It is like one of those things that people know exists – yet something that people do not want to acknowledge. All of us know for certain that this is a big bad world we live in. Not that I’m trying to generalize. Yes, there are a lot of good things going for this planet and the people that call it their homes but what I’m trying to say is that the bad things that happen far outweigh the good.
I work in a field that brings me in contact with children day in and day out. As an educator, as a teacher, I am in the midst of children for a good part of virtually every single day. The other day, when I walked into one of the classrooms for my first lesson of the day, my gaze skimmed over those little bundles of energy in the classroom. Seventy plus pairs of eyes stared back – some sleepy, some naughty, some with laughter twinkling in those eyes, many with energy dancing in those eyes. As I scanned those eager faces, my gaze fell upon one little kid with a black eye. Yes, you heard me right. A black eye like someone had punched him right in the eye. Apparently, it resulted from having said “no” to a parent the previous day. The reasons, when he explained them to us later, were trivial. Definitely not something a parent should have let loose on the child over. But fact remains that it did happen. He came in to school that day with a badly bruised face because he had the gumption to stand up for himself and say “no” to something he was not comfortable with.
This is the crux of my post. The word “NO”.
A small word it is – just two alphabets, just one syllable. Yet, within this little word, it carries with it a very very powerful message, for those who are willing to read it. The word “NO” does not quite come automatically to children. It is not a standard response because right from childhood, the word NO has never been associated with good results.
Go back to your own childhood for a bit. How many times have you bitten down that word without spitting it out ? I’m sure it has happened many a times. Sometimes over something as trivial as not wanting to be hugged by one of your parents’ friends or by one of the relatives in the family to something a bit more serious as not going out for a social occasion with someone or maybe something even more serious. But, usually, the word NO does not bring about the best of responses from parents. The word NO invariably has parents thinking that it diminishes their authority over children and in an effort to re-assert that authority, among the first thing that parents usually trample on is the word NO.
This little word, however, is the first step in building a foundation in children. A foundation that could serve them very well over the years to come. I remember instances from my own childhood when one particular relative used to insist that I do a full namaskaram or prostrate in respect whenever he visited us. Worse still, he used to buy some little thing and bring it along and then say “prostrate before me otherwise I will not give you this”. Within my mind, my response always used to be the same “I don’t want it. I’ve never wanted the stuff you bring along.” But that response of mine never ever got to see the light of day because I knew I was expected to go along with doing a namaskaram in front of him everytime he visited. Why ? Because I was not empowered to say NO. My parents had not bestowed that right on me. As I grew, if I knew he was going to visit, I would slip out of the house on some pretext or the other.
Take child abuse or child sex abuse, for instance. Everyone knows that this is one ugly truth that exists in just about every society this world has to offer. Among the first questions a sexually abused child is usually asked is “Why did you not say no when he/she touched you ?”. The answer is very simple. Most children do not say NO or hesitate to use the word NO simply because they have not been e.m.p.o.w.e.r.e.d to say NO.
Children need to be empowered.
This step has to start with the parents. It starts with little things like not making a child hug or kiss a close family relative or friend or being hugged or kissed by relatives or friends when the child clearly does not want to. The child needs to know that he / she has the power over that simple situation that makes him / her distinctly uncomfortable. If not, the message being sent out to the child at that early age, to that young, impressionable mind is very simple – that they need to do as they are told, that they need to do something irrespective of whether they want to or not.
This is not to say that parents ought to give into ever whim and fancy of children when they say NO. But, if the child says NO and is distinctly uncomfortable with what is to come, their feelings have to be respected. They are little individuals in their own right and they need to know that. They have feelings that have to be accounted for and they have to know that. They have feelings that need to be respected and they need to know that.
Like Dr.Seuss once said “A person is a person, no matter how small.”
Just as we teach children about road safety, about looking both ways before crossing the road, children need to be educated, to be empowered about keeping themselves safe from abuse. They need to be educated about “good touching and bad touching” and more importantly they have to be taught that their body is precious, that it is their own and that is OK to say NO and to tell their parents when they are faced with something they view as potentially threatening or something that is making them uncomfortable.
There has been a lot of debate on teaching children about “good touch and bad touch”. Some people do feel that to teach children something like this at a young age is akin to taking away their innocence when they are that young. Quite the contrary. They need to be educated about this and in doing that what we, as parents are doing is simple – we are teaching them to respect their own body, teaching them a basic and very important skill in empowering them to protect that very innocence that symbolises childhood. It is an attempt towards empowering our children with the knowledge that they deserve to be respected and nurtured and not used or abused.
This is my first post for the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month - April 2013.