back to that moment when you heard that students were dating. What if, instead of banning it, you asked the students what it meant to them? What if you led them with questions like the ones I led my daughter with, the same ones we should be asking of students who are forming best friendships, and listened to what they had to say? What if you helped students to think critically about it themselves?

What if you used this moment to remind your students that all relationships – friendships, work partnerships, relationships, marriages, benign acquaintanceships, all of them are founded on the same basic principles, the same foundation of mutual respect, trust and vulnerability. If those are in place, the rest can build from there, but without those it all crumbles.

What if you used this moment to remind students that if they aren’t comfortable having those challenging conversations and being honest with each other about what they want, what they need, what their boundaries are and listening to and being respectful when someone else tells them the same – they aren’t ready to take that next step – whatever it is.

Respect

It’s not their age that limits them, it’s their skills.

So let’s help them practice, now while it’s safe, now while the stakes are low, now while we’re not actually worried about the sexual aspect or the physical aspect. Let’s help them build their emotional relationship skills so that when they start dating “for real” and those hormones have kicked in, communication is a habit, respect is a habit, honesty is a habit, listening is a habit, setting and respecting boundaries is a habit, coping with rejection in healthy ways is a habit…

Why not use this time to make sure that all the elements of forming healthy relationships are there, ready to be utilized before things get messy.

We talk about “teaching to the test” so often, but we forget, life has bigger tests with higher stakes than any politician could dream up. When I look at the statistics on teen dating abuse, on teen sexual abuse, on teen pregnancy and STI rates – what I see is that we are failing our students. I know there is all kinds of weird baggage around the idea of teaching elementary students sexual health education – I get that. (I hate it, but I get it.) But this isn’t that. This isn’t about sex education. It isn’t about sex. It’s about relationships.

How to negotiate them. How to form them. How to maintain them. How to renegotiate them as they grow and change. How to end them if they become toxic. How to spot if they are becoming toxic.

Toxic

This is about the health of our students.

Banning them from interacting with each other in ways that feel natural to them, ways that they see modeled all around them is a failing strategy. But teaching them how to interact in healthy ways, that is something we can all pitch in and do. Helping them slow down and think about the words they are using and the meanings they are creating, that is a life long skill, and its one they desperately need. We all do.

Friendship

Imagine how much pain you would have been spared if someone had only taught you this lesson instead of making you piece it together on your own.

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Filed under Kids, Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Where are all the periods?

I have two amazing books that I desperately want to review now that I’m done writing my 12 Days of Candy series over on my kitchen blog, but first, I need to talk about periods.

Not the punctuation – but the sometimes messy, often awkward, all too often hidden thing that most women experience every month and entirely too few of us really talk about.

Disclaimer – this is a TMI post. It’s been building for a while because I was worried about writing it, worried about squicking people out and losing readers – but fuck it. Periods happen to 50% of the population and as such I think we need to talk about them. Most important – I think writers need to be writing about them, so while there will be some personal shit in here, this is mostly a post about middle grade and young adult books and a certain something that seems to be missing from an awful lot of them.

menstrual flower

I’ll just leave this here…

It’s on my mind for a couple of reasons – the first is that my oldest is in middle school and many of her friends have started going through puberty and many of them have begun getting their periods – so… the horror stories and drama is starting to trickle in. Girls with cramps so bad they have to go home, girls whose periods show up unexpectedly and bleed through their clothing, sending them home embarrassed and in tears only to have to return the next day to taunting and teasing… Girls being called sluts when people find out they’ve started getting their periods as if having a period is any indication at all about what you are or are not doing sexually…

The second reason periods have been on my mind is because mine has been acting up lately (told you this was a TMI post.)

My period used to be like clockwork – I knew exactly when it was showing up, exactly how heavy it would be on each day it was here and exactly when it would end – by exactly I mean to the second.

Then I had kids and it shifted around a bit – as did EVERYTHING in my body – but I adjusted and got reacquainted with “Aunt Flo” and we fell back into a regular and predictable rhythm. And then… Lately, she’s just been mucking things up. It’s like I’m back in middle school, never quite sure if today’s the day she’s going to arrive, if she’s going to be heavy or light, if I have one hour per tampon or four…

Last month The Bitch (That’s what I call my period when it fucks something up for me, Aunt Flo is just an annoying interruption, and my period is what I’d like it to be…) showed up three hours early and trashed my favorite pair of sheets. I haven’t lost sheets to Aunt Flo in decades.

Today I took the dog for a walk to the post office. The line lasted longer than my tampon/pad combination so by the time I walked back home… Well, it was messy. And once again I felt like I was in middle school. I was embarrassed – I mean, I should know better by now.

As I walked home, knowing I would need a shower and a change of clothes, I kept thinking about all the young adult and middle grade literature I’ve been reading lately. I thought about all the epic female led dystopia that is all the rage in book stores and on the big screen and all the awesome female protagonists that are cropping up across genres and I realized what’s been bugging me about them all – There are NO periods.

None.

Katniss does not go on the rag. She does not bleed in the ring or have to worry about grabbing the napsack with pads and tampons when the games start. All she needs is a bow and some arrows. She doesn’t have to get Haymitch to ask sponsors for emergency period supplies or midol. She isn’t incapacitated by cramps, no one can track her because she’s dripping menstrual blood through the arena… (If you think that’s unlikely talk to someone with a heavy period sometime.)

No one in the Lunar Chronicles seems to have a period either. Cress, the Rapunzel character has been trapped in a satellite for decades, there’s no mention of her captor needing to, or forgetting to bring menstrual supplies. As Cinder and Scarlet fly around Earth they are never slowed or stopped or inconvenienced by the sudden appearance of their period. They never have to steal tampons off a shelve during a supply run.

In Moira Young’s Dust Lands series, Saba travels across her globe, multiple times. She is captured, detained, forced to cage fight, escapes, travels some more… And never once has to stop to deal with her period. Never has to fashion a cloth pad, or gather moss, or slow down for a day or… (Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the series) I remember when she had sex with the wrong guy in book 2, my first thought was, “Great, now she’s going to get pregnant…” But she didn’t, and it sort of makes sense, because if she wasn’t menstruating, then she couldn’t get pregnant. But why wasn’t she menstruating?

No one menstruates in The Uglies either. You’re an Ugly, then a Pretty, then a Wrinkly. And people there ARE having children, so… Someone is menstruating, but it sure isn’t the teens. The Smokies (rebels living in the woods) don’t have to fashion menstrual pads from moss or scraps of cloth or anything like that. There’s no Red Tent situation going on where they all take a few days off together and just bleed and talk and hang out… Because there are no periods.

Annabeth in the Percy Jackson books doesn’t have a period.

I don’t think Hermione ever got a period. (However, I admit, I never finished the series. Please don’t kill me. Just tell me in the comments if I’m wrong about Hermione’s lack of menstruation.)

In fact, there’s basically only one book that I can think of off the top of my head that talks about menstruation and periods – and that’s Judy Blume’s Are you there God, it’s me Margaret? Which is known by most kids as, “The Period Book” because it’s the only one. (Well, aside from Stephen King’s Carrie, but I hope no one is giving that to their pre-pubescent kids as a puberty primer!)

And here’s the thing – I think this matters. I think that this is a serious issue, because I’m watching my daughters and their friends grow up and I’m seeing how much weirdness and shame and misinformation is flying around out there about periods and… It’s not that hard to combat.

Just fucking writing it into the story, because most girls and most women will get their period at some point in their lives and they will have to deal with things like cramps and bleeding through their clothes and having it show up early and being unprepared, and having it show up late and wondering what that means (It’s not always pregnancy! First, you have to have had sex for that to be a possibility, and then there about a million other reasons periods are late.) Most women and girls will have to deal with weird low energy days where it feels like sitting around menstruating is all they can manage, anything more than that just feels overwhelming… Most women will have to deal with things like changes in breast size and tenderness. And yes, many of us have to deal with moodiness and hormone induced emotional fluctuations.

These are real things that most girls and women have to deal with and it would be GREAT if more books could help us be comfortable with it, talk about, and know how to problem solve when it happens to us.

AND I would LOVE for guys to read books where women have to deal with this stuff, it might help the average uninformed guy be a little more comfortable, a little more compassionate and a little more understanding when it comes to periods. We might not be moody because of PMS, we might be moody because we know we are bleeding through and we need you to stop talking to us so we can go to the bathroom and try to salvage the situation, but we don’t know how to tell you that because society has told us we’re not allowed to say, “Shut up, I’m bleeding and I need to go deal with that.”

I would love to read a book where a girl bleeds through and can’t call home and has to stay in school and cope – how does she manage it? Does she borrow spare clothes from a friend or the office, does she tie her jacket around her waist for the rest of the day, does she hide in a supply closet and pray no one finds her, does the teacher she always hated come to her rescue and earn an ounce of respect in the process? What does the next day look like? How does she deal with the ignorant and thoughtlessly hurtful teasing from her peers? What does that gauntlet feel like, and how do you survive it at a time in your life when everything feels like a matter of life and death?

I don’t need a whole book about it, we have Judy Blume. But I think periods need to feature a little more in books and movies with biologically female protagonists. Whether they’re in space, (Seriously, where did Ripley hide her tampons – and no, you can’t store them all up there at once, it doesn’t work that way.) or a dystopian future, or right here, right now, today… Most women and girls have to manage their periods every single month – shouldn’t that be something that most female characters have to manage at least once a book? Shouldn’t that be something more male characters are made aware of from time to time, after all most men know someone who menstruates…

What about the best guy friend who has to buy tampons for his female friend? Can we have that scene? What about the guy who thinks his girlfriend is super aroused only to discover her period has started, what does that look like, for both of them? What about the male sidekick who knows they are in a hurry, the clock is ticking, the fate of the world is resting on her shoulders – and he has to help her cope with debilitating cramps?

This shit happens in real life. Why isn’t it happening in books?

It’s interesting, the book I just finished reading, Every Day by David Levithan should have covered this, it covered SO MUCH else about the human experience, but not this super basic, absolutely common thing that 50% of the bodies his protagonist inhabited would have experienced… A should have had to deal with a period. At least one. The odds damn near insist on it. And yet… All too predictably… No one menstruated in that book either.

When I included a scene in my YA novel where my protagonist makes a point of stocking up on tampons before ditching her mom’s credit card and going into hiding 99% of my beta readers told me those tampons better mean something. It wasn’t enough to have her simply be aware that she’d be getting her period and want to be prepared. It wasn’t enough to simply remind the reader that this is a thing that most women have to deal with. No, it had to mean something.

And yet… I can think of half a dozen MG and YA books that talk about morning wood, spontaneous (and often inconvenient and ill-timed) erections that cause embarrassment for a male protagonist – not because it means anything, but because that is a thing that happens to many adolescent males. Sometimes it is put in for humor, or character growth, occasionally it adds to the conflict and plot development, here’s one more thing this poor kid has to deal with – but it’s there, it’s talked about. It is present. And therefore, so are the coping mechanisms, the survival guides, the tips and tricks to getting through it.

Girls need that too.

They need a guide to tell them how to talk to their peers about periods, to explain what it does and does not mean (It does mean they are developing physically, it does not mean they are sexually available or sexually active.) The same with breast growth – it is an independent bodily function that has no bearing on who the person growing the breasts is, what they are interested in, how smart they are, how capable they are, or whether or not they’d like anyone to try to get in their pants.

The state of sexual health education in this country is abysmal. So, writer friends – we need to help. We need to include little moments of reality in even our most fantastical works. We need to remember that periods and nocturnal emissions and breasts and morning wood and hormone induced emotions are things that are happening to kids as young as 9 and they continue through high school and college and into adulthood.

We need to include these little inconveniences and embarrassments and challenges into our characters – what do they do with them, how does it change them, how do they learn and grow from these experiences?

My family makes fun of me for always being overprepared. But I can trace that character trait straight back to a day very much like this one. A day that ended in a bit of a mess and an emergency shower and a ruined pair of pants. That was the last day I ever left the house without tampons and a pad.(Even if, 23 years later I couldn’t get to a bathroom to use them in time… Sigh.)

