Building skills

In honor of Domestic Violence ACTION Month I’ll be blogging all month about what it takes to end domestic violence. It is our view (at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence) that to prevent violence we need to:

Address root causes of violence, Shift culture, Build Skills, Promote healthy relationships

Earlier this month we tackled root causes and shifting culture. This week we’re looking at building skills. How do we do that and what does it look like?

First, I have a confession to make…I am not a perfect mate. (I know, it’s hard to believe!) Don’t get me wrong, I bring a lot to the table, but I’m sure my partner would agree that I don’t always get it right. For a long time this made me feel unqualified to talk about how to have healthy relationships.

Not anymore. Because here is the reality: I have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to what NOT to do, and that’s a good start. I’ve seen it in my 20 years of domestic violence advocacy and through my whole life of being a human. And so it occurred to me one day that while I may not be perfect, no one else is either. We all need a little help to know what TO do in relationships.

Building skills looks like admitting that we are going to fight, but it’s how we do it that matters.MakingAMove-for-Facebook

Building skills sounds like talking about our feelings rather than hurling accusations when things get tough.

Building skills feels like working up the courage to ask for what you want, and checking in before making a move.

This is a subject that we should be learning in school. It’s part of the basics—reading, writing, arithmetic, AND relating. And not just in schools. I want relationship skills integrated into our sports, our clubs, our hobbies. It is of paramount importance, and we shouldn’t leave it to chance.

Just remember, it’s ok if we don’t exactly know what we’re doing. We still have knowledge to offer and can ask for help when we need it.

What skills do you want to build and how are you going to get there?

 

She can’t wear that to kindergarten

Photo by Lesley Show
Photo by Lesley Show

We had a nice and sunny day the other day. In fact we had a few. And on one of those days, my 4-year-old daughter (who has a great fashion sense—which everyone knows does not come from me) got dressed and as we were getting into the car, my son commented that when she goes to kindergarten next week she won’t be allowed to wear “those shorts.”

Now, I’ve written before about my rants discussions with my son about sexism, but you know who really needs to hear my rant? The school. (And don’t worry—they will.) A school which in most regards I love. It is a school that embodies beloved community—their motto is that students will be responsible, respectful, and safe. It has more parents involved than I ever imagined possible. I like the teachers. I like the principal. And yet, here, in this beautiful place, they are sexualizing kindergarteners by having a dress code that includes edicts like “no spaghetti strap tank tops” and “no short shorts.” Sexualizing you say? Yes sexualizing. Why else would you make gender-specific dress code requirements? I’m sure they’d cite the usual reason: “distraction.” But shouldn’t we have higher expectations for people to not objectify young girls?

I cannot believe that this is the world we live in. Not only do I have to plead with my daughter to not wear pajamas, but I also have to police whether her shorts are too short or her straps too much like spaghetti. Our job as parents is hard enough—please don’t force sexism into it. There’s enough of that out there already.

Let’s talk about sex, ba-by

I just watched the trailer for Daddy I Doa documentary about purity balls. What’s a purity ball, you ask? It’s basically a wedding-like ceremony where teen daughters pledge to their fathers that they will remain a virgin until they are married. There are so many things about this that get me riled up, like haven’t we moved past the idea that girls belong to their fathers until they can be married off?

In the trailer, some of the men talk about how they of course wouldn’t tell their daughters how to have safe sex, because they shouldn’t be having sex at all! It’s this way of thinking that is driving support for abstinence-only sex education. But we know abstinence-only sex education is not very effective at lowering teen pregnancy and STI rates.

When I was growing up in the South, this kind of thing was happening. I remember one day in homeroom, we all had a little slip of paper on our desks with the purity pledge on it. The teacher didn’t make us sign it, but she did ask that we take it home, talk with our parents about it, and seriously consider signing it. I was creeped out by it, but at least it wasn’t a substitute for the small amount of medically accurate sex education that we got in school.

condom-die-funny-gifs-Favim.com-918205

These purity balls and pledges send messages that girls shouldn’t have sex (boys will be boys), girls bear the burden of this responsibility (because, boys will be boys), and girls’ virginity is more important than boys’.

