icon: "analytical (a close-up photo of my eye in bright sunlight, showing the green and grey and roots-looking patterns)"
Q: How do I keep my kid from getting their heart broken?
A: You don't. It it impossible and damaging to try. Instead, teach them what can damage them, how to spot warning signs, and how to heal if their heart is broken.
I'm tired of watching parents ask this question as they determine the level of control they're going to try to implement over their kids' life (usually just the kids that they assume to be girls). There is no level of control that will prevent your kids from getting hurt. You can only provide them with knowledge and skills so that they can avoid it sometimes and heal from it other times.
If I was teaching my kids about sex, I would never in a million years say shit like "boys only want one thing" or "don't get some girl pregnant." I would not use euphemisms at all. I would not feel awkward (because I'd be used to having frank conversations about difficult subjects) or resist the idea of my kid having consensual sex with someone they chose.
Instead, I would train them in how to be good at consent from the time they are toddlers. My kids would be trained to not hit others not because hitting is bad, but because that is a violation of consent. If I saw my kid hit someone (first I would ask their reason, and deal with any underlying issue, and then) I would explain that you do not ever touch anyone in any way unless they have told you that they want you to. This is not hard to understand, but we train kids from very early that some kinds of touch are okay to foist on others (hugs, kisses, pats (especially from older people)) and others are not (hitting, pinching). I would explain to them that a lot of people don't understand how to respect other people's bodies, and if someone ever touches them in a way they didn't say was okay, to talk with me about it. I would explain that if you cannot escape and you are in danger, this is the one situation where it is okay to fight back, but first always try to solve it with words (either talking to the attacker or talking to someone else who can stop them), or leaving, unless those aren't options. My kids would be trained that everyone's body belongs only to that person, no matter what, and that they have no right to ever expect any kind of touch from anyone.
I would teach them that other people are sometimes bad at communicating and they might need to look for non-verbal cues that another person is done with the situation. This could start as easily as a kid being "mine mine" about all their toys -- you can tell from this that they are done playing with you, and you shouldn't try to play with them any more for a while (maybe ever, if the behavior repeats). I would not force my kids to share, though I would encourage them to have empathy and want to share if the other kid was lacking.
[TW: discussion of rape prevalence and aftermath] ------- TW: discussion of rape prevalence and aftermath ---------
When they got to an age where they wanted to date, I would tell them the plain truth. I would remind them that most people don't have the skill of respecting other people's bodies, and that when this comes to sex it can lead to rape. I'd tell them frankly that most rape happens with people you know, in supposedly 'safe' places, and that most people who have committed rape don't think that they have raped. I'd tell them that rapists are not people you can pick from a crowd, and that the more power someone has, the more likely that they think they are entitled to other people's bodies.
I'd also teach them not to be so terrified of rape. I think being raised with the idea that rape ruins your life forever and breaks you irreparably made my recovery far more painful and difficult. It was like a year and a half of utterly useless therapy until I got a new therapist who was willing to tell me about far more horrific things that happened to them, and how they had healed to the point where they could have physical contact with the person who abused them as a child without being triggered. Then I believed I could get to that place myself and actually began getting better. If my kids get raped, I want them to know that they can still have a good life afterward.
-------end TW ---------
I would teach them how to spot red flags for people being bad at consent. Those people will not respect your "no" in general, so always test them out first by saying an unexcused, unequivocal "no" to something they want. If they push for a reason, say "I don't want to" -- for someone with the basics of consent, they'll drop it, and if they try to talk you into it, they won't listen to what you want in sex either. If you don't feel comfortable saying no without giving some excuse, that is also a red flag, because a lover should always be someone you feel comfortable saying no to for any reason.
Other red flags: they'll
- make jokes about boundary violations, especially rape;
- cut you off in conversation and talk over you;
- put you down;
- follow you with their touch if you pull away (kisses especially);
- respond to your arguments dismissively rather than actually considering anything you say;
- sulk if they don't get their way;
- say things that invalidate your identity;
- touch you without permission in non-sexual ways;
- touch animals or friends in ways that bother the animal/friend;
- call names and/or mock people;
- do things deliberately to cause someone to be uncomfortable/annoyed (especially as a 'joke' reaction to someone setting a boundary);
- not stop doing annoying behavior when asked;
- use things that don't belong to them without permission;
- make sexual innuendos and find it funny if someone gets uncomfortable;
- show no interest in your thoughts/opinions;
- get offended when you don't laugh at their jokes or tell them it isn't funny;
- not show remorse when you tell them they hurt you;
- get angry when you tell them they hurt you;
- interrupt a conversation you are having by turning away and ceasing to engage, especially if you are saying something they don't like (note: this can be a healthy choice but it can also be a control tactic);
- ignore you and/or make you repeat yourself;
- not notice/care if you get upset.
Anything that shows that they aren't checking in with how their actions are affecting you or anything that shows that they think their opinion or desire is more important than yours is a giant red flag for being bad at consent. Of course, this is just a red flag, not an automatic marker, so check to see if there could be another reason for the red flag (for instance, they might communicate differently due to a neurological difference, which could be worked out with discussions about how you both want to converse), BUT if there is more than one red flag take it VERY seriously.