A HUGE amount of my inner strength and resilience and ability to take on most challenges stems from the shit I survived while menstruating in middle school. Kids are fucking ruthless. Uninformed & misinformed kids are a thousand times worse.

A few good books sure would have helped.

So, dear readers who made it to the end of this messy post – please – drop the names of any novels you can think of that deal with periods and menstruation in any way in the comments. I’d love to start making a list.

And dear writers who are still reading, please see if you can include a little more of the nitty gritty reality of growing up in your MG and YA novels. The kids these days could use all the help we can give them.

 

 

15 Comments

Filed under Books, Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

Health care vs FREEDOM!

This post is a follow-up to yesterday’s post – and bonus! My cold has mostly cleared up so this one might even be coherent! Yatta!

It is in response to a commenter who praised the woman who took personal responsibility for her health and reminded us all that here in America the battle isn’t limited to Medicine vs health, but also health vs FREEDOM! (You must read that as Mel Gibson’s William Wallace or it doesn’t work.)

I also want to clarify something that I failed on yesterday – namely that weight is not an indicator of overall health and that the woman in the example I used referred to herself as morbidly obese and her surgery as life saving while admitting that it would not have been life saving if she had not turned her life around and chosen a healthier life afterward. The surgery allowed her to START, it was up to her to follow through.

She also talked about the fact that while she was not ashamed of her previous size, there was a lot of pain around the trauma that led to her weight gain – and that is another conversation that I would like to have one day with all of you, the ways that trauma and internal pain manifest externally and the self-harming behavior many of us turn to in response to unresolved trauma. But that is a LONG and complex conversation, so I’m going to bench it for the moment.

It is also another place that American Medicine failed her, because no one asked – no one asked about the weight gain, how or why it started, how she felt about it, if she needed counseling to help her resolve the issues that led to it. There was a medical procedure, it was done and paid for and then she was left to her own devices. She still struggles with some of the self-harming behaviors that led to her surgery. Beyond the surgery, she needed counseling to help her deal with the root causes of those behaviors. This is part of another larger conversation we need to have about how mental health is ignored in this country if there isn’t a pill that will take away the symptoms or a crime committed that can be punished with jail time.

Anyway, as we dive in, I just want to make it absolutely clear that I do not believe that fat = unhealthy or that thin = healthy. That is ridiculously over-simplistic, insulting and untrue.

That said – our nation’s obsessive love affair with junk food just might be killing us.

fake food

Here there be monsters.

People all over the country FREAKED OUT when NY Mayor Bloomberg tried to levy a soda tax and ban super-sized sodas, because FREEDOM!

Mind you, these are largely the same FREEDOM! fighters who railed against ObamaCare because they didn’t want any of their red cents paying for some slut’s birth control… Um, but you want everyone on your insurance plan to have to pay for your triple by-pass surgery? Interesting.

And here we get into the debate between individual FREEDOM! and collective responsibility – it’s a conversation that is WAY past due in my book.

If we are going to truly change health care in America and shape it into something that actually promotes health, then we have to change not just the medical culture – but the culture of America as a whole.

We have to accept that there is no such thing as absolute FREEDOM! because freedom comes with responsibility, and that responsibility extends beyond ourselves and to our communities.

While I agree that it is rad that the woman I was speaking about yesterday took personal responsibility to turn her health around, I think it is tragic that she had to do so without any true support.

Another commenter yesterday pointed out that it isn’t really more expensive to cook healthy food for yourself than it is to eat junk and she’s tired of hearing that excuse. And I hear her – and that is true especially if you factor in the health costs of eating shit. BUT, I say that as someone who lives near a grocery store that stocks real food, and who owns a car to haul groceries in. I say that as a person who knows how to cook (making that transition without help can be challenging, not impossible, but challenging. Internet helps, but not everyone has internet access at home.) I say that as a person who only has to work one job and thus has time to regularly cook real food from scratch. (Back when I was working two full-time jobs that was next to impossible. Cooking was a day-off activity, and I didn’t have many of those.) I say that as a person who has a partner who helps with both money and time, filling in the gaps. I say that as a person who can afford to spend 20 hours a week shopping, cooking and cleaning up in order to have real food.

I say that as a person who is incredibly privileged and who has multiple supports in place.

I am watching a friend go through this transition right now. And it is BRUTAL. Not impossible, but very, very hard. And it would be great if instead of shaming and blaming people like her for making “bad” choices, we as a culture, as a society, had systems in place to HELP her, and to help people like the commenter who also had to make this transition on her own. Again, it’s not impossible, but if health is a cultural goal – shouldn’t we be working to make it easier?

So how do we change this? How do we shift as a culture so that we truly promote health rather than just shaming illness and blaming people for making poor choices?

It would be great if SNAP benefits were worth double when you used them to buy fruit, veggies, whole grain products, healthy (unprocessed) meat and dairy products so that people trying to stretch those very few dollars didn’t feel compelled to “choose” cheap calories over healthy calories.

It would be great if Welfare benefits and SNAP benefits came with some in-home tutorials on cooking healthy meals and using vegetables, etc. (I would LOVE to go into people’s houses and help them learn how to cook awesome food that their families would eat, but the people who need this service the most can’t afford to pay me for it, and I can’t afford to work for free – yay capitalism?)

It would be ideal if (okay, everyone panic, I’m about to suggest a FREEDOM! killing FEDERAL government regulation!) every restaurant and cafeteria was REQUIRED to include at least one full serving of a fruit or vegetable with every meal. I pay close attention every time my family eats out and it is remarkable (absolutely fucking appalling) how easy it is to go an entire day without eating a single serving of fruit or veggies in this country. My sister took me to a SUPER-DUPER FANCY restaurant a while back. The dinner entrées were upwards of $50 and they did not include a single side, that was just the slab of protein. We had to order a $12 plate of asparagus separately and when it came out it only contained 6 sprigs of asparagus – so this is not just a fast-food/low-income problem.

(For the record, my husband and I are researching opening our own restaurant and this is one of our foundational principles, that every entrée will come with your choice of at least one serving of fruit or vegetables.)

