Most of us have at least heard about the rape case in Stubenville. I have been thinking and reading a great deal about how to talk to my kids about issues surrounding this case...how to protect themselves, how to speak up when they know something isn't right, how to know the difference between consent and everything else.
Learning to be safe and stand up for themselves and others can be awkward and scary. It sometimes means betraying those we thought we could trust. It means second guessing friendships sometimes. It means learning to commit and trust others in a world where not everyone deserves that gift. It also means being smart while still able to open ourselves to others.
In the case of sex, it is so important to me to help our kids understand the notion of consent. I read an article recently in which a teacher was talking with her students about Stubenville. Many students thought that there was some grey area because the young woman had not said no...meaning absence of a no meant yes. Her point to them was...absence of a yes means no. Until there is a yes, it is always no.
I think that until we help our kids understand that point, we are all in danger of raising kids who feel that consent is ambiguous. It starts, in my opinion, with my answer to small requests.
Can I have a Popsicle for breakfast?
Yes, means yes.
No, means maybe, especially if they ask thirty more times and I finally give in to get them to stop asking.
No, also means yes when I say no, walk away, and let them get away with taking it anyway when I leave the kitchen.
It is my responsibility to help my children understand that no closes a door.
No stops negotiation.
No means consequences if they do it anyway.
Last week, Brice asked me for a treat. He had already had one that day, so I said no. A few minutes later, he found me and said he had had another treat anyway. He said that he had just pretended I said yes and told his sister I had said yes. Sounds pretty cute and innocent for a five year old, right? The bad part is, I was busy with a project and let him get away with it. What if he was sixteen and it was sex instead of a piece of candy? None of us can pretend the other person says yes and get away with it.
So my plan is two fold.
1) stand by my NO.
2) think about every request and say no less frequently...make the NO count.
Maybe if I can help them understand consent in easy, harmless situations that involve more computer time or candy or eating more vegetables, they will be able to HEAR the NO as a NO from others later when it really could be life changing.