Earlier this week, I watched my son walk across the stage and receive his certificate for completing middle school. I listened to the principal talk about academic achievement, how high school is a stepping stone for entering college, and the importance of engaging in the community as a way to build character.
As I sat there, I started thinking about my high school years and the first few years of college. I thought about the excitement of being a senior and the uncertainty of leaving home when it was my time to enter college. I also thought about the freedom I started to feel throughout these years. Then, I thought about the conversations my husband and I will need to have with our son in order to prepare him for these stepping-stones. I realize we have a few years for the tasks that can be measured, like grades, athletic involvement, and volunteering in the community. Building character and raising a son with integrity starts much earlier, however, and the time is upon us to provide the structure so that our son can create such an identity.
I wonder whether other parents think about this. I wonder what kind of conversations parents are having with their children about relationships, sex, and sexuality. In 2010, the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey found that most female victims of rape experiences their first rape before the age of 25, and that 42.2% experienced their first completed rape before the age of 18 years. (Meanwhile, more than one-quarter of male victims of completed rape experienced their first rape when they were 10 years of age or younger.) As a parent, this is telling me that I need to have conversations about love, relationships, and consent.
When I was younger, I remember learning about the buddy system and never leaving my drink unattended, but I never learned about concepts like getting and giving consent—or that I even had the right to say no. I also did not have conversations with adults about what to do if I saw a friend in a vulnerable situation or thought a friend of mine might take advantage of a person who was vulnerable. Given the fact that the most vulnerable timeframe for a female is between the ages of 18 and 25, all adults need to start having these conversations with the young people in their life.
These are the conversations I will be having with my son as he enters high school and prepares for college. Not only do I want my child to have good grades and be actively engaged during this time of growth and change, I also want him to have the knowledge and skills to intervene if he sees someone trying to take advantage of another person. I also want my son to ask for consent and know when it is freely given so that he doesn’t take advantage of anyone. As parents, we might think this is a given, but how do we really know if we don’t have the conversations? I am going to demand the change and make time for these conversations.
You can also demand the change by having these difficult conversations with the young people in your life. Together we can change these statistics and raise children with the knowledge and skills to inspire a change of heart.