Just tell them no. Seems easy enough, two little letters, one short word, so much meaning. But it isn’t really easy. Many young girls today find themselves in what seemed innocent situations that end badly. Many young boys today find themselves in what seemed innocent situations that they couldn’t seem to stop. And we as parents see report after report about teens that get raped or assaulted because of drugs, alcohol, or the inability to listen and stop. In my office I deal with the aftermath of these situations and I find myself angry because of what culture, media, and people are promoting to undeveloped brains as their CHOICE. And then we look at them incredulously and ask the simple questions: “Why didn’t you say no?” Or “Why didn’t you stop?” News alert- every one of those girls said no at least once or we could not consider it rape or assault (unless of course they are drunk or drugged). And every one of those perpetrators ignored the no. So then I started to want someone to blame, because this is becoming epidemic, and our babies are getting hurt. But who to blame? The perpetrator? Most definitely, but remember they often are undeveloped brains who thrive off of instant gratification. Should I blame the media- writers, producers, sponsors, etc? Maybe, but they are faceless money rich entities. Should I blame the schools? Nope. Should I blame us parents? Wellllllll……. I know as a parent that I cannot take credit for my kids good decisions or their bad decisions- I can only create an environment for their success. But then I have to really ask, “What role can a parent play in this current chaos?” This is what I have come up with (how was that for an introductory paragraph, wow!?).
When my children were young we started a standard in our interactions with each other- we listened to the word no. For example, my kids loved to be tickled so there was a lot of tickling in our house. And as tickling goes there would be over stimulation and my children would say “NO” or “STOP”. At this point I would automatically stop, and end the game. They would then say “Ok now tickle me.” And I would tell them, “You told me no/stop so I listened and stopped. If you need a break say wait, then we will start again. I need to listen when you say no/stop, because that is a serious word and it needs to respected.” This became the rule for any time a person said no or stop and the reason behind this was simple. I wanted my children to know that they needed to listen when people said no or stop. And I wanted them to know it was a serious word and not use it flippantly. More specifically I wanted my boy to know when a girl said no or stop he did, no matter how much fun or energy was invested in the particular activity.
The other thought I came up with has to do with dogs- well at least my dogs made me think about it. When you have dogs and they know they are going to be fed they seem to be able to tell time, and they start to get excited a little early. They may refuse to leave your side, go outside, or take a nap. They diligently anticipate you going to the food container and putting dog food in their bowl. When you finally get up to go to the dog bowl they are completely excited, jumping and falling all over just to get to their spot for food. Now I have been told by dog trainers that you need to teach your dog self-control and you do this by delaying their gratification. You make them sit quietly while you put the food down and they do not get to eat until you tell them. So delaying gratification teaches your dog self-control. Now let us apply this lesson to parenting….when a child is insisting, whining, and begging it is often hard to not give into immediately just to give our ears a rest. And research is showing with the video game and media world we have created our kids have not fully learned to delay gratification, instead they want it NOW! “My way now” is no longer just found in our terrible two’s. Do we as parents need to teach our kids delayed gratification and self-control more effectively?
My last thought is based on conversations with teenage girls. They are perplexed by their own giving in to the pressure of a sexually aroused boy. Pressuring or badgering does work in many cases. So this one is twofold. We as parents need to teach that no means no, and you won’t get your way if you badger me. Often in my office I work with families on this very topic and it goes something like this:
Parent: “Little Johnny has an absolute meltdown when they don’t get their way or we tell them no.”
Me: “Johnny is this true?”
Me: “When your parents tell you no, how often do they give in when you whine, beg, or bother them?”
Johnny: “Ummmmm, well, there was this, actually …… never.”
Me: “So why do you keep it up if it has never worked?”
Johnny: “I’m optimistic?”
Now sometimes as parents we do give in, but most of us don’t, and they keep it up anyway because every human brain is addicted to dopamine (the happy chemical in your brain) and the desire for that overrules logic regularly. But if we help our kids learn to not badger, or beg- and to respect the word no/stop- they will be in the habit and less likely to violate another person.
I know as a parent that we cannot do it all perfectly, and even if we did these little people still have free will and may choose poorly. But frankly we have to do something, and instill the abilities to be healthy individuals making choices that don’t harm. And to do this we have to instill respect and develop character. Nothing else seems to be working in this area. Colleges are giving training on what consensual sex looks like to incoming freshmen. People are you-tubing advice and opinions. Media has reported over and over the negative outcomes. But unfortunately it is not decreasing the incidences of victimization. When you want to change a culture you start with the kids, and you teach them what you want them to do young. Let’s turn this trend around, one family at a time, infecting the culture and society like a virus. It starts with us at home.