On the way home from picking up my kids from school, my 10 year old daughter told me that she had a conversation with a boy in her class that went like this..
“All us boys at school used to call you water hose last year because you are so tall and skinny and have no curves. I feel bad for you because nobody likes people with flat bottoms.”
She told me she was shocked people think of her that way.
She told him, “I’m still growing.”
He said, “You better hope puberty comes early for you so your butt can get bigger or you should really consider getting plastic surgery.”
She laughed it off and said, “People like me the way I am.”
He said, “Maybe you can cover up your flat butt with a long jacket.”
She said, “I am not trying to hide my features just because people don’t like it.”
He said, “There is no benefit of being a water hose.”
She said, “There is no benefit of having a big butt.”
The conversation went on and on. He kept telling her he felt bad for her and coming up with ideas on what she could do to stop having a flat bottom.
And so it begins.
I can’t say that I didn’t see it coming. It is not shocking to me. Our children are constantly exposed to sexualization and objectification of women in our culture.
It still sickens me. It saddens me. It infuriates me.
I am proud that my daughter stood up for herself. I am thrilled at her confidence. I can almost be fooled into thinking it wasn’t a big deal to her because she laughed it off. But as a woman, I know that no matter how much she tried to shake it off, there was a tiny seed planted in her mind at that moment about how she is viewed by others, what her value is to others, her confidence shaken.
So now what? What is a mother to do? On the one hand, I don’t want to blow it out of proportion and make it worse for her. At the same time, I don’t want to blow it off and pretend like it wasn’t a big deal and contribute to the “boys will be boys” mindset.
Did I mention my 7 year old son is in the car listening to the whole thing?
What did I do? I had that important and uncomfortable conversation. It is really more of a continuation of a conversation that I had started with them since they were tiny.
Create a safe environment to share.
I told her, “I am so glad you told me.” Asked her how she felt, how she handled it, and told her how good it was that she handled it the way she did.
From the moment my kids were little I worked on not shaming them when they told me the truth about something. They have always had a less severe consequence if they were brave enough to tell me the truth. There is so much shame in anything related to sex or body parts that it can be scary to tell the truth if abuse occurs.
I also create the time. I am a busy working mom, like many of you. I found that there are certain times of day when my kids really open up to me about what has gone on in their day and I listen intently, without judgement. Car rides back and forth to school are prime time for connection. It takes way more time out of my day than putting them on the bus. It is not convenient or easy, but it is a crucial bonding time for us.
The fact that we had long established a time and safe place to share things like this without shame is where it begins. Had she not felt comfortable to share, this conversation would have been nothing more than a shameful memory for her. Having that conversation and not sticking my head in the sand is step one. If you don’t teach your kids about things related to to sex, someone else will! You may not like the information they get from someone else and the information may be wrong. Is it going to be weird or awkward? Yeah, it might, but remember, you set the tone for that kind of conversation. They will pick up on your vibe. If you act weird and uncomfortable about it, so might they. Even then, awkward and uncomfortable conversation is better than no conversation.
No means no.
I have taught my kids since they were little that when it come to their bodies, no means no. Stop means stop. This is true when they are rough playing, hugging, making jokes etc. That has taught them that they are in charge of their own bodies and that they can say no when someone makes them feel uncomfortable. It also teaches them that when someone tells them no, they need to honor and respect that, too.
So again, I reminded them that the discomfort that she felt at the moment he said those things, that icky gut feeling is how you know that what is happening isn’t right and that it is ok to tell the person to stop or shut up, walk away, tell an adult etc.
I discussed that when you see that someone is uncomfortable, that is your signal to stop doing what you are doing.
Privates are Private
Kids need to know what their private areas are. A simple way to say it is any place your bathing suit covers. Call their body parts the correct names (breast, penis, vagina etc.) They also need to know their privates are private and everyone else’s privates are private. Nobody else should see, touch talk about their privates and vice versa. No matter what someone tries to tell you to convince you that it is ok, it is not.
When my son heard what happened to my daughter he KNEW it was NOT ok because we have had these conversations before.
You are more than just your sexuality
I encourage my children to talk about what they like about themselves. This way they do not feel the need to seek out others to confirm how awesome they are. I tell them how awesome I think they are all the time. “You worked hard to reach that goal and you did it!” “That was really tough for you and you turned it around!” “
I tell my daughter she is beautiful. I tell my son he is handsome. And I tell them all the time how proud I am of them because they are smart, kind, strong, brave, generous, thoughtful, loving, fun, funny, caring, hardworking, etc. They are so much more than their looks and physical bodies.
It is never your fault and it is not ok
When it comes to abuse it is not uncommon for victims to feel embarrassed or ashamed. The first time I was sexually harassed was in 7th grade. I sat in the front of the class. The boy that sat next to me kept grabbing my behind every chance he could to amuse and get a good laugh from the boys sitting behind me. I told him to stop. He didn’t. I felt embarrassed. When I mentioned it at the dinner table with my parents, I acted like it was a funny thing that happened which was annoying, ignoring how I really felt embarrassed. I didn’t think it was a big deal. My parents sure did. I was even more embarrassed when they went up to the school and demanded that kid be held accountable and insisted on pressing charges. At the time, I was relieved it would be stopped but I was even more embarrassed that it got blown up into a huge deal and I was worried the other kids would call me a tattle tale or shun me because I was a prude for telling. So much so that even as an adult when I saw that kid I felt embarrassed.
Now as an adult I see it differently. I am so grateful that my parents knew best. That they had my back and stepped up to protect me even when I couldn’t understand what was wrong. They understood that I had a right to an education free from feeling humiliated and objectified. Had that gone on, it would most definitely impacted my academics. Their actions taught me that I did not have to accept behavior like that from others. I did nothing wrong. It taught me my value and worth. That being treated that way is not something I just have to accept. And most importantly that I had done nothing wrong.
Our kids need us to be their advocates and their voice now more than ever. They are exposed to so much that is difficult for them to fully comprehend the impact of what they are absorbing. They need us to step up and pay attention and protect them. If your child is being bullied or harassed, encourage your child to stand up for themselves. But don’t let it stop there. Report it. Show them their value. I have worked with parents who have kids that are suicidal because of bullying and harassment and they don’t want to get involved. Step up. We have to teach our children their worth because if we don’t society will and they will get it all wrong. We protect our children when we step up but we also send a message to the bullies and harassers and abusers that it is not ok. We will not turn a blind eye and allow this to go on.
So what happened??
I reported it. I spoke to the assistant principal who supported us 100%. He told me that the behavior is unacceptable. That the school environment should be safe. That school is preparing children for the work environment and had this been at work the student would have been reprimanded, fired and sued. I assured him that my daughter was fine and he said he was glad for that but, it is important to report those things because although my daughter could handle it, the next little girl might not. Plus it is important to send a message to my daughter that she can report those things and it will be taken seriously and she will be protected because it isn’t ok. He said in this day and age our kids our exposed to so much it is up to us to teach them how to handle it.
I was blown away. I was so appreciative that he was supportive. And he was 100% right!