Honestly, every time I eat out in this country, no matter the “class” of the restaurant I go to, I spend 80% of the time thinking about Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s book Good Omens and the character of Famine who has taken over the American restaurant scene and has split it in half. He runs the cheap restaurants by providing huge servings of nutritionally empty food, helping poor people die of obesity and malnutrition simultaneously. In the high-class restaurants he serves single sprigs of asparagus artfully placed on huge platters and skulks about watching the elite starve themselves. It hits pretty close to home.

If we want health, we might need to accept some limitations on FREEDOM! We might need to accept things like soda taxes, removing junk food options from schools, restricting junk food advertising, requiring businesses that call themselves restaurants to serve fruits and vegetables, requiring businesses that call themselves grocery stores to carry fruits and vegetables.

We might need to require more detailed labeling of foods, using terms people understand. What exactly is 8 grams of sugar? What does that look like? What about 150mg of sodium? Those are numbers pulled from reputedly “healthy” cereals and snacks in my pantry. Is the sugar naturally occurring as in fruits and milk, or is it added sugar? What exactly is a serving, and why do so many junk foods come in packages that are clearly meant for a single person to consume and yet simultaneously contain multiple servings?

Honestly, wouldn’t it be great if we expected businesses to be as responsible for the choices they made and the harm they caused as we expect individuals to be about the results of their choices?Is the consumer really the only one we should be holding accountable here?

In addition to regulations and limitations (the stick), we might need to take some pro-active steps to produce more opportunities for people to access healthy food and participate in healthy behaviors (the carrot).

We might need to incentivize businesses (ahem, job creators…) to include gym memberships in their benefits packages and replace their snack food machines with fruit baskets. We might need to help convenience stores and corner stores offer healthier foods to their customers. We might need to increase funding for nutritional programs like WIC and SNAP and school lunches, as well as increasing funding for education to help people learn not just what to eat, but how to shop for it, store it, prepare it and serve it.

We might realize that we need to stop subsidizing corn and soy and start finding ways to incentivize farmers to produce more fruits and veggies.

We might need to go so far as to raise the minimum wage to an actual living wage so that people don’t have to work two jobs to support their families, thereby giving them more time to do things like shop for and cook real food, play at the park and get outside.

And, if we decide we’re willing to go that far, we might just decide we want to go even further and ensure not only that every neighborhood has a store with real food in it, but that every neighborhood also has an actual park where people can get outside and play together, that they have lighted streets that are safe to walk or ride a bike on.

picnic at the park

How do we, as a society, support more of this?

If we decided we wanted to create an actual culture of health, we might go so far as to actually provide all of our citizens with real options and choices and FREEDOM! rather than just giving the processed food industry free-reign to flood the market place and the advertising space. We might realize that parks and community centers and street lights are cheaper than police raids and jail cells and hospital bills. We might realize that developers need to include things like open space and grocery stores and sidewalks and bike paths in their neighborhood designs. We might realize that collective responsibility trumps businesses’ “right” to profit at the expense of the people.

Whole generations of Americans have become separated from their food. It has stopped being something we grow and nurture and prepare and nourish ourselves with to something we blindly and casually consume. Food has become a commodity, rather than a source of health and nourishment. We’ve become separated from the outdoors, trapped in houses and cars and offices and shadowed streets that weave between skyscrapers.

Here in America, as one commenter pointed out, we’ve become separated from the idea that health is something we have to choose and work for, not something we can buy down the street at the discount store.

Health is not a commodity, it isn’t for sale. But in this capitalist society, we only value that which we can stick a price tag on – so, before we all scream, “but who will pay for it?”  realize, we’re already paying – in hospital bills and higher insurance premiums and lost days of work and poor educational outcomes (which are highly tied to health and nutrition) We don’t have a choice in whether we pay, but we do have a choice in what we pay for.

Think about it, what is the price of poor health, for yourself, your community, our country? Wouldn’t you rather invest that money in creating better options, better choices, better access to health – for everyone?

I would.

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Filed under Naive idealism, Rant

Still me, but with less swearing

I am hoping to make it back to TBT today to either post part 2 of the Guns in America conversation, or perhaps another detour about ethics, morality & money.

In the meantime, and in case I don’t make it back – My first article for Everyday Feminism just went live, so you can read about parenting in a post-feminist world over there –

http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/07/make-room-for-bigger-truths

The article is a positive action based piece on helping kids break open their gender boxes a little bit to make room for more of their truth to shine.

Feel free to drop a comment. I’ll be bouncing over periodically to join the conversation.

Cheers.

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Filed under Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Things that work

Age Inappropriate

I got in an argument on twitter a couple of nights ago. Shocking, I know.

It was about a topic that I’ve been trying to address for a while now, and that night it boiled over. My brain stayed awake all night working on this post while the rest of me tried to sleep.

It’s once again about semantics, about words and phrases not meaning what people want them to mean.

In this case, age appropriate sex education.

There are two parts to this that people seem to need to get their heads around.

First – too many people hear “sex education” and interpret that as, “teaching kids how to have sex.” Which is super weird to me, because – no. That’s not what it’s about. AT ALL.

In fact, these days it’s mostly only telling kids to “Just say no!” which is completely unhelpful and often harmful.

Kids need, and deserve more than that. Kids have the right to know about their bodies and how they work. They have a right to know about relationships, about intimacy – and all the forms that can take. And they have a right to that information BEFORE it is too late for them to use it, not AFTER the adults in their lives are comfortable sharing it.

And that is the second part that people need get get their heads around. “Age Appropriate” is not what most adults think it is.

This is how the twitter “discussion” started. A very angry man was yelling at an abortion provider that teens shouldn’t be having sex and therefore shouldn’t need abortions. A supporter responded, “So you support universal sex education?”

He screamed back, “Of course, but what’s the point of teaching younger and younger children this? Wait until they’re old enough.”

My response infuriated him. “8 year old girls are getting their periods & being pressured into sex. They need to be educated BEFORE, not after.”

He interpreted my statement to mean that I thought 8 year olds should be having sex and we should teach them how.

Seriously? That’s what you read?

It didn’t matter how many times I sent him the link explaining that we know unequivocally that educating children about their bodies, including the correct names for all their body parts helps predator proof them and protect them, he could only see that I said 8-year-olds were having sex. He just kept shouting back that that was illegal, ignoring my distinction that it is less about it being illegal for an 8-year-old to have sex, and more that it is illegal to have sex with an 8-year-old. Feel the difference – don’t blame the 8-year-old. They don’t know any better, because WE ARE NOT TEACHING THEM.

Here’s the thing –

Our youth live in a world where they are constantly bombarded with highly sexualized images. They are constantly given messages that women should be sexy and crave male attention, that to be a successful male you have to be “getting some” from a hot girl. Sex is everywhere, all around them.

fast cheap sex sells

Wait, what are they selling!?

Watch the Disney channel sometime, and think about the words of Peggy Orenstein who wrote a book about the Princess to pole dancer trajectory that Disney has created for girls. The idea that for girls sexuality is something they perform, it’s about how they look and how they make other people feel, not how they themselves feel or what they want for themselves. And look at the messages those same shows are giving boys about their role, how it shows that they should be the instigator, the aggressor and how no means maybe and maybe means yes.

Dominate

Sexuality – a public performance, or an intimate experience?

Right now the adults in charge seem to be interpreting “Age Appropriate” as “The age WE are comfortable thinking a child might use this information.”

We need to knock that off and start thinking about age appropriate as, “The age a child is curious about a thing.” “The age BEFORE a child NEEDS to know.” “The age when a child is introduced to a thing by society at large and might need help understanding it.”

I had a deep and wonderful and safe conversation with my 8 year old about sex and rape and consent last year, when she was still seven. I didn’t start the conversation, she did. I just answered her questions, with honesty – and yes… I threw the ball a little high. I discarded the tired advice that you give children only enough information to barely answer their question. Instead, I pushed a little, opened the door a little wider and gave her MORE.

That conversation has helped her feel safer about the images she sees in the world around her, it has helped clarify the boundaries that she can set for herself and the ways that she can do that, it helped make her feel strong and empowered and capable. It gave her the words to set boundaries, not just with a firm “no!” but also with an emphatic “yes!”

(Because one of the problems for girls is that we have told them they are the gatekeepers of sexuality and that their job is to say no. Has anyone else ever considered that perhaps the reason girls “tease” or sometimes start out with no, and slide into maybe, and finally cave into yes – thus fulfilling the damaging and rape enabling stereotype of no means maybe and maybe means yes – is because girls by and large have not been taught that they CAN SAY YES? Because girls who say yes are sluts and whores and BAD GIRLS.)

The other thing this conversation did, is it told my daughter that I was safe, that her home was safe, that she had a person and a place where she could discuss anything without shame or fear, where she could get information BEFORE it was too late to use it.

I’ve had similar conversations with my oldest daughter.

These conversations did not destroy my children’s childhood. I did not ruin them by answering their questions respectfully or by giving them a safe space to ask them. Because this is an argument that is thrown at me ALL THE FREAKING TIME when I advocate for educating children about their bodies, about sex & sexuality.

“Why not just let them be kids?” This was the heart of President Obama’s ignorant comments against selling emergency birth control over the counter to all females of reproductive age.

As if giving a child who is clearly already having sex (or they wouldn’t need Plan B) access to medicine to help them not become a mother ruins childhood! Um – BECOMING A MOTHER RUINS CHILDHOOD.

I want to cyber shout that over and over and over again.

You want to protect childhood – you make damn sure children aren’t becoming parents.

“Let them be kids” is the same argument I hear when I advocate for open, inclusive sex education that discusses homosexuality, trans* people, and the full spectrum of gender expression, and other non-reproductive, heteronormative sexual issues.

As if some kids don’t already have parents who don’t fit that narrow heterosexual box. As if some kids don’t already know that THEY don’t fit in that narrow hetero box. As if those kids don’t also deserve healthy, accurate, truthful information about their bodies, their sexuality, their gender expression.

As if we don’t already have kids being bullied to death because they don’t perform their gender and sexuality the way society at large tells them to.

Refusing to teach kids about their bodies, refusing to teach them about sex, refusing to create safe spaces for them to ask questions and get honest, medically accurate answers because it makes US uncomfortable to think about IS NOT HELPING. Refusing to teach ALL kids about the WHOLE rainbow of human sexuality is NOT HELPING.

You may disagree with 9-year-olds having sex – most of the 9-years-old having sex also disagree with it – but denying them information, medical services and a safe space to talk about what is happening is NOT protecting their childhood. It is simply denying them agency in their own lives. And it is creating more space for predators to work.

You may be scared of homosexuality, or not understand trans* people, or be confused by all the variance that exists outside of a very narrow one man, one woman in wedded bliss sexuality – but denying kids information about it, doesn’t help them. It hurts them. And it allows room for bigotry and hate to spread.

Denying a reality you don’t like won’t make it go away. It just makes it darker and harder for the people living it.

I remember a friend who found out in middle school sex ed that she’d been being abused and raped for 3 years. She didn’t know because she didn’t have the words. She didn’t know because it had started so young. And even afterward, it took her months before she was able to really believe it and to feel safe enough to speak it, to name it, to ask for help.

I could share countless stories of kids with parents less liberal than mine who only realized AFTER they’d been abused, assaulted, raped that that was what had happened, because sex ed came too late for them. Or who didn’t feel like they could call it rape, even after they learned the words, because they hadn’t actually said no, because they didn’t know how to say no safely, they didn’t know how to say no without putting themselves in further harms way. Or they didn’t say no because they didn’t really understand that what was happening to them was sex and that they could say no!

The common denominator in the vast majority of child sex abuse is that the children didn’t have the words, the information, the power to get help.

The common denominator is that WE FAILED THEM as a society, because we did not educate and empower them.

And it isn’t just the victims we are failing. I remember a boy in my middle school who really didn’t know that he was walking the halls sexually assaulting girls by grabbing their breasts, who was genuinely shocked when my friend accused him of rape and prosecuted him – because the last girl he’d had sex with that way hadn’t said anything, and anyway my friend had already had sex with another guy, so how could he even have raped her? He didn’t have the words either, he was just doing what the world around him said he could and should do to “be a man.”

