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5 lessons to empower children to be wise and safe

Posted September 29

I guess it was pretty predictable that my column last week on rape culture invited comments saying exactly what I hope my daughters never believe — on some level, victims are a responsible party in a rape.

The gist of some of these comments was that I am naive to say that women can’t take actions to prevent being raped.

I find this line of thought perplexing, as if telling my daughters rape is never the victim’s fault equates to me not equipping them with the knowledge to make good decisions. Those two ideas are not mutually exclusive.

Yes, I tell them rape is always (and I do mean always) the perpetrator’s fault, but I also work hard to prepare my daughters to make wise choices to decrease their chances of becoming a statistic. Does this mean they are immune? No. Does it mean if they make poor choices that they deserve to be raped? Absolutely not.

So in continuation of last week’s discussion on discouraging rape culture, I thought I should also highlight the lessons I use in my home to prepare my children for the realities of the world.

Your body is your body. This message starts when kids are just toddlers. Hitting, biting, scratching, etc., are all perfect teaching grounds to instill the message that your body is yours and nobody has a right to touch it, use it or hurt it without your express permission.

The way you dress sends a message to the world. Again, I never give any indication that my children are responsible for the pure or impure thoughts or actions of anyone else. But I do tell them that the clothes they pick and the way they present themselves will tell the world a lot. I want my girls to make clear choices on how they will be perceived, and I hope they choose to project a self-confident woman who respects her body.

Don’t put it online if you don’t want dad to see it. My kids are still a little young for this, but we have already had talks about how what you post online can never really be erased. Just like with how you dress, the posts and pictures on your online profile tell the world who you are. Make sure it’s the person you want them to see.

Trust your gut. So often, we as parents minimize our children’s feelings by saying things like “Oh, you’re being silly” or “You’ll be OK. Trust me.” Kids have a natural aversion to people who give them a bad feeling, and I want my children to trust those instincts. We had an experience with a close family friend who was making my children feel uncomfortable, and at first, I tried to brush over it because I didn’t want to make things awkward. I rationalized their feelings, telling them that “Oh, he didn’t mean it that way” or “He was just joking.” But then I realized I was teaching them to ignore their instincts. So I changed my reaction and instead honored their wishes to minimize time with this person. I never want them to question their gut reactions that tell them to get away from a person or a situation that gives them a bad vibe.

Be smart. The act of making smart decisions starts young with simple things, such as not approaching strangers, not stopping to talk to someone in a car, using the buddy system and never keeping secrets with adults. We talk often about staying safe, being smart and being aware of how our choices can put us in dangerous situations. As my kids grow, I hope they have confidence in their ability to make wise decisions. I hope they trust themselves enough to say “no” when a date pushes for more or have enough sense to use the buddy system even as a college student. And I hope I am brave enough to candidly discuss things like drinking, drugs and date rape when the time comes.

Again, I teach my children these lessons not because I believe they can immunize themselves from being a victim. That is simply impossible. Even if our children do everything right, bad things still happen. And even if they do everything wrong, victimization is still not their fault.

The bottom line is they can’t stop people from doing bad things, but I can work to empower my children to be wise and confident as they face the realities of this world.

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her and her newborn son wins hearts with his dimples.

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