A while back, I saw a story circulating on Facebook from Parents magazine. It was about a mother named Merritt Smith that had to take her 4-year-old daughter to the hospital because a male classmate had punched her in the face. The poor girl required stitches!
When Smith checked her daughter in at the hospital’s registration desk, the male employee heard why Smith’s daughter had been brought in and said, “I bet that little boy likes you.”
I bet that little boy likes you.
I’ve heard this a million times before.
A girl gets pushed down on the playground by a boy: “Oh, he’s just doing that to flirt.”
A girl gets her pigtails pulled: “That boy must have a crush on you.”
We say these things, not even really thinking about what the implications are for young women. We try to make light of the situation to help the girl not get so upset. Then, we see young women grow up and find themselves in abusive relationships people think, “Why didn’t she just leave?” or “Doesn’t she realize that if he’s hurting her he doesn’t really love her?!” or even, “Didn’t her parents raise her to know that this isn’t how a man should treat a woman?”
How could she know these things when, since her youth, she’s heard, “He pushed you? He must like you.”
And what about the boys? Why are we giving these kids a pass and chalking it up to “boys will be boys” or “that’s just how he shows affection”? We’re subconsciously creating a culture of abusers by endorsing the idea that hurting equals flirting*.
This is one reason I am terrified to have a little boy. I feel like I can raise strong, confident young women. I can teach them how a girl can be anything she puts her mind to and that you are more valuable than what you look like. But how do I raise a young man to be confident and strong but also tender and caring? How do I instill in my son that yes, you can roughhouse, you can play Wrestlemania in the backyard and you can pretend to slay dragons and ogres…but also channel that energy so he doesn’t hit out of anger or frustration and you most certainly do not hit girls?
After some thought, I understood that it all starts with me and Huff the Hubs. We, as parents, have to model the behaviors and values we want our children—male and female—to learn and imitate. Not only that, but we’ve got to break the cycle of perpetuating the myth that, if a boy hits you, he must like you**.
As parents, we all have to show our kids that hurting does not equal flirting.
Have you come across this in your years as a parent, teacher, aunt, or uncle? How have you handled the situation?
*I am also a firm believer that you do not have to hit someone to hurt them. I was in a verbally and emotionally abusive relationship for years that left inner wounds. In the context of this blog post, however, we are discussing a story from Parent’s magazine and the results of telling children that physical harm equals affection or attraction.
**I realize that some people may read this and think, “Geeze, it’s just something innocent that people say. My parents told me this all the time and I didn’t end up in an abusive relationship nor am I an abuser. People need to stop being so sensitive.” Well, I’m glad you never had to deal with someone hitting you or telling you things like, ‘You’d better lose weight or I’m dumping you’. Because I can tell you that things like that are hard to forget. However, it is our job as parents and people of influence in children’s lives (i.e., teachers, aunts, uncles, grandparents) to teach them to show one another respect and dignity.