While I don’t want to create wiggle room or excuses for people who commit sexual assault or rape – the brutal truth is, they are often victims of social conditioning. Conditioning that tells them that THEIR JOB is to get sexual favors from other people, that tells them their self-worth is counted in the number of notches on their bed post, that tells them that in order to “be a real man” they have to get the girl – at any cost.

Just as many victims of rape are additionally victims of social conditioning which never gave them the tools to be more than passive recipients of sexual attention, that says their self-worth is tied to the number of men who want to “tap that”, that tells them in order to be a “real woman” they have to be pleasing to men – no matter the price.

alcohol date rape drug

Don’t ask, just get her drunk…

This is rape culture.

This is the battle we are fighting. It isn’t about saving kids from sex. It is about educating our youth about this culture. It is about giving them the tools and information they need to make healthy decisions. It is about breaking down the millions of messages they get in the media every day telling them how to perform their sexuality.

sexuality images

Is this the idea of sexuality we want our youth to carry?

So we have a choice – accept those messages and let our children embrace them as Truth, or push back.

And we push back with education. Education that empowers them. Education that helps them question the way the world is presented in movies, on TV and radio, on billboards.

We push back by creating more safe spaces for children to ask questions and get real answers, by empowering more adults to become askable adults.

We do it by ending the wall of silence and shame that surrounds genuine sex and sexuality in our culture and replace it with vast open spaces for real discussions.

We push back by teaching children about their bodies, about bodily autonomy and sexual empowerment, and about the whole rainbow of gender and sexual expression that exists in this world.

We do it by teaching them the truth that sex is supposed to feel good for everyone involved, that the primary reason adults have sex is BECAUSE IT FEELS GOOD, and that if it isn’t feeling good – it’s time to call a time-out.

We push back by preparing our children to live in the world we’ve created, rather than trying to protect them from it.

Face it – if telling our children the truth about our world will destroy their childhood, then we’re doing it wrong and we need to change the world we’re creating for them, not put blindfolds over their eyes and then blame them when they stumble.

 

 

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Wading into the vaccine “debate”

I put debate in quotes up there because lately it’s more of an ugly shouting match with both sides screaming that the other side is evil, stupid, ignorant, deliberately and knowingly hurting children, oh, and evil.

I’m going to open by stating that I am not a doctor. I am not an infectious disease specialist. I have no medical training and the last biology class I took was in high school. I have basic working knowledge of germ theory. I know how vaccines work – the vast majority of them involve putting a weakened, mutated, dead or disabled version of the virus into your blood to create an immune response and “teach” your body how to fight off the real thing without actually infecting you with the disease and making you sick.

I have, however, done a lot of independent research into the issue of vaccines, because I have two kids and I am a pretty conscientious parent. My husband and I read a number of books – both pro-vaccine and anti-vaccine – and talked with a number of doctors and other experts before reaching any decisions about vaccines. We continue to talk, research and pay attention because there are still choices to be made.

For us, it was never an “all or nothing” one time only choice. We understood from the beginning that there was wiggle room to say yes to some, no to others and always to change our minds and say yes later, or say no to boosters if there were in fact adverse effects.

Here’s a brief summary of what we learned on our journey:

Most vaccines in themselves are relatively safe. That said, not all vaccines are safe for all people. Some people are born with underlying conditions that make it unsafe for them to get certain vaccines. Some of these conditions are easily identifiable at a well baby exam, some of them aren’t obvious/can’t be known until after a child has had their first shot and has a serious reaction. When that happens, future booster shots are contraindicated and withheld. Of course by then the damage is often done, and trying to get compensated for any harm done to the child is nearly impossible, despite the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which was put in place less to compensate harmed children and more to protect vaccine manufacturers and maintain a reliable and consistent supply of vaccines.

We further learned that for the vaccines with the highest reaction rates, those reaction rates decreased significantly if the vaccines were delayed from the CDC ideal schedule by 6 months to a year depending on the vaccine.

Now, as far as we could tell, both of our kids were born healthy. Both my husband and myself were/are fully vaccinated (minus the new seasonal flu crap and other recent “fad” vaccines.) That said, when our first child was born they wanted to start vaccinating her before she even left the hospital. Before she was even a full day old. That seemed overly ridiculous to both of us.

Everything we had read about infant development told us that she didn’t even have an immune system to activate at that early stage, so at best the shot was being wasted, at worst we were shooting our brand new baby up with aluminum salts, formaldehyde, neomycin and sulfa drugs (which my husband IS allergic to!) which are all present in every shot of every vaccine.

We passed.

We were told that we had just signed the death warrant for our child, that we were evil, stupid and uncaring parents. We were also told that we deserved to watch her die a horrible death and that maybe we would vaccinate our next child, but that in the doctor’s opinion we shouldn’t even be allowed to have another child as we were clearly unfit parents.

All because we didn’t want her to get her first vaccine on the day of her birth.

I have to say – to those of you who want to clobber the anti-vaxxers, saying shit like that will not help win anyone over to your side of the fence. In fact, it will push people further away and make them much more reluctant to come to you for information, support or help should they reconsider.

As for us, we had planned out our child’s vaccine schedule before we gave birth to her. We are not anti-vaxxers, we are middle of the road, considered, thoughtful, informed… partial vaxxers? Is that a word? Because again, in this debate all I ever hear is for or against. But there is room for nuance.

In our research the thing we kept coming back to was that – by and large, for most people – vaccines do work. BUT there is a risk involved. That risk can be significantly lessened by postponing the start of vaccines and by spreading them out over time.

See, aside from wanting to stick the first needle into a baby on their first day out of the womb – at the second appointment, the CDC would like doctors to stick them with 6 NEEDLES containing a whopping 8 vaccines. And this is when your child is only 2 months old.

CDC vaccine schedule

CDC Vaccine Schedule, including some for mom!

During this time in an infant’s development – their immune system is at its weakest! Seriously. Up until then infants immune systems are relying on their mothers – first by using the limited antibodies that passed through the placenta, and then – IF the child is being breastfed, through the antibodies passed through the breastmilk. This is called “passive immunity” because the infant is not creating their own antibodies or immune responses, they are passively receiving them from their mom.

