Friday, March 03, 2017

Choices, Consequences, and Prevention

Last night I inadvertently posted something inflammatory on Facebook. It was meant to express my dismay at discovering how many men my age have young children and how, as a single woman, my preference is not to date those men. My post was taken as a stance against women who choose to have children later in life. Over and over the comments expressed were, "I had my child later - I wanted it that way" or "That was how it happened for me, what's wrong with it?" There is nothing wrong with it. We should have the choice as women to have children at whatever age we feel is appropriate for us and for our families. The general response was a resounding MY body, MY choice.

And THAT, when we are talking about reproduction, is really what it should come down to. Choice. Have a child at 20, or 30, or 45. It is and should be a personal choice. On the flip side, NOT having a child should also be a choice and this is where it gets sticky.

I promise you that no woman wants to have an abortion. Who would put that on their bucket list? But the conversation is always about limiting, restricting, or banning abortion. And this is not where the conversation should start. Once we solve what happens well before a woman is faced with an unwanted pregnancy, maybe we'll stop having this debate.

There is sometimes talk about expanding sex education, but even that comes later. The talks start with young children. Girls and boys both. Parents, tell your children from the start that they own their bodies. When you think pushing a child towards an older person and saying, "Give grandpa a hug" is harmless, it's not. At very young ages you are telling children when they do and don't own their bodies. Maybe grandpa stinks. Maybe your child has sensory/touch sensitivities. There are a myriad of reasons children don't want to show affection to adults and it's not rude for them not to. It is our job to protect our children from predators and taking away control in a a seemingly-innocent situation is failure from the start.

One of the most important things we can do is to use proper terminology. Penis. Vagina. Vulva. Using silly, cutesy names undermines a child's authority in a couple of ways. I once heard a story that I regularly tell my customers at my parties. A young girl told every adult she met that her uncle pet her kitty. Okay. That's nice. How cute. NO. NOT cute. Her "kitty" was not a cat. This child was being abused and asking anyone she could find for help. Their inability to understand her because she used improper terminology told her both that what her uncle was doing was okay and that she had no right to ask for help. Additionally, when a child uses the right words, grown-up words, he or she is taken seriously by adults. It demonstrates that they are very clear and knowledgeable about what is happening.

As children grow, we need to repeat these lessons. I am going to focus on young women solely for the reason that the vast majority of rape crimes are committed by men against women, but understand it can happen to young men too. We need to raise our daughters so that they understand they have a choice and that they are worthy. That attention from a cute boy is nice, but not validation of who they are as a person. This makes it easier for her to say "no" when a boy tries to convince her to go farther than she's comfortable with. It makes it easier for her to have a conversation and dialogue about what her boundaries are and, if she's then rejected in favor of another girl, she won't be as likely to feel that she should have given in.

And this, years later, is where sex education comes in. Certain groups of people are just terrified of sex and any mention of it and are convinced that teaching children about body parts is wrong. It's not. Our vaginas and penises aren't any dirtier than our legs or elbows. If I have a headache, someone will offer me aspirin. If I have a pain in my breast, I should be able to talk about that and get aid just the same. If we don't talk to our kids about sex, they'll get the information somewhere else. Most likely it will be the wrong information. Myths about what will and won't cause pregnancy. Boys telling girls what they think will get her to change her mind. Information is power, arm your children with it.

Birth control is a tricky one as a parent. I know. I've been there. Offering it feels like giving permission. As adults with experience, we know that 16 is SO young, too young. They aren't mentally or emotionally ready for the consequences. You can do everything perfectly up to this point and then hormones happen. Teenagers are walking hormones. Again, information is just a necessity. Arming a kid with birth control isn't encouragement or permission for sex. It's offering a choice in the event that those hormones take over. Just because you have it doesn't mean you have to use it.

Teaching respect for self and others simultaneously teaches respect for life. Let's change the conversation and start it earlier before we demonize women for making choices they'd rather not face. Provide the messages of prevention earlier and we might not have the need for the really tough, divisive arguments later.


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