Why Raising Children To Be 'Seen And Not Heard' Makes Them Targets For Predators

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Why Raising Children To Be 'Seen And Not Heard' Only Grooms Them For Sexual Abuse By Predators
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Think about it...

Last year a 26-year-old man named Chad Cameron Camp boarded an American Airlines flight from Dallas to Portland, Oregon. With no assigned seating on the only lightly populated flight, Camp selected a middle-seat — next to an unaccompanied 13-year-old girl (whose parents had paid the additional unaccompanied minor fare in order to ensure her safety in travel).

Before take-off, a flight attendant offered Camp "another seat where he would have more room," which he politely declined. The girl was not asked if she wanted to move.

Upon take-off, Camp proceeded to molest the girl for a full 30 minutes, with no one batting an eyelash.

According to an article in the Washington Post:

"When a flight attendant returned for drink service a half hour later, she saw Camp’s hand on the teenager’s crotch, according to the [criminal complaint filed by the girl's family]. She also saw 'a single tear coming down the victim’s cheek.'"

News stories like this in which children are victims of unwanted sexual contact and sexual abuse make me so fucking angry.

And at the same time, my heart hurts so deeply for these children.

I could share my ire over what I think should be done to this guy (it would not be pretty) or to the airline, but then this post would be just one more voice on the internet complaining or pointing blame, but that does no one any good — and we must do something.

To understand how we got here, let’s take a look at the past.

When I first read the Washington Post article, something about the situation seemed very familiar to me and I believe it helped me pinpoint where the problem comes from. 

My family had a saying that I heard way too often: “Children should be seen and not heard.

This phrase suggests that little boys and girls should be well-behaved and keep quiet. Often girls are socialized to be much more submissive and quiet than boys, but I know this phrase impacts boys as well.

The phrase was applied to me mostly when I would run around like a loud, obnoxious little kid and someone wanted me to stop doing that. It worked eventually, I guess, from an exhausted and tired parent’s perspective. My spirit was “broken” and I became the typical first born who never breaks any of the rules my parents set for me.

When I was a young woman on my own for the first time in college, though, I saw the darker side to this seen-and-not-heard approach to parenting and I decided I didn't want to raise a child who might stay silent in any single instance when she or he needed to speak up.

In my honest opinion, this seen-and-not-heard parenting philosophy is fucked up — and I believe it unwittingly grooms our own children for sexual abuse at the hands of predators.

Look at the phrase in the context of the situation on the plane.

The message it sends to kids is, "Behave. Follow the rules. Listen to and do not question adults."

This little girl did just that.

The fasten seat belt sign remained lit the entire time it took the plane to taxi, take off, and reach 10,000 feet. Throughout that time, this man was groping this girl over and over. She didn't get out of her seat. She “behaved.”

Adults get yelled at by the flight attendants if they merely have their tray tables down or their seat back reclined during this time in any flight. We are all socialized to behave on airplanes. But NO ONE of any age should experience what this creep did to this young woman.

The other message the seen-and-not-heard motto send to kids is, "Stay quiet."

She did that too. She didn’t even use the call button available to her to get someone’s attention. This young woman sat silently, tolerating menacing, violating and oppressive behavior from a grown man. This should not have been able to happen this way. Not at all.

Never has there been a stronger case for teaching children to say, “Fuck this system.”

Here are my questions for fellow parents.

  • Do we stifle the natural reactions of our kids when they express discomfort?
  • Do we do this to ourselves? 
  • Do we allow unexpected and unwanted touch from others instead of teaching them to ask first?
  • How can we teach our sons and daughters ways to respond safely if —God forbid, if — they find themselves in a similar situation?

I see opportunities for guidance in at least two of what I call "5 Building Blocks To A Healthy Sexuality" — Communication and Consent.

Communication

1. Encourage children to feel the physical reactions they experience in their bodies.

To be fair, that requires us as parents to be aware in our own bodies, too. In my coaching work, I help adults get back in touch with themselves — lots of us are numb, and numbing doesn’t help us to be aware parents. I know I did a pretty thorough job numbing myself with booze during my divorce.

The point here is that I’m sure any young person would feel uncomfortable if an unknown adult — let alone a creepy man — chose to sit right next to them on a "half empty airplane" if they were traveling alone. We must encourage our children to tap into and trust their discomfort and then do something with it. 

2. Encourage children to speak out and express what they feel in their bodies.

For example, in this situation, try role-playing potential ways to handle such a situation.

When I talked with my daughters about this story, I asked them what they would do. My oldest said, “I’d call over a flight attendant and ask for a different seat and tell them that this guy is making me feel uncomfortable. What else are they for?”

She was annoyed that the flight attendants asked the perpetrator if he wanted to move to be more comfortable but no one asked the young woman if she wanted to move seats. She’s right: that was a blatant miss. Anything that encourages the child to speak out would be a step in the right direction.

Consent

1. Children must learn where their boundaries are.

This is a skill will follow them into adulthood.

Do you know where your own boundaries are? You might think you have no boundaries or that you're okay with everything, but would