At two to three months, the level of antibodies being passed from the mom via breastmilk decreases dramatically as the infant begins, slowly, to create their own. So, during this two-three month age, an infant’s immune system is at its weakest while it shifts from its mom’s passed on immunity to its own brand new immune system. And this is when the doctors would like to hit them with 8 brand new viruses all at once! Weakened, disabled, mutated viruses – yes – but still – that’s a hell of a load for a brand new system just starting to get online. And if it’s flu season, cold season, whatever season – this brand new immune system is already working to figure out how to deal with those active illnesses.

It’s really not a huge wonder that vaccine reactions are higher with this schedule than if parents wait until their child is 6 months old to being immunization. See, at 6 months old – healthy babies have fully functioning “mature” immune systems. And unhealthy kids, who maybe shouldn’t be getting immunized to begin with – well, it’s more apparent by that age that immunization isn’t a good idea and severe, life changing reactions can also be reduced.

I remember talking to our daughter’s pediatrician the first time they met. I asked her about this research that we had done and the conclusion that we came to. For the record, our doctor was VERY pro-vaccine, but she was also pro-informed consent. She said it was her understanding that the CDC had set the vaccine schedule up the way they had because parents were already bringing their children in for well child exams, so it reduced patient visits and increased the chances of parents fully immunizing their children. If they waited to get started at 6 months, and spread the shots out over more visits, they lost parents. It became more expensive (every office visit costs, remember), parents became more selective about which vaccines they wanted and total vaccine rates dropped.

However, if you started vaccinating the infant at birth and gave them a shot, or 6, at every well baby visit – it kept the parents coming back and made the parents feel like something had been done for their child at the visit.

(Like when otherwise intelligent doctors prescribe antibiotics for viral illnesses. The antibiotics won’t help, but the patient wants the doctor to DO SOMETHING. So, they do, even though they know the consequences of that action are ultimately worse for society than the consequences of inaction.)

Thus even if the first batch of vaccines was effectively wasted, the end goal of having fully vaccinated children was achieved. No harm no foul. Except of course for those few kids who had severe reactions. But, you have to crack a few eggs to make an omelet and all that.

This rationale for the CDC’s immunization schedule has been repeated to us by several pediatric doctors as we moved across the country with our kids and struggled to find a good doctor in our new home state. (We’re still looking.)

So – the schedule that is in place is not there because it is the most effective, risk free way to treat children, but because it is the most convenient for doctors and the most effective at keeping parents in line. In other words – it’s a political schedule, not a medical one.

My husband and I have believed all along that the immunization debate is, at heart, about mitigating risk. Weighing the risk of the disease – from catching it to living through it or with it – against the risk of the vaccine and living through – or with – any possible adverse reaction.

In doing our research we learned that not all vaccines are created equal. They do not all come with equal risk/benefit ratios. So, we broke them down one by one and created our own vaccine schedule for our children, starting when they were 9 months old. We also agreed they would never, never get more than two shots at a time. And that was assuming that each shot contained only one vaccine. If it was a combo shot – then it was one at a time, spaced at least a month apart. MMR would not happen until our children were two when the risk of severe reaction dropped to negligible levels in healthy kids. There were also a couple of vaccines that we decided to postpone indefinitely, believing that we could get them later if we needed to.

Because of this amended and drawn out schedule, our kids were not quite fully immunized to CDC standards when we packed them up and moved them across the country. We still had a couple of doses of a couple of vaccines to go.

When we landed in our new state, it took us a while to find a doctor who was willing to work with us to complete the schedule on our terms. Unfortunately, when I lost my corporate job, and my corporate insurance, she was no longer available to see us.

I have tried several times to get my kids their last round of shots. But only that last round. Nothing added. No seasonal flu shot. No extra doses of this or that.

Each and every time I have made the appointment (At three different doctor’s offices including one trip to the public health department because they claim they want children vaccinated.) I have been yelled at, shamed, told I was a terrible parent, threatened, told social services should take my children away from me (sometimes this was said in front of my children, who were already freaked out about getting shots and became quite scared that they would be taken from me.) all because I had DELAYED getting them fully vaccinated.

In each case, rather than using the appointment time to actually VACCINATE my children like I was asking them to do, they chose instead to use it to berate, shame and threaten me. And in each case I ended up leaving the office at the end of my hour with my still not fully vaccinated children in tow, angry tears streaming down my face, promising my children we would eventually find a doctor willing to work with us again. We haven’t. I hate even thinking about trying again. I’m not sure it’s worth it.

Now – imagine I was a true anti-vaxxer. Imagine I truly believed that vaccinating my children put them at more risk than not vaccinating them. Imagine then that something changed my mind, that something made me decide to get my kids vaccinated – whether for the full spectrum of childhood threats or for only a few. (Such as my friend who planned to take her child to a developing nation with high rates of a few diseases. She was hoping to get her son vaccinated for just those threats. Note the word hoping. Last I heard she was given the choice between all or nothing.)

Being treated in this way would likely remind me of all the reasons I distrusted the medical profession and big pharma in the first place. It would likely push me right back out of the office. After all, these are people who are already there reluctantly, quite likely looking for an excuse to back out. Why give them one?

If someone who actually WANTS to finish vaccinating their children can be bullied out of the office in tears by people who claim to want to vaccinate said children, imagine what it must be like for someone who is truly on the fence, or who came in for information hoping that the doctor would tip the scales for them one way or the other. Or someone who is rebelling against their community of fellow anti-vaxxers and is already feeling scared and vulnerable. Being shamed, lectured, threatened and yelled at is most likely going to push them back to their supportive, nurturing community, tail between their legs – another horror story to add to the list and validation in their hearts for refusing to see “those doctors.”

When I read tweets or articles yelling at anti-vaxxers, calling them monsters or evil, saying they shouldn’t be allowed to have children – I get really upset, because all of those things have been said about me. All because I did my research and made my own informed decisions about what was best for my children.

I don’t get mad at parents who choose to follow the CDC schedule. I don’t shame them or ridicule them. They are doing what I did – making the best possible choice for their children and their family using the information they had available to them. I do not fault any parent for taking care of their children to the best of their ability.

