Today I’ve got my soapbox out. As my little humans begin to navigate the world and their place in it, I want them to feel empowered and confident in the people they’re becoming. For this to happen, adults (myself included) need to step up our game.
So, megaphone in hand, I’m going to make a bold request to Please (note the capital P) stop doing the following to kids:
1. Making Them Give Hugs
Forcing kids to hug others makes understanding consent difficult. How can we expect children to respect other people’s personal space, desires to be left untouched, and right to say no, if we don’t give them the same respect?!
I get it. My kids are cute. Their floppy brown tresses, beg to be patted. But please don’t make it a requirement for them to hug or kiss you. If they want to hug you, they will. Their job is not to fill someone else’s need for affection. Making eye contact, holding polite conversation, answering your questions about their lives, interests, and hobbies ― yes, all yes!
Crossing a personal space threshold that they don’t feel comfortable crossing ― No, no, no!
If kids don’t want a hug, you can ask for a handshake, high-five, or fist bump. Still feeling rejected? Cheer up! You’ve empowered a young person to set boundaries for their bodies so they’ll in turn respect the boundaries of others.
2. Sexualizing Them
Sounds like a no-brainer, but kids are overtly sexualized all the time. By the media, and tiny-strappy-clothes on racks at stores, even by the toy aisles of favorite stores.
I’m referring to the subtle comments and assumptions adults make, pushing our kids into sexually charged roles unnecessarily. Like if my 4-year-old boy is playing with a girl at the park, DON’T call her his girlfriend. And DON’T say to my 10-year-old, “He’s so handsome he’s going to have girls knocking down his door one day.” (Honestly, that
probably definitely scares the sh*t out of him.)
And DON’T assume my kid will get married (to a girl, or a boy, or at all)! Don’t say things that start with, “When you’re married…” or “We’ll save that story for your wedding.” My kids don’t need to consider matrimony the Holy Grail of adulthood. It’s a choice and an option, but not a requirement for happiness. Productive, fulfilled adults abound who are not married, coupled up, or even parents.
Kids shouldn’t worry that talking to a girl or boy (who happens to be a friend), will elicit remarks about the underlying sexual nature of said conversation like, “Oh she’s cute!” or “I think he likes you.”
I can assure you; my kid isn’t thinking about that. He’s thinking about his baseball game, or his cat, or daydreaming of a world full of dragons, wizards, and pirate treasure. So please, don’t take it upon yourself to encroach on his little boy thoughts with your comments about adult concepts like girlfriends, boyfriends, marriage and all the girls who will be dripping off of him in the future. (Because Ewww!)
Let them be kids for as long as they can; this time is fleeting.
3. Gender Stereotyping Them
Our society is rife with gender stereotypes. We’ve made progress, but as long as toy aisles and clothing racks divide us into pink and blue, it bears repeating.
For reference, here’s a list of items and activities that have nothing to do with gender: skateboards, baseball bats, ballet slippers, garden tools, dolls, kitchen supplies, remote control cars, basketballs, stuffed animals, the color pink, legos, blocks, coloring books, stickers, the color blue, glitter, paint…you get the idea!
Stop asking boys what sports they play and complimenting girls on their cute shoes. Young people are not one-dimensional. They know this. It’s time we did, too.
Kids should be able to identify with what sparks their curiosity and pursue interests that make them feel fulfilled and happy, regardless of gender. Let’s let them.
Oh, and bonus points to those who stop saying “boys and girls” to address groups, teams, or classes.
4. Body-Shaming Others (And Ourselves!) In Front Of Them
I make a concerted effort around my kids not to lead with comments about looks or bodies when discussing myself or other people.
I don’t want them to think the most important thing about a person is appearance. Also, beauty is subjective. While it will inevitably factor into decisions for them someday, about partners and love interests; looks don’t need to be the first thing they assign value to in others.
Consider this before commenting on the bodies of others, or yourself, around kids (who are still finding their worth in a society saturated with filters, Instagram, and Photoshop).
If we want young people to accept and respect their own bodies, it starts with us. What if instead of focusing on perceived flaws, we highlighted the positives of our anatomy?
Our bodies hike us up mountains, carry us across monkey bars and soccer fields, propel us from diving boards into pools. They hold others when they are tired, sick, or sad. They find cures, feed babies, repair limbs, build shelters, write music, and create whole new worlds in book pages and on movie screens.
They are actually, pretty amazing.
Let’s model for younger generations that what our bodies do is more important than what they wear, weigh, or how they look.
We want our kids to be empowered, happy, and confident. How can we expect them to achieve any of that without providing an environment that fosters those values?
I’ll try if you will. Let’s start now.
For more of my musings, find me at writewhereiam.