With every day that passes, I find myself despairing at the news headlines. Following the fall of Harvey Weinstein, there seems to be an ever-increasing number of men being outed for their inappropriate behavior.
I can’t deny it, as I have two young daughters it makes me really worried about the world they will face as teenagers and young adults. Not, you understand, that I would necessarily worry any less if I had sons. As we all know, some of the allegations appearing in the newspapers concern powerful individuals behaving inappropriately towards younger men.
Thinking back to my teens, I can think of a few occasions when I had to deal with inappropriate advances from both women and men. One particular incident, when I was 16, left me very shaken when a considerably older man followed me through some very quiet back streets of a city I wasn’t familiar with.
Realising I was being followed, I confronted him and he told me exactly what he wanted. Sure, he left me alone when I told him to go away, but I was terrified.
No, there was no Hollywood bigwig or career-destroying power imbalance. Even so, no one should have to tolerate behaviour that leaves them frightened.
This brings me back to my own children. I suspect they will face similar situations like this at some point during their life. I feel one of my biggest responsibilities as a father is to educate them about safety and consent to minimise the risks and help them avoid such circumstances.
I started having age-appropriate conversations with the kids about consent some time ago. I’ve explained that if they don’t want to be kissed or cuddled by someone, they should politely decline.
There have been one or two situations where the kids have refused to be cuddled by one of their peers. Even granny has been refused cuddles.
I genuinely don’t care if it causes offence or if it is awkward. From day one I want my kids to understand they don’t get touched without agreeing to it.
Equally importantly, however, I expect them to treat other people in exactly the same way. I’m not opposed rough play. In fact, I encourage it. Even so, I have at times intervened and asked if they’re really sure their friends want to play a certain way.
Just last week a Scottish MSP suggested that parents should using tickling as a way to teach their kids about consent. It’s not something I have done with my kids, but I can see the logic of this approach.
As my kids get older, we’ll have more conversations about both consent and staying safe and they’ll be put into context. There will be talks about avoiding predatory individuals and in a sign of the times, we’ll have to talk about the dos and dont’s of online behaviour.
We’ve had a few of these chats already but they’ve generally revolved around about online bullying and watching inappropriate content. When my children near their teens, we’ll discuss sexting and so on.
I’d hate for my kids to feel bullied or pressured into anything as they get older and such discussions should start at home. I think school can reinforce these messages, but it’s down to family to get the ball rolling at the youngest age.
Did you start talking to your children about consent and staying safe when they were very young? Maybe you have teenagers and are having some very tough conversations now? Whatever your situation, I invite you to leave a comment below with your thoughts.