Are We Raising Good Men?
A Charlotte magazine contributor, longtime sportswriter, and mom of three young boys searches for answers in a two-part series
The Good Men Project is an online platform that allows men to communicate with each other about their changing roles in society. According to publisher and CEO Lisa Hickey, the website gets about five million page views a month by talking about things nobody else does.
Teaching sons about consent would be right at the top of the list for me.
Having three boys (4-year-old twins and a 5-year-old), I bristle at even thinking of them in context of the #MeToo movement. I believe if my husband and I raise empathetic, compassionate, and loving boys who know right from wrong, sexual misconduct won’t be an issue.
With respect to parents like me, Hickey recommends starting the conversation early.
“I do think there are ways to start talking about some of these issues in ways that aren’t that threatening and can help later on,” she says. “When you have to have the really difficult conversations, you’ve already set the foundation….
“Most people when they hear the word ‘consent’ they immediately think of sexual consent, and how does that work in the bedroom. We like to think of consent as something that you talk about at age 2, when it doesn’t start with sexual consent. It starts with understanding other people’s boundaries, and how to respect those and how to ask for what you want. (It’s about) how to form relationships where you’re being open and honest from the very start so that consent is easy.”
After reading a viral article from GoodMenProject.com called “The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21,” I have to concede Hickey is on to something.
Here are some key points I came away with for my young sons:
- Teach children to ask permission before touching or embracing a playmate. “Let’s ask Joe if he would like a hug bye-bye.” If the answer is no, suggest a high-five. Why not lay the groundwork that physical touching is not a given?
- The same goes if Great Aunt So-and-So wants a hug from your child, and it’s obvious he or she is not comfortable with the idea. It’s easy enough to suggest a high five instead, especially in the midst of a pandemic.
- Encourage children to wash their own private parts during bath time. This is something I did on my own, but I could have started it younger. What a simple and easy way to establish that certain body parts are governed only by you.
- Teach children to respect the word “no.” When someone says no, the activity has to stop. Go so far as to establish a safe word for children to use when play gets uncomfortable. In our household, this is a good idea for something as simple as rough-and-tumble play. Laughs can turn to cries in a split second, so an extra tier of communication might actually prevent injuries.
As parents, we already set boundaries and give our children room to move within those boundaries in plenty of areas of their lives. Adding “consent” to the list can be more natural than you think.
CARROLL WALTON was a longtime sportswriter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and co-authored Ballplayer, the Chipper Jones biography, in 2017. Today she lives in Charlotte with her husband and three sons and continues to freelance for several media outlets.