Trigger warning: this post references childhood sexual abuse. You decide, in this moment, if you want to read it, or not. If not – that’s okay. Because ultimately, above all, I blog for me.
I can’t stop thinking about it lately. From stories in the news, kids I work with, loved ones’ past experiences, memories creeping up for people…it’s everywhere. And I won’t say more than that. Nearly every story seems to have one common thread: Everything is about context. There are a million exceptions to the rule.
“Nicole, remember how you learned about Stranger Danger? Don’t go with someone who tells you he has candy in his car, or who says he lost his dog and needs help finding it. Run and scream and go the other way.”
Nicole is 6 years old. She knows that. What she doesn’t know, and has never heard, is a rule for what to do when her violin teacher sometimes has her sit on his lap during her lesson. It doesn’t feel right and it’s uncomfortable. But he is not a Stranger. So it must be okay. Even though it feels wrong.
“Tommy, nobody except Mom and I, and your doctor, can touch your private parts.”
Ten-year-old Tommy has heard this a million times. And it’s his doctor who is touching his private parts. So, despite the fact that at age ten, he knows that the frequency and the way in which his doctor touches him is wrong, and doesn’t feel right at all, everyone says that doctors can touch him. So he doesn’t say a word.
“Phoebe, I get that you don’t want to see your dad for the weekend, but he’s your father. He has every right to see you. Just be a good girl, okay, and listen to what he says.”
And four-year-old Phoebe tries. She tries so hard to be a good girl, and to listen to what her father says, even when it involves him asking her to do things that make her cry and feel yucky. And she doesn’t tell her mom because he says not to. And she’s a good girl. She’s a good listener.
“Mommy? You know how Uncle Trevor gives me my bath when he visits and we play the splashing game and it is so fun and I love it? Well, Henry said that HIS uncle gives him a bath sometimes and he washes him to make him super duper clean, but Henry doesn’t like it because he said his uncle shouldn’t touch him down there like that. But it’s okay, right? Because Uncle Trevor washes me and I love Uncle Trevor and he is not hurting me. So it must be okay with Henry’s uncle, too. Because the rule is that uncles can help gives you baths and part of giving baths is washing down there.”
Ben’s mom takes a deep breath. How is she supposed to explain to her five-year-old that rules come in a million shades of gray – and that the exact same situation that both he and his best friend are in, are actually totally different?
There are so many shades of gray. So many exceptions to the rule. And nobody can cover them all.
All we can do is hope. And try to teach our kids to trust their core, their gut. To teach them to listen to that voice inside of them, and if that voice ever says, This is wrong, to tell someone. To tell someone other than the person who is making that voice speak. And I think that’s a concept that kids of all ages can grasp, on some level, if it’s taught in an age-appropriate, developmentally-appropriate way, and reinforced over and over again. Trust your core. Listen to that voice.