Childrearing

Kids Need to Know that Nobody Has a Right to Grab, Touch, or Kiss Them Without Permission

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Is there a single woman in the world who doesn’t know what it’s like to be harassed? Even the Queen probably knows what it’s like, and she has all the power, privilege, and protection a human being can have. It’s a shitty fact that harassment happens, especially since it means that for those of us with daughters, we know that it is not a question of “if” they will be harassed, but when. We need to talk to them about harassment and bodily autonomy from a much younger age than one might think.

In last week’s Savage Love–pointed out by Carrie in the comments–a reader coined the phrase, “Trump Talk,” to describe the conversation parents need to have with their daughters about predatory, entitled men who feel like they have the right to put their hands on any girls or women they want. In the case of the letter writer, it was a man in the grocery store who put his hand around her 9-year-old’s arm and told her she was beautiful. Everyone probably has their story or stories like that, and that’s why the talk is important. The mother and Savage made a very important point about how it’s essential to talk to our kids about how this is wrong before they start to think it’s normal, or that people do have the right to touch them without asking.

“… in that car ride home,” Savage told the mother, “you inoculated your daughter with your message (you are a human being and you have a right to move through this world unmolested) before gross predators could infect her with theirs (you are only an object and we have a right to touch you).”

Of course, not everyone who puts their hands on a kid is a gross, drunk old creep. There are a lot of people used to the idea that one shows affection by hugging, patting, or picking up children, and they just think they’re being friendly. But it’s important for kids to know they can also refuse those touches if they don’t want them, because they’re in charge of who gets to touch them, and they don’t have to accept a hug or a kiss or any other kind of touch just to be polite.

Telling kids that they have to kiss Aunt Shirley or hug a random stranger because she’s grandma’s friend Suzanne tells them that they don’t actually get a say in who touches them and who doesn’t, and it starts training them that they have to let other people touch them. Kids shouldn’t have to hug or kiss anybody they don’t want to. Not their grandparents, not their parents’ friends, not even their parents.

The thing is, it’s easy to get angry about this, but it’s hard for a lot of people to figure out what to do about this in practice. It shouldn’t be rude to tell Aunt Shirley not to kiss you, but how do you tell Aunt Shirley not to kiss you without hurting her feelings? I’m a full-grown adult and I don’t know how to do that, so it’s reasonable that a kid would be confused. As parents we should be prepared to intervene in that situation too. All the kid has to do is say “No, thank you,” or offer a high-five or a handshake or even just say, “Hello,” and keep moving. Aunt Shirley might look wounded–in her day kids probably had to kiss everybody–but it’s on us as the parents to explain.

“We told her that she doesn’t have to hug or kiss anybody if she doesn’t feel like it,” we say.

One would hope the Aunt Shirleys of the world would understand that, or at least respect parental authority. It’s not a guarantee, of course, but if Aunt Shirely can’t accept that, then that’s more Aunt Shirley’s problem. We’re the parents, and if pissing off Aunt Shirley is the most difficult thing we ever have to face as parents, we’ll have gotten off pretty easy. Still, there’s always a chance Aunt Shirley will think about it for a moment and say, “When I was little I had to kiss everybody, and I hated it! This is a much better policy.”

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