Join Club Momme for exclusive access to giveaways, discounts and more!

Sign up

Even Toddlers Can Start Learning About Preventing Rape

Photograph by Twenty20

The buzz over the Brock Turner rape case has quieted since June. No longer do we see a dozen case-related think pieces flooding our social media streams. No longer is Turner’s mugshot front and center on the evening news.

But this doesn’t mean that we should quiet our discussions about rape and sexual violence—including the very discussions we should be having with our children.

RELATED: The Parenting Culture That Makes Brock Turner Possible

Some might argue that children are too young to hear or talk about rape. Many of the details of the Brock Turner case—or any rape case, for that matter—are not appropriate for young ears and minds. Yet, as with any difficult topic, we don't need to discuss it perfectly in order to discuss it effectively.

In fact, we can talk about rape, and we can teach our kids about preventing rape, without even mentioning the word ‘rape.’

We can, and we should. Here's how:

1. We should teach our children about consent

I cannot count the number of times I’ve said (or bellowed) to my children, “When someone says stop, you STOP.” I don’t repeat this phrase simply to get them to stop wrestling (though Lord knows that is often my primary goal). I also want them to appreciate the power and importance of consent.

Even if they are having fun with another person—even if that person has, until then, been enjoying the rough play or wrestling or whatever activity they’ve been engaged in—the moment that person says “stop” or “no” or revokes their consent is the moment that they must stop. This is a skill that they must learn. It is one that they must practice.

If a child isn’t comfortable using their body to show affection, we shouldn’t pressure them to do so.

And I hope that it is a skill that is second nature to them by the time that they are teenagers.

2. We should teach them about bodily autonomy

Teaching our children to respect others’ consent is to teach them to respect others’ autonomy—including their bodily autonomy. But we should make sure to respect our kids' own bodily autonomy, too. The oft-used example to explain this point is familiar to me, and to many others. When I was a child, many relatives (often not my parents) encouraged me to hug and kiss other relatives. Their requests were not malicious, but this doesn’t mean that they were harmless.

Sometimes I simply didn’t want to hug or kiss that other person. Sometimes I felt shy. Sometimes the other person made me feel uncomfortable. Yet even if that person was exceedingly kind—even if they would one day become one of my favorite people in the world—I should have been under no pressure or obligation to show them affection.

We shouldn’t force our kids to hug or kiss an overzealous (or even not-so-zealous) friend or relative. It doesn’t matter if that person is one of the kindest, gentlest people we know. If a child isn’t comfortable using their body to show affection, we shouldn’t pressure them to do so.

In fact, no person should feel pressured or obliged to use their bodies for another person’s pleasure.

3. We should talk to them about gender stereotypes

Most children are still too young to develop a sophisticated and nuanced understanding of concepts like “gender” and “stereotypes.” But they do inherit the messages we send to them—even, and perhaps especially, the subtle ones.

So if we want to teach our kids to prevent rape, it’s up to us to parent in a way that affirms the importance of consent and bodily autonomy, and that refuses to perpetuate gender stereotypes.

So which messages we can we begin to discard? Let’s start with “boys will be boys.” And let’s continue with “be a nice girl.”

Boys have rich emotional lives, and girls are strong and powerful.

Boys can be sensitive and aggressive. Girls can be aggressive and sensitive.

Gender is not an excuse for careless destruction, nor does it require passivity and subservience.

The sooner we pass these message onto our children, the sooner they can begin to transcend the most insidious gender stereotypes.

4. Make this how you parent

Finally, we should do more than discuss these ideas: We should incorporate them in our parenting.

Change happens when we do more than talk. It happens when we act.

RELATED: When Parenting Studies Make You Feel Like a Crappy Mom

So if we want to teach our kids to prevent rape, it’s up to us to parent in a way that affirms the importance of consent and bodily autonomy, and that refuses to perpetuate gender stereotypes.

And we can lay the groundwork for rape prevention, at least in the early years, without even mentioning the word “rape.”

Share this on Facebook?

More from kids