Your parents probably had “the birds and the bees” talk with you when you were just about to hit puberty. Perhaps you remember it being an awkward talk about hygiene, boys, and how you should wait until marriage to have sex. However, these days, the conversation is much more complicated — especially when it’s being had with your son.
Over the past year, #MeToo has evolved from a viral social media campaign to a movement for social change that continues to address the issue of sexual assault. With millions of posts associated with the hashtag on Instagram and Twitter, it’s inevitable that your son has come across it on social media, heard about it on the news, or talked about it in school, and it’s important to find out what he knows, how he feels, and correct any false misconceptions he may have.
Here’s how to talk to your son about the #MeToo movement, as well as boundaries, consent, and sexual misconduct.
Have the conversation now
If you’re waiting for the right moment to bring up the subject of #MeToo, you’ll be waiting forever. It’s important that you have age-appropriate conversations now, no matter how old your child is. For example: a 4-year-old child might not understand gender roles yet, but they can grasp the concept of bathing-suit areas and danger zones. If you’re speaking to a teenager, prepare to discuss more serious issues like consent, rape, and speaking up.
Get a feel for their understanding
Begin the conversation by asking your son what he already knows about sexual harassment and the #MeToo movement. They might be miseducated on the subject, and it’s up to you to clarify any questions they may have or address any concerns.
Some good starting questions include: “What have you heard about sexual harassment?,” “What do you know about the #MeToo movement?,” and “Do you know what does and does not define consent?”
Explain the definitions
Once you’ve gotten a feel for what they know about sexual harassment, correct any misconceptions and fill in the gaps. Sexual harassment includes unwanted advances such as inappropriate comments, explicit statements, and requests for sexual behaviors. Sexual abuse is the act of forcing undesired sexual behavior on one person by another. It includes unsolicited touching of any part of the body (clothed or unclothed), rape (including oral), uninvited exposing of another’s self, and being forced to engage in any sexual activities, including masturbation.
How to be respectful of boundaries
Establish the “no-means-no” rule with your son. Make sure he knows that unsolicited physical touching and verbal advances are harassment. Explain that with feelings of love also come with urges of affection, but be clear that such strong emotions should also be accompanied with a responsibility to seek consent first. Be clear about boundaries and what’s appropriate physical affection in a relationship. Be willing to confront him about improper behavior that you see, and be firm as to why it’s unacceptable. It’s also important to explain risky behaviors that can arise when drugs or alcohol are involved.
Additionally, encourage your son to speak up if he sees inappropriate behavior from other male friends, and to come to you with concerns.
It’s not just a women’s issue
Just as boys should learn to respect others, they must also know that it could happen to them as well. Research proves that one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 16, and most are abused by someone they know. Explain to them that if they or someone they know have experienced uncomfortable touching or non-consensual sexual activity, they have done nothing wrong and to speak up. Survivors can carry feelings of guilt or fear that prevent them from seeking help. If they feel uncomfortable coming to you, explain that they have options, such as teachers or other family members.
Be an example
The best teaching a parent can do is to lead by their own actions. Your children might not always listen to you, but they will emulate the way you conduct yourself. Be respectful of others, show consideration for other people’s spaces, and be empathetic towards others’ situation.
For more information on what counts as sexual assault — as well as resources such as a sexual assault hotline — head to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN).