What An Interesting Perspective


While I acknowledge that memes are often used to spread misinformation and to reinforce preexisting (and often completely wrong) ideas, I also think that they are just as often used to spark new ideas and make people challenge their own preconceived notions.

Such a thing happened to me today when I came across this meme on facebook.

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Hmm, I thought, that is very interesting. On the one hand, I can see how some people might scoff at this as being overly sensitive, libby, and feeding into this general notion that modern-day parents don’t know how to raise respectful and polite children. On the other hand, I remember being a shy child (despite having grown into a woman with no boundaries or problems with physical contact) and how much I hated feeling like I had no agency and no choice over my body, how I dressed, my hair style, or any such matter. I remember how being forced into physical contact when I didn’t want it only increased my surliness, and how my avoidance of strange adults stemmed from the pressure I felt to behave contrarily to how I felt. I can imagine how taking the pressure off would have relaxed me and made me far less shy in adult company.

This meme got me thinking about how forcing children to be physically affectionate is just one of the many ways that we attempt to “civilize” children, and the cultural expectations surrounding physical contact*. It prompted me to read the description beneath the post, which brought me to the article posted on CNN that inspired the meme titled I don’t own my child’s body.

 

*By the way, I have been meaning for months to address the cultural differences about physical contact, as it was suggested by a reader and an interesting topic of discussion. I haven’t done it until now because I was trying to unpack what I was going to say about it in my own mind. I have now, so I will have that post up soon.

 

The article starts with her explanation as to why she does not force her daughter to hug or kiss anyone she doesn’t want to.

I figure her body is actually hers, not mine.
It doesn’t belong to her parents, uncles and aunts, school teachers or soccer coach. While she must treat people with respect, she doesn’t have to offer physical affection to please them. And the earlier she learns ownership of herself and responsibility for her body, the better for her.
“When we force children to submit to unwanted affection in order not to offend a relative or hurt a friend’s feelings, we teach them that their bodies do not really belong to them because they have to push aside their own feelings about what feels right to them,” said Irene van der Zande, co-founder and executive director of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, a nonprofit specializing in teaching personal safety and violence prevention.
“This leads to children getting sexually abused, teen girls submitting to sexual behavior so ‘he’ll like me’ and kids enduring bullying because everyone is ‘having fun.’ “
On the one hand, I agree that breaking down societal norms which facilitate victimhood is a good thing. On the other, I often cringe away from designing parenting strategies which hyper-focus on predators and sexual abuse, like how I once raged at a female friend of mine for being scandalized that young children at the beach were participating in the macarena at a pool-side dance party because predators in the crowd might find it sexually alluring. Given that, I wanted to read on to see which direction this piece is going in. Is it an attempt to give her child agency over her own body, or is it about teaching her to be fearful and reclusive? How does she address her child being rude to adults?
You might think my daughter’s shiftless parents are not teaching her manners, but that’s not true. She has to say “please” and “thank you,” set the table, clear her dishes and thank everyone and everything that makes her meals possible.
She has be polite when greeting people, whether she knows them or not. When family and friends say hello, I give her the option of “a hug or a high-five.” Since she’s been watching adults greet each other with a handshake, she sometimes offers that option.
“When kids are really little and shy, parents can start to offer them choices for treating people with respect and care,” van der Zande said. “By age 6 or 7, even shy kids can shake somebody’s hand or wave or do something to communicate respect and care. Manners — treating people with respect and care — is different than demanding physical displays of affection.”
And while I hope I’m teaching my child how to take care of herself in the future, there are benefits to allowing her to express affection in her own way and on her own timeline. When my child cuddles up to my mother on the sofa, happily talking to her about her favorite books and Girl Scouts and other things, my mother’s face lights up. She knows my daughter’s love is real.
Alright, I’m sold on this idea. Some children have no boundaries, and would never need to be told that hugging is an option. Others need time to warm to people, and I really think that this method is the most direct way to do that. Others are never really comfortable with physical contact and PDA, and they should not be shamed for feeling that way either. Maybe if there was not so much societal pressure to engage in physical contact with others, people who are not comfortable with it would have less social anxiety.
I highly recommend reading the whole article, as I am curious to hear your thoughts on it. For now, I’ll just take a moment to acknowledge that memes really do have their positive attributes, as well as their negative ones. While I almost never check CNN for reading material, if I had and I had seen this title I very well may have overlooked it. Instead, because that meme caught my attention, I have been privy to a completely different perspective that I had never considered before, and I’m glad I have.

Comments

  1. says

    This woman sounds like me. I completely agree with her and use very similar methods. I ask my kids “do you want to give me a kiss” and I (or my husband) don’t act in any way hurt or disappointed. I will open my arms so they can step inside or offer my hand so they can take it. Dangerous situations are an exception, but generally accepting their wishes makes them also more aware that a situation is dangerous.
    They have to say “hello”, “goodbye”, “please” and “thank you”. The older one is on the spectrum so she’ll often come across as rude, but she’ll learn.
    It’s something I also practise with other children and you will get wonderful reactions. My friend’s middle child was completely delighted at having the option of turning down a hug and a kiss. My other friend’s son was surprised that I respected his “no”. He actually wanted at least a hug, he just never expected to have his will respected.

    On the one hand, I agree that breaking down societal norms which facilitate victimhood is a good thing. On the other, I often cringe away from designing parenting strategies which hyper-focus on predators and sexual abuse, like how I once raged at a female friend of mine for being scandalized that young children at the beach were participating in the macarena at a pool-side dance party because predators in the crowd might find it sexually alluring.

    I think that’s very different things. Your friend’s strategy was to police the children. This strategy is about empowering them. I don’t talk to my kids about this by telling them that this may prevent them from becoming abuse victims, though I do think that yes, respecting children’s boundaries will teach them to recognise when somebody is disrespecting them and that it will also hopefully create a relationship in which they feel comfortable to tell me if somebody crossed their boundaries. I talk about it in a strictly positive way: This is your body, this is your choice. This would still be true in a world where no sexual abuse ever happened.
    Your friend wanted to restrict children’s autonomy, I want to give them more.

    • thoughtsofcrys says

      I agree that they are two very different things. I was just commenting on the progression of my feelings as I read the article. If the article ended at that paragraph I quoted, it could have gone either way. When I continued reading I saw that the article was not trying to put raising kids in the context of fearing abuse around every corner, but simply adopting a healthier attitude towards autonomy, which is why I was thoroughly sold on the parenting method by the end of it.

      As for children being on the spectrum, that is a whole other ball of wax compared to children who are not on the spectrum not learning their manners. It is to be expected that both adults and children on the spectrum might seem rude from time to time, it is part of their social difficulty and in no way reflects on the way they were raised. I was specifically referring to children who are rude and spoiled because their parents never give them boundaries or tell them no. I think there are fewer children than some people think who are raised like that, but they definitely exist.

  2. agender says

    ENVY. Great big burning tearing searing envy I can hardly contain into words.
    Sofar I thought that to have no children is the only way not to repeat an abuse family; but this feels quite right. It can work!
    Of course the political reasoning (to shield children from predators) is different from teaching children (it is your body, it is your choice, etc. on the topic of hugging, but not on what to wear in cold weather).
    And as I cannot comment on CNN (have neither facebook nor twitter) one note here: There is a connection between children growing up in an environment they may be grabbed, hold into the air (something I hated as much as being torn up/penetrated) – and to have victims of sexualized violence who can easily be silenced and made ashamed of themselves and blamed by everyone who feels Holier-Than-Thou – AND enforced marriage and childbearing. In the more welloff circles of the vaticanslaves there are still rumors (being married against one´ s will did not end in the 1970s, not even in Europe; and the catechism defines marriage still as legal rape. -in its weird wording), in more poor circles probably strongminded youngsters can still leave and never marry/not have any children, while the Religious right as well as a lot of Islam preachers openly advocate pressure towards the full set of patriarchal brutality.

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