The spotlight is on the very important topic of sexual harassment and sexual assault. Whether or not we contribute our own voice to the ‘me too’ campaign, we have a really important role to play.
As parents and teachers, we are contributing the next generation of adults, and how we treat our children today, will impact on their future behaviour.
Right from the very start of their lives our dialogue, actions, expectations and guidance provide important lessons for our children on what is, and isn’t appropriate in our treatment of other people. This isn't a one off conversation, or a puberty timed, add on to ‘the birds and the bees’. The groundwork is laid long before. Without the need to mention sex, and in the safety of their loving family, our young children can learn that:
No means no, and we need consent to touch someone else. When we tickle babies without asking, or our toddlers ask us to stop tickling or wrestling and we keep going, what does this teach? Use the language of consent from day one. Tell our babies when we're about to touch them, and ask permission as they grow. Stop when they say, and help them learn to ask before touching us, or getting into another's space.
Size and strength over someone doesn't give you the right to overpower them. This means changing our parenting from a control over model, to one of a partnership with our child. If we smack our children, or pin them down for a nappy change, we teach that bigger means more powerful, and bigger gets their way. They learn from what we do, not what we tell them.
Their needs aren't more important than the needs of others. Ideally our children are the centre of our world, but they are not the centre of the world. Other people matter too, and especially their emotional well-being and sense of safety. We can help them learn how to balance their needs with the needs of others, to modify their behaviour when needed, and take others into consideration.
People have different interpretations of appropriate, and ‘just a joke’. If our children understand themselves well, and that all people are different, they will grow up knowing that not everyone sees things as they do. They can think before acting, gauge situations, and decide ‘the line’ between what is, and isn't going to be offensive. They won't hide behind the “I didn't mean it that way” excuse, as they'll know that how the other person experienced it matters more than any intention.
There is more to someone than how they look, or what they wear. Our own actions and example teach our children about objectifying people, or not. Talk about who people are underneath, what they've done, and how they feel, not shallow judgements about their appearance.
All people have a right to feel safe. We can encourage empathy, and the ability to put yourself in another's shoes. We can provide a safe environment so they feel so listened to and cared for, that they want that same safety for others.
Essentially, it comes down to the fact our children learn from the values we live by in our families. The threads of their character are woven from all their experiences and understandings. They'll make mistakes along the way, as we all do, but their values can act as a beacon to guide them back.
What we need to aim for is that our children grow into adults who act appropriately and treat others well because it is the right thing to do.
We want them guided by their own heart, not imposed rules, peer pressure, the quest for acceptance, or the fear of exclusion. A connected, kind family is the ideal learning ground, and our best hope for a more compassionate future generation where we no longer need a 'me too' campaign.