But an even bigger problem is that it leaves a gaping hole in the conversations we should be having with our kids about healthy relationships. As much as we might want to stick our fingers in our ears and sing lalalala, the teens in our lives are (probably) making their way around the bases with their boyfriends or girlfriends. Let’s give them accurate and complete info about sex. And I’m not just talking contraceptives and STIs here. Let’s tell them that sex is about pleasure. Let’s tell them that there’s no shame in feeling what they are feeling (whether they’re wanting to have sex or not). Let’s talk about the things you should look for in a healthy relationship like love, respect, and trust and how that should apply to the sex part too. Let’s talk about how powerful they are that they get to make smart, informed choices about their bodies. Let’s talk about that.

Teens want to talk

“It might be easier if you talk to my teenagers and I talk to yours.” That’s where a chat with a good friend went when we realized our teenagers no longer wanted to discuss sex with us or their dads. Even though I have had pretty frank conversations with them in the past about emergency contraception, responses to street harassment, and grinding at dances, I understand that I’m not their only source of information. Most teenagers I know think that conversations at home, school health class, and with their friends are all they need. Maybe so, but I know my daughters forget things and don’t always have the most current information. Sometimes they are just plain wrong. And I’m sure they’ve never practiced telling someone they care about “No, I don’t feel comfortable doing that.” Whatever that is—sex acts, drugs, drinking, or anything else.

Some of the complicated conversations I want someone to have with my kids:

  1. Medically accurate information about all available forms of birth control
  2. Knowing how to respond when a friend or potential partner oversteps their boundaries
  3. Deciding when is the right time to have sex
  4. Knowing how to freely say yes or no to anything involving your sexuality
  5. What to do or say if a friend has difficult questions or secrets they don’t feel comfortable keeping
  6. Knowing where to get good information and help—online or in-person
  7. Strategies for stepping in to help someone else
  8. Knowing the qualities of a healthy relationship and believing they deserve it
  9. Knowing how to talk to a friend about his or her relationship

teens-talkingI think teenagers want lots of chances to talk about these things. As a parent, your best bet may be to find the right person to initiate those conversations. Think about a terrific woman or man that you trust who could engage your teenager. It might be a relative, friend, or an educator from Planned Parenthood. You could set up one or several conversations with this trusted adult, add some food, a couple of your teenager’s close friends and leave for a few hours. I did this with my daughters. I know it was a success because one of my daughters said to me “we talked about a lot of things that I wouldn’t want to talk about with you.” I understood what she meant. With me, she has to worry about my judgment or if I’ll ask too many follow-up questions. This way, we can pick up the conversation whenever they want and I sleep a little better at night.

News you can relate to

Some news stories that caught our eye this week:

What if this was your son?

“When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?” — Eleanor Roosevelt

A national resource defines bullying as, “aggressive behavior that is intentional and that involves an imbalance of power or strength. Often, it is repeated over time and can take many forms.” Experts say kids bully because they want to establish a social order, obtain dominance and power, or have control over group membership.

Whoa. That is eerily similar to our movement’s understanding of domestic violence. I guess it’s no surprise that different kinds of violence have similar motives. As I scan through some of the current research on bullying, I see that some of the most common intervention programs, like zero tolerance policies and peer to peer mediation, are now being discredited. It turns out that just as with domestic violence, there are no simple answers on how to get a bully—or a batterer—to knock it off.

And how can there be a simple answer?

Take the recent news story about a father who is facing felony child abuse charges after he was caught on video cheering his teenage son during a fight with a schoolmate who had been bullying him. The father and mother said things got worse after they sought help from the school, and their son eventually came to believe that fighting back was his best option. While the father regrets encouraging his son to “smash [the other boy’s] head into the ground,” he is relieved that after the fight, the bully agreed “to be done.”

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So, wow. This family believes that vigilante violence was the best solution for their son.  And while we know that boys especially are socialized to both be dominant and fight back against domination, I’m not convinced that street-fighting is the big solution we’ve all been looking for.

There must be more options for dealing with bullying besides “make the school deal with it” or “duke it out.”

So how did this get worked out in the social circles you were part of as a young person? Was there a way to stop bullying, dominating behavior without resorting to violence?