Saturday, February 22, 2014

When your 10 year old son asks you what the word "Rape" means

Had another interesting chat with my amazing 10 year old son on Wednesday night.

I both love and fear my evening discussions with Ty.  These are the ones that both warm my heart as a mom and challenge me as a parent.  We have a connection that I treasure- an honest relationship that I honour and a trust that is unbreakable.  This particular night, I was asked a question that I just didn't expect to have to answer for a while.  It threw me, so I posted this on Facebook last night to get some advice from my trusted friends.

My Facebook post:  
"Not sure how to handle the information I was trusted with. Good news is that my great kid is a goodie goodie who has an amazingly high moral standard. Bad news is that the cool kids are using a totally inappropriate word that 
a. he didn't know 
b. I had to explain and 
c. makes him (and me) feel uncomfortable and worried about what boys think is funny.
Tell the teachers (leaning this way) or let it play out on the school ground?"

I think initially my fab friends seemed to think it was maybe a word like "sexy" (or maybe even "dildo" like I had to explain last week- OY), and I wasn't actually going to SAY the word, but realized that I had to share it in order to get the best advice.

The word was rape.  "Mom, one more question before you leave....what does 'raped' mean?" Ty asked his most trusted confident. My heart sunk knowing that this would be another night where, in the interest of keeping honesty between us, I would tell my son the meaning of a word that I wish he didn't know.  First, I wanted to know where and how he heard the word.  I needed to know the context in which it was used so that I could not only explain what the word really meant, but also how it was misused in that situation.  Apparently, on the playground at recess, some boys were roughhousing and one boy pinned another boy against the wall.  "Look, he's raping me", the pinned boy said in jest.

I explained to Ty that this word was unlike a regular swear word.  That it actually meant something uglier and that was a crime.  I went on to say that it was when a boy or man forces a girl or woman to have sex when they don't want to.  That it was violent and against the woman's will.  He couldn't wrap his head around this, as I expected.  He quietly listened as I tried to best explain the impact on that girl or woman for the rest of her life.  How sometimes the girls are so embarrassed that they actually don't tell.  I was more than clear that rape is a horrible crime and that the boys or men that commit that crime deserve to be in jail.  "Does this sound like what those boys were doing on your playground?" I asked.  "No, mom, not at all." When you use a word as awful as rape in a joking way, you make light of what it really is.  These boys on the playground thought this word was funny, but it is very far from that.

We continued to talk about how to handle this at school and I explained how proud I was that he came to me, and trusted me to tell him the truth.  He said that several boys say this word all the time and that he couldn't give me more examples, but would listen for it now that he knows the meaning.  I asked if he would feel comfortable telling the boys that it was an awful word to use.  He wasn't sure he wanted to do that, but decided it would be best to play with different friends, if the word was being used around him.  I knew that he would be okay and handle this is a way that made him feel comfortable, but what do I do with this information?  Do I call the teacher and principal?  My gut told me that they needed to know.  That as educators and creators of a safe environments for our kids, they would want to perhaps handle this on a higher level.  Do I speak to the parents of the two boys? 

Paul and I talked about it later that night and he wondered if these boys had heard the word used in Grand Theft Auto, where you score extra points for raping a prostitute.  Are 10 year olds playing this game?  Sadly, our guess is that this is the likely source.  How can this be a popular game, allowed in homes with young impressionable boys and still we wonder why the rape culture is so prevalent? 

On Facebook, the advice was incredibly supportive and I felt not only happy with how I had answered Ty's question but so proud of my amazing son and the relationship that we have.  While several moms worried about having these types of discussions with their own kids in the future, others had been down this road before too.  My friend Becky had some great advice and directed me to an interesting article that was just written about this topic the week before.  Even a few teachers recognized that the school should know about this and might choose to address it with staff and perhaps in a safe school discussion with students.  We all agreed that this is not just a word. It has far reaching implications.

I've taken the weekend to decide how I will proceed.  I think that I'll call the teacher to make her aware, as most of the boys saying this word are in other Grade 5 classes.  I'm going to speak to the principal as well, so that they can make the best decision to educate our boys and girls about this topic.  I truly hope that once the boys know the true severity of the word "rape", they won't say it in such a flippant way.

As challenging as these ongoing discussions are and as anxious as Ty can get about doing the right thing, I still love the open dialogue we have and would never choose it to be any different.  Life is tough, growing up is hard.  These topics are going to present themselves throughout life.  At least our bedtime rituals are creating the safe place to share those together.  He calls me his best friend because he can tell me anything.  He tells me that after we talk each night, that his chest feels lighter!  How amazing is this boy?  

Now if only we could go back to just dealing with the s and f words for a while.....



JackiYo said...

What a difficult topic to talk to your child about, let alone a ten-year-old. Kudos to you for not shying away and being honest and gentle, but truthful in your answer.

There is one thing that I would want to say a little differently if I was in the same situation (and probably will be someday). I'd want to make it clear that rape is when anyone forces anyone else to have sex - regardless of gender. Let's say, for example, a male friend later comes to his friend and says "I think I was raped." The answer might be, "That can only happen to girls" or "How is that possible?" Or if a boy believes only a girl can be raped, he will be less likely to talk about it if it does ever, heaven forbid, happen to him. A woman can rape a man. A man can rape a man. A woman can rape a woman. And, the most common scenario, of course, a man can rape a woman.

Sorry you had to talk about his horrible topic with your bright, beautiful boy. We want to shield them from the awful side of humanity... Again, kudos to you for taking the time to talk to him about it.

Lisa said...

I love, respect and admire the open lines of communication you have with your boys. You're a great mama. (PS Love the photo of the two of you.)

Ann-Marie - momstown mama said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Heather Hamilton said...

acki, you are totally right and I did hesitate when I told him about it only happening to girls. I didn't want to scare him at that moment (he is so sensitive) so I choose to stick to man to woman. I will absolutely tell him that it can happen to a man and man, etc. as we do have several friends who have been abused by the same gender.

thanks for your comment- appreciate it.

Heather Hamilton said...

Thank of my faves. From a few years ago.