December 2017
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on saving kids from 'broken hearts' & teaching kids about consent / red flags for bad-at-consent


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; they'll cut you off in conversation and talk over you; they'll put you down; they will follow you with their touch if you pull away (kisses especially); they'll respond to your arguments dismissively rather than actually considering anything you say; they'll sulk if they don't get their way; they will say things that invalidate your identity; they'll touch you without permission in non-sexual ways; they'll touch animals or friends in ways that bother the animal/friend; they will call names and/or mock people; they'll do things deliberately to cause someone to be uncomfortable/annoyed (especially as a 'joke' reaction to someone setting a boundary); they won't stop doing annoying behavior when asked; they will use things that don't belong to them without permission; they will make sexual innuendos and find it funny if someone gets uncomfortable; they will show no interest in your thoughts/opinions; they'll get offended when you don't laugh at their jokes or tell them it isn't funny; they won't show remorse when you tell them they hurt you; they will get angry when you tell them they hurt you; they'll 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); they'll ignore you and/or make you repeat yourself; they won't notice 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.

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Comments
eristic_writer ══╣╠══
This is, hands down, my favorite thing you've ever written, and the one to which I most relate.

Not much of a substantive comment, but I'm leaving it as a sort of placemarker to remind myself to revisit later.
belenen ══╣strong╠══
thank you <3
solteronita ══╣tiny little super guy╠══
Yes. To all of this!
belenen ══╣effervescent╠══
:D
kehlen_crow ══╣╠══
Absolutely
Everyone should know this.
belenen ══╣effervescent╠══
Re: Absolutely
I agree!
call_me_katya ══╣Cat╠══
I need to reread your red flags and memorise them to the point where they stand out for me in conversation. I need to notice them and not suppress my instincts when I see them. I need to not let people dismiss my pointing them out and saying my mental health issues cause me to imagine slights.

And yes! Rape is not the end. You're not tainted, you're not 'over'. You can grieve and recover, but there is recovery and there is an after.
belenen ══╣strong╠══
*nodnod* me too, I tend to dismiss red flags when they pertain only to me and I need to treat them more seriously. I edited to make it more specific and added others, btw.

thanks for this comment!
lilywolfsolomon ══╣╠══
Thanks for sharing this. I'm amazed you were able to come up with so many red flags with seeming ease.
belenen ══╣garrulous╠══
well partly I looked up pick up artist stuff because that is chock full of consent violations and a good source for red flags! and I thought about behaviors of abusers I've known.
stray_infinity ══╣nerd╠══
a lover should always be someone you feel comfortable saying no to for any reason.

I'm all for this part. I was talking to a friend about relationships and sexual consent. I thought that inherent in relationships (wrongfully so) is the idea that your partner will always consent to being touched in sexual or non-sexual ways, where the only reasons against it would be "I'm too tired to do stuff," or "I'm in pain and it hurts to move." In the case of encounters with strangers, consent should be of the utmost priority considering that you risk injuring someone's mental well-being and possibly dealing with law enforcement. But that seems to disappear when relationships are concerned... It's almost like "I just don't want to be touched" becomes void.

And just to reiterate, I'm not saying that's good.
belenen ══╣analytical╠══
Yeah, I think our culture teaches that being in a relationship means you own your partner's body and have rights to it, and then we have to unlearn that if we want to be respectful and compassionate people. It's a journey.
mountaincalling ══╣╠══
THANK YOU for this!!! You are so right that the notion of consent needs to be taught at a very early age.

Also, you're right when you say you can't prevent your kids from having their hearts broken. And that's ok, because it's a part of life! We learn more through our struggles than we ever do when we are content and complacent. So many "helicopter parents" hover because they don't ever want anything bad to happen to their children - which is understandable. However, we all learn through making our own mistakes, and if we are never allowed to make them in the first place, it can cause a lot of issues in adulthood when we lack general problem solving skills and emotional intelligence.
belenen ══╣analytical╠══
I totally agree! I think one of the main goals of healthy parenthood is to teach how to make choices. A lot of times the first time a kid really gets to make choices about their lives it's all of a sudden and it's high-stakes -- in college. And people wonder why kids can't manage.
mountaincalling ══╣╠══
Also - I love what you said about how rape doesn't have to ruin someone's life. It's a terrible thing to go through, and it causes a lot of emotional pain. But it is SO important to remember that your life isn't over afterwards. You're approaching it with a very empowering mindset, and I admire that. :)
belenen ══╣artless╠══
glad you agree! it was such a life-changing realization for me.
song_of_copper ══╣Christina Autochrome╠══
Your red flags: you've managed to put into words those instinctive feelings of 'this doesn't feel quite right' just amazingly well. This is all stuff that is so easy to dismiss in your own mind, if you're not accustomed to trusting your instinct - and of course a manipulative person will dismiss it for you, tell you you're being paranoid/selfish/overreacting. To go out into the world calmly-prepared for these situations, equipped with strategies for self-protection: that has to be a good thing.
belenen ══╣artless╠══
*nodnod* I wish I had had practical understanding of bad consent behaviors when I was a kid. I wish I could give it to everyone ever.
wanderipity ══╣╠══
This made me realize how sheltered I was growing up.
belenen ══╣confused╠══
in that people didn't talk about strategies for avoiding rape? or something else?
butterbyitself ══╣╠══
belenen ══╣effervescent╠══
yay!
koyaaniisqatsi ══╣╠══
Heck yes to all of this!
belenen ══╣effervescent╠══
:D
meri_sielu ══╣bound hands python╠══
This. Absolutely. Always. I wish a lot more people thought the way you did. <3
belenen ══╣artless╠══
me too <3 thanks!
raidingparty ══╣╠══
I'm still mulling over the "walking away" one. I think it should be an option if one is triggered, overwhelmed, or not willing to put up with abuse. That being said, you did say "more than one flag", and I totally agree that it can be used offensively, and if overwhelmed and/or abuse happen regularly the relationship needs all kinds of other work as well.
zimtkeks ══╣╠══
I think that's one of the things that should be discussed and agreed on.
belenen ══╣╠══
zimtkeks ══╣╠══
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 agree. My mother never taught me to deal with emotions (probably because she doesn't know how). Realizing that pain is a part of human life and that we can survive and even learn from it is such a valuable lesson.
The same is true for physical risks. Some parents don't even let their kids ride their bikes with their friends, etc.
belenen ══╣analytical╠══
I agree, physical risks are also a thing that should be a choice (age-appropriately of course). People also get really sexist about it and allow their kids that they assume to be boys to take more physical risks than kids that they assume to be girls. Can't speak for others, but for me that meant that I never fully inhabited my body. I treated it like an object that didn't belong to me, which I would get scolded for breaking (and did, the one time I hurt myself bad enough for a cast).
on communication, social justice, intimacy, consent, friendship & other relationships, spirituality, gender, queerness, & dreams. Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.
Expect to find curse words, nudity, (occasionally explicit) talk of sex, and angry ranting, but NEVER slurs or sexually violent language. I use TW when I am aware of the need and on request.