It is hard being a parent. Wicked hard. Exhausting, terrifying, mind-numbing, expensive, and occasionally soul-crushing. It is also a little bit more awesome than it is hard, which is why the human race did not die out several millennia ago.
Brace yourself. It just got harder.
I am looking at you, my fellow parents. It is time for us to put on our big-girl or big-boy pants and talk to each other and to our children about the meaning of sexual consent.
(Now you are scrunching up your nose and your tummy hurts. Bear with me. You made it through toilet training. You can do this.)
We must teach our sons and daughters the laws and our moral code about the kind of permission one is required to get and give before engaging in sexual activity. We must teach them the consequences of breaking those laws. They have to know that if someone hurts them, they can come to us for support and help and healing. And we have to teach them how to act if they are a bystander to a sexual assault.
Parenting is so much easier when the biggest problems are dirty diapers and lost blankies, isn’t it?
It’s hard to talk to kids about sex for most people, because their parents didn’t talk about it, or talked about it so awkwardly that it left scars for life. I’d probably be in the same boat, except that I wrote SPEAK and then spent a decade speaking about the book and sexual assault to more than a million high school students across the country.
Yesterday I spoke with Neal Conan on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” show. (Which was a lifetime highlight for this NPR nerd!) The topic was “How Parents Talk To Children About Consent.” Click on the link to listen to the show. The other woman on the show with me was Shannon Bradley-Colleary, who wrote a letter to her daughters telling about her own sexual assault.
The show was overwhelmed by callers and email from people wanting to talk about this. It’s time.
The shocking gang-rapes and subsequent viral cyberbullying of the sexual assault victims in Steubenville, Nova Scotia and Saratoga CA should be your wake-up call. Two of those three victims committed suicide. Not only were they repeatedly raped, but they were tormented and threatened online by their schoolmates, male and female.
(Please, please read this post by Rehtaeh Parson’s father. She was the victim in Nova Scotia.)
Our hearts go out to the victims and to their families, of course.
But we must do more. We must look in the mirror.
Those boys could have been our sons. The kids who did the cyberbullying could have been our kids. At the very least, the kids who stood by could have been our kids. And if you can’t face any of those realities, you must acknowledge this: our children interact daily with kids who did and who are capable of doing all of those sick, twisted, illegal things.
Suck it up, fellow parents, and talk to your kids about sexual assault and consent. A great way to start is to make a donation to Speak4RAINN to help victims get the support they deserve. Show your kids your donation. Talk to them about what happened in Steubenville, Nova Scotia, and Sarasota, CA. Show your love for them by finding the courage to talk about the hard things.
You can do this.
Please share your thoughts and experiences below.
EDITED TO ADD – Part 2 of this post will compile suggestions for how to have this conversations.