I don’t get mad at parents who reject all vaccinations either. They too are making the best choice they can for their family with the information they have. If they ask me for information or an opinion, as some have – I tell them what I learned in my research, on my quest. But I don’t try to convince them that my answers are the right answers. They were simply MY answers.

It is my belief that very few parents want to deliberately hurt their children or would knowingly, deliberately put their children at risk. Looking at the debate through that lens, it’s easier to be compassionate for everyone on every side of this issue. We are all looking out for our families first. Then, if we are able, we look out for our wider communities.

Personally, I think if the pro-vaccine folk want to win more people to their side, they should perhaps stop alienating us and calling us monsters and baby killers. Just a thought.

And when one of us does walk in and ask for some vaccines, how about just saying yes? Save the lecture. We’re here, you won. You can gloat when we leave if it makes you feel better, but while we’re there – just give us the damn shot. If it doesn’t kill us, who knows, maybe we’ll come back for more.

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Five words that can save a child

My loyal readers know I don’t go in for much “Save the children!” rhetoric.

I am the type of parent who believes in preparing children for the world rather than protecting them from it.

It turns out that most of the things we do as parents, relatives or friends of children to prepare them for the world have the added bonus of protecting them from its worst elements as well, or at least reducing their risk of falling victim.

So today, I want to share 5 words that truly CAN save a child.

In a study of convicted pedophiles, the researches learned that children who know the anatomically correct words for their sexual body parts are significantly less likely to be targeted!

The reasons for this are that these children are assumed to be more mature, harder to manipulate, have more open relationships with the adults in their lives, and be more likely to report if someone makes them uncomfortable or approaches them sexually.

In short, these children are perceived as being stronger – and that strength protects them.

The organization that brought this to my attention followed up by assuring us parents that they would, of course, not be using those words in the class they were teaching to 3rd graders on sexual violence prevention. Instead they would be referring to all body parts that are typically covered by bathing suits as “private parts.”

As you can imagine, my head almost exploded.

First, this organization’s mission is to prevent sexual violence toward children.

Second, their primary tactic in this is to educate children on how not to be victimized.

Third, they know of a tool that by all accounts can effectively predator proof the children they are teaching.

Fourth, they will NOT be using this tool.

exploding head

I see this type of thing happening way too often with children.

We are so busy bubble wrapping them and “protecting” them that we inadvertently protect them from the very knowledge that could one day save them.

I am so completely over it.

Well, I was sort of born over it. I was that child who got a hold of this type of information and disseminated it as widely as I could. I was the child who got invited to slumber parties because I had actual facts and honest research based information about puberty, sex, sexuality, masturbation, drugs, alcohol and other “off-limits” topics.

I saw the amount of misinformation floating around my schools and I was terrified by it.

I saw the harm it caused.

I saw what ignorance led to.

I was determined to do my part to eliminate it.

I’m still on that crusade.

So, I know somewhere in here you’ve mentally gone through the words I’m talking about.

Let’s see if you got them all.

Vagina/vulva.

Penis.

Anus.

Breasts or nipples.

Then there’s the 5th word – the most important word we can teach our children, and empower them to use.

“No!”

I’ve met a lot of parents lately (living near the hippy parenting capital of the world, Boulder) who don’t use that word with their children, and don’t allow their children to use it. “It’s negative. We’re trying to teach positivity.”

Look – “No” is perhaps the most powerful, important and critical word in the human language, with the possible exception of “yes.” (Which will be getting its very own blog post.)

“No” sets limits, enforces boundaries, defines our will.

“No” protects our space, our bodies, our emotions from intruders.

“No” is all the bubble wrap we need to give our children.

Will they use it against us – absolutely! And they should!

And we should let them. We should encourage them. We should reward them when they refuse to let us steam roll over them.

Will they abuse it? Occasionally, just as they abuse every new super power they acquire.

But we don’t take crying away from them as infants just because they become temporary tyrants. We learn when to respond and when to ignore their wails of despair over having heads bigger than their arms (or whatever it is babies cry about when it’s not food, sleep or diaper issues).

This is where parenting comes in.

We have the power of “No!” too.

And the power of “Now!”

And the power of “One… Two…” (I’ve never gotten to three, thank the odds. I never knew what I was supposed to do after that…)

We have the power of, “Tough skittles kid, I’m older, meaner and WAY more stubborn than you. I win this round, let’s go.”

But in between being the boss of their universe, we need to let them flex their own will a little. We need to help them discover, set and enforce their own boundaries.

We need to give them “No!”

And then, we need to give them the confidence to talk about ALL the parts of their bodies. They need to be able to talk about their penis, anus, breasts, vagina/vulva with the same casualness that they talk about their elbows and knees.

They need to be able to tell a parent or trusted adult when something hurts, itches or otherwise feels uncomfortable.

They need to be able to tell a parent or trusted adult when someone or something makes them uncomfortable.

They need to be able to talk about what makes them feel good, as well as what makes them feel bad.

They need to learn their own boundaries around good attention and bad attention.

They need to understand why their tummy flips when that cute girl smiles at them, and why it turns sour when that leering woman winks.

They need to be able to talk about it, be heard, be respected and validated – so that they can learn to trust their guts. And so that if that leering woman comes over and asks to “push their button”, they feel empowered to tell her to bugger off, and to report her actions to the nearest trusted adult.

This same skill will serve them when they enter the dating world and need to communicate with their partner(s). They’ll feel confident talking about what feels good, what doesn’t feel good, and about saying no when they aren’t ready to try something yet.

So, if you have a child in your life, whether it’s your child, or one that you watch, or just one that you love (platonically, of course) – step up. Teach them the five words that could save them. Use those words yourself. Get comfortable with them.

Seriously, it’s just a body. There’s nothing innately wrong, dirty, sinful, shameful or bad about having a body.

Penis, vagina, vulva, anus, breasts and nipples are NOT bad words, they are not x-rated, they are not adult or indecent in any way.

They are real words that describe real things that even children have, use and need to be able to talk about.

It’s well past time to remove the stigma around them.

 

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