Talking with Boys About Sexual Assault

We should not be surprised by the recent maelstrom of accusations of sexual harassment and assault. It’s a common occurrence, unfortunately, and until recently, one that has been hidden, silenced or even bought off. But times seem to be a-changing – and that’s certainly for the better. We see that there’s strength in numbers as literally hundreds of women and men are speaking out about their experiences of assault. This bravery not only shows adults, some who’ve been living with painful memories for years, that it’s important to stand up to sexual bullies and predators, it’s also teaching our youth that such behavior must not be tolerated.

At this point in time, while the topic of sexual abuse is front and center, unlike any other time in recent history, it’s the perfect opportunity to talk to our daughters. These conversations may not be easy, but they are necessary. What we must not forget, though, is to open up the conversations, not only with our daughters, but with our sons. Our job as parents is to raise healthy, independent adults who are participating citizens in the world. And we owe it to our sons to show them how to be sensitive, strong and respectful when it counts.

Men have a unique responsibility – for it is almost as offensive to know that sexual abuse has happened – and not say anything about it, as it is to be responsible for the actual assault. The silence seems a tacit approval. And if we want to live in a world where we respect one another, women cannot shoulder the burden alone. It’s a matter of changing the culture – what is deemed acceptable behavior. There is no easy way to change this.

There is, unfortunately, often a disconnect between sex and relationships. There is often an unspoken assumption that boys want sex, no matter what. That belief has been accepted and tolerated, not to mention exaggerated in media. Let your son know that it’s good to have a healthy relationship before he engages in truly intimate acts. Set high expectations and let him know it’s ok to want more than just sex. And while it’s crucial he learn to ask for consent, it’s important for him to know he also has the right to offer or refuse consent himself. Here are some tips to help your son understand and talk about sexual assault and truly understand the difference between the two. Help him to:

  • Define sexual assault. Call it out for what it is. Be clear on what respect means, and how to honor other people’s space, whether you’re in an intimate relationship or just hanging out at school, a coffee shop, or somewhere else. Talk about the role of power and what it means to use and abuse power in a relationship.
  • Understand consent. Find big and small ways to practice consent. Don’t take food off each other’s plates without asking, and make a direct connection to consent from one circumstance to consent in an intimate circumstance. When you want to enter your son’s room, ask for permission first and say something like, “I’m asking for consent and I am going to listen for your response and respect it.”
  • Listen to others. Pay close attention to accounts from girls and women you know. Listen – don’t jump to comment but ask questions in a respectful manner. Get comfortable with the language and commit to changing the culture.
  • Talk to boys and men. Check in and see how your son feels about this topic. Is he uncomfortable? If so, find out why and talk about it. The more you talk, the more comfortable with the topic you will become. And more importantly, the more informed he will be. Help him understand what it is to be of strong moral character as opposed to what can often be painted as a strong man in our pop culture. Help him know that boys and men can be victims of sexual assault as well, and his consent is important.
  • Be brave. Call out mistreatment of others. It’s easier to look away or laugh along – Especially if it’s a friend or a “cool” or “popular” kid. Role play to help him understand how to be brave, and ask him where he can try to effect change in small ways to practice. Advocate for others. Teach your son to treat others kindly and change the culture literally person by person.
  • Accept responsibility. You need to take responsibility and show your son that you will stand by him should he falter. It’s far better to learn from a mistake while you’re young and pay the price. If you sweep it under the rug it only reinforces bad behavior.
  • Identify people he can go to. Your son needs to know whom he can turn to should he need help and can’t or won’t go to you. Who can he call on for help to be strong? Make sure he knows who those people are – ask him frequently in casual conversation.

We cannot change the culture with one conversation, one school assembly, or one article. We need true community intervention. Start the conversation with your friends and neighbors. Avoid casting judgment and ask each other questions. Help kids who are making mistakes and hurting others rather than labeling them and trying to avoid them. All kids make mistakes and when we hold them accountable and help them through it they can learn from the experience. Ask your school to host an assembly and a parent education event, and know this is just the beginning of the ongoing conversation that is so crucially needed. Participate, and model the behavior you expect of your son.


About the Author: Dr Amy Alamar

Amy Alamar, EdD, has worked in the field of education as a teacher, teacher educator, researcher, parent educator, and education reformer for over fifteen years. In late 2014, Amy wrote Parenting for the Genius: Developing Confidence in Your Parenting through Reflective Practice. The book is a comprehensive guide to becoming the most thoughtful and confident parent possible, with anecdotes and details relating to the guidance and support of children from infant to young adult. In 2016, Amy was an invited guest of Michelle Obama at the White House for a conversation about kids’ health. Amy is also a contributing author to the Disney parenting website, Babble.com and a parent support specialist with Yellowbrick.me. Amy is married and the mother of three children whom she learns from and enjoys each and every day. She is a resident of Avon, CT, where she serves on the board of the Avon Education Foundation, dedicated to promoting and enhancing excellence in education. Find out more about Amy and her work by visiting her website, amyalamar.com.

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When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.
Sometimes we all just need space to talk to someone who will listen without giving advice, or problem solving, or lecturing. Someone who will let us talk, and who can handle our experiences and words and feelings without having to smooth out the wrinkles or tidy the frayed edges. 

Our kids need this too, but as their important adults, it can be hard to hush without needing to fix things, or gather up their experience and bundle it into a learning that will grow them. We do this because we love them, but it can also mean that they choose not to let us in for the wrong reasons. 

We can’t help them if we don’t know what’s happening in their world, and entry will be on their terms - even more as they get older. As they grow, they won’t trust us with the big things if we don’t give them the opportunity to learn that we can handle the little things (which might feel seismic to them). They won’t let us in to their world unless we make it safe for them to.

When my own kids were small, we had a rule that when I picked them up from school they could tell me anything, and when we drove into the driveway, the conversation would be finished if they wanted it to be. They only put this rule into play a few times, but it was enough for them to learn that it was safe to talk about anything, and for me to hear what was happening in that part of their world that happened without me. My gosh though, there were times that the end of the conversation would be jarring and breathtaking and so unfinished for me, but every time they would come back when they were ready and we would finish the chat. As it turned out, I had to trust them as much as I wanted them to trust me. But that’s how parenting is really isn’t it.

Of course there will always be lessons in their experiences we will want to hear straight up, but we also need them to learn that we are safe to come to.  We need them to know that there isn’t anything about them or their life we can’t handle, and when the world feels hard or uncertain, it’s safe here. By building safety, we build our connection and influence. It’s just how it seems to work.♥️
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#parenting #parenthood #mindfulparenting
Words can be hard sometimes. The right words can be orbital and unconquerable and hard to grab hold of. Feelings though - they’ll always make themselves known, with or without the ‘why’. 

Kids and teens are no different to the rest of us. Their feelings can feel bigger than words - unfathomable and messy and too much to be lassoed into language. If we tap into our own experience, we can sometimes (not all the time) get an idea of what they might need. 

It’s completely understandable that new things or hard things (such as going back to school) might drive thoughts of falls and fails and missteps. When this happens, it’s not so much the hard thing or the new thing that drives avoidance, but thoughts of failing or not being good enough. The more meaningful the ‘thing’ is, the more this is likely to happen. If you can look behind the words, and through to the intention - to avoid failure more than the new or difficult experience, it can be easier to give them what they need. 

Often, ‘I can’t’ means, ‘What if I can’t?’ or, ‘Do you think I can?’, or, ‘Will you still think I’m brave, strong, and capable of I fail?’ They need to know that the outcome won’t make any difference at all to how much you adore them, and how capable and exceptional you think they are. By focusing on process, (the courage to give it a go), we clear the runway so they can feel safer to crawl, then walk, then run, then fly. 

It takes time to reach full flight in anything, but in the meantime the stumbling can make even the strongest of hearts feel vulnerable. The more we focus on process over outcome (their courage to try over the result), and who they are over what they do (their courage, tenacity, curiosity over the outcome), the safer they will feel to try new things or hard things. We know they can do hard things, and the beauty and expansion comes first in the willingness to try. 
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#parenting #mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparent
Never in the history of forever has there been such a  lavish opportunity for a year to be better than the last. Not to be grabby, but you know what I’d love this year? Less opportunities that come in the name of ‘resilience’. I’m ready for joy, or adventure, or connection, or gratitude, or courage - anything else but resilience really. Opportunities for resilience have a place, but 2020 has been relentless with its servings, and it’s time for an out breath. Here’s hoping 2021 will be a year that wraps its loving arms around us. I’m ready for that. x
The holidays are a wonderland of everything that can lead to hyped up, exhausted, cranky, excited, happy kids (and adults). Sometimes they’ll cycle through all of these within ten minutes. Sugar will constantly pry their little mouths wide open and jump inside, routines will laugh at you from a distance, there will be gatherings and parties, and everything will feel a little bit different to usual. And a bit like magic. 

Know that whatever happens, it’s all part of what the holidays are meant to look like. They aren’t meant to be pristine and orderly and exactly as planned. They were never meant to be that. Christmas is about people, your favourite ones, not tasks. If focusing on the people means some of the tasks fall down, let that be okay, because that’s what Christmas is. It’s about you and your people. It’s not about proving your parenting stamina, or that you’ve raised perfectly well-behaved humans, or that your family can polish up like the catalog ones any day of the week, or that you can create restaurant quality meals and decorate the table like you were born doing it. Christmas is messy and ridiculous and exhausting and there will be plenty of frayed edges. And plenty of magic. The magic will happen the way it always happens. Not with the decorations or the trimmings or the food or the polish, but by being with the ones you love, and the ones who love you right back.

When it all starts to feel too important, too necessary and too ‘un-let-go-able’, be guided by the bigger truth, which is that more than anything, you will all remember how you all felt – as in how happy they felt, how loved they felt were, how noticed they felt. They won’t care about the instagram-worthy meals on the table, the cleanliness of the floors, how many relatives they visited, or how impressed other grown-ups were with their clean faces and darling smiles. It’s easy to forget sometimes, that what matters most at Christmas isn’t the tasks, but the people – the ones who would give up pretty much anything just to have the day with you.

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