One of the best gifts we can give our kids is the belief that their voice matters. Another one is that everyone matters.
When we set up scenarios for our children to learn how to say “no”, or express what they want even when they feel unsure or intimidated, we are helping them develop confidence to say "yes" and "no" in sticky situations. It also helps them respect others’ "yes" or "no" accordingly.
Be age-appropriate – as we teach them about body autonomy, we can run through various interactions and role-play on how they can stand by their "no". For example, "I already said no. I am calling the teacher." Help them learn how to articulate what they feel with a firm voice and assertive body language, through different scenarios.
Other examples could be "if a boy in your class tries to hold your hand", "if a girl wants to hug you", or "if a classmate calls you his girlfriend".
Help them process their thoughts:
Who would I allow to do these?
What does it mean for me and for the other party if I agree to it?
What if I am okay with it for a while but then feel uncomfortable?
Many tweens do start to feel the first stirrings of romantic attraction so do have the talk about when they can have a boyfriend or girlfriend and the role and consequences of physical affection within relationships.
Every tween would have seen kissing on screen before, whether in animation or live-action content. They can also feel very shy about their new curiosity! So adopt a laid-back, natural approach to normalise discussions about such topics.
We should underscore these talks with a healthy value system that every person matters and that is why we should always respect someone’s “no”, even if it is against what you prefer. Parents may also want to teach our kids to honour others – that is to see them as valuable and to be treated with respect. This helps to mitigate future scenarios where our children may feel that it is okay to go against another person’s wishes for their own pleasure.
Research shows that a high number of sexual abuse cases involve a familiar perpetuator. Guilt and shame often prevent victims from speaking up. In unfamiliar or unexpected situations, it can be very difficult to express dissent or any opinion. The shock often keeps one silent.
As your kid grows older, emphasise that they can say "no" even if they have said "yes" earlier to something. For example, if they agreed to going to someone’s house but the visit turned dangerous because it started to involve sexual touches, they have every right to say "no, I am going home now" and do it.
We should also highlight that physical intimacy is meant to be special and consensual. If we have to coerce someone into doing something, that is missing the point of making a connection physically. Similarly, if we feel like we are forced into doing something, then there is nothing special about the act.
The talk in our families about consent has to happen with sons and daughters, and if possible, both you and your spouse since both have unique perspectives about this topic. Our sons and daughters may also have different questions for different parents.
If your teen is in a relationship, you may also want to talk through physical boundaries and discuss can be done if those boundaries are threatened.
Some teens may find sexual boundaries within relationships to be a grey area, believing that "these are the things we do as we are in a relationship". Help them realise that stereotypical expectations for physical touch do not need to apply to their relationship, and talk through with them on how they can communicate their preferences to stay away from various forms of physical intimacy.
Questions to help them process all these could be:
"If you are going to your boyfriend or girlfriend’s house when no one else is home, do you think he or she may assume you are open to sexual contact?"
"What would you do if you are kissing and they want to go further?"
"Do you find it difficult to express how you feel if it’s contrary to what your partner wants?"
Over-communicating on this matter is better than under-communicating. Remind your teen: "Don’t assume!" If you are ordering food for your partner and are unsure what they want, wouldn’t you clarify what their preferences are? So why not ask when it comes to something like physical touch?
Many teens process any unwanted sexual encounter silently and alone. They may replay what happened, blame themselves and internalise what they perceive to be their mistake. Sometimes, these encounters also affect their future perspectives of self-esteem or even intimacy in a relationship, where they can believe they are less valuable, or that since they have tried this, it is no big deal doing it again.
While they are growing into young adults, they are not too old for a loving parent’s listening ear and kind reminder of their value and worth. It is important that we maintain a nothing-is-taboo approach to conversations with our teens. It is also important for to present ourselves as a safe place. We do so when we are empathetic towards the struggles that young people might face in the area of sexuality, and maturing in making decisions that will be optimal for their long-term mental, emotional and even relational well-being.
In times of crisis and self-doubt, we want our children to come to us, instead of going to the internet or asking their friends. Our children are more likely to approach us if they are confident that we will neither panic nor be angry, and that they will not be reprimanded, ridiculed or rejected.
© 2021 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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