We aren’t screwed up, but we could be better

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We probably don’t think about it much on a day-to-day basis, but the way we were socialized as children may have had a negative impact on our ability to assert ourselves and understand issues of consent.

Raise you hand if you were made to hug relatives or family friends as a small child even when you didn’t want to. This seems to be a pretty common parenting practice and I get it, you don’t want people to think your kids are rude or something, but really just get over it.

What you’re teaching kids when you make them hug someone against their will is that they don’t have the power to say what they will and will not do with their bodies. Extend that idea to issues of childhood sexual abuse and incest and we have a serious problem.

Kids have been reprimanded for not wanting to do something that makes them uncomfortable (hug a relative) in the past, so when they are made by an adult to engage in other (abusive) behavior that makes them uncomfortable they are less likely to tell someone they trust because in the past that trusted adult has reprimanded them for a similar behavior.

In fact, they might not even realize the behavior is problematic because they cannot mentally separate the situation from the situation with the hug.

So, I started with the worst-case scenario, but things we learn in childhood can manifest themselves in other ways in adulthood and even have an impact on our personalities.

For example, I was raised in an authoritarian household. I wasn’t allowed to question the things my parents told me to do, I just had to do them. Many people feel like this is a good way to raise children.

Since entering adulthood, I’ve realized the way that’s impacted me. I can never make a decision on my own; I need validation from someone else. I don’t know how to say “no” to people who ask me to do things and it often ends up resulting in my being totally overwhelmed, which I just deal with because I don’t realize there are other options.

This is not supposed to be about how bad everyone’s parents are, just how subtle things done as parents can have an effect on children. Sometimes those things are positive, some of them not so much.

The important thing to remember if you are the parent is that you aren’t raising children; you are raising people who have to live in this world. Children don’t occupy a completely different world from adults and no matter how much you try to shelter them from the world, they will eventually become aware of it and they will be completely unprepared when they do.

I wish we lived in a world where children were never abused, but we don’t and it would be beneficial to raise children with the idea of bodily autonomy. It is better to have children who are empowered by saying “no,” even if it hurts someone’s feelings, than children who are hurt and keep hurting because they don’t feel like they have control over what they do with their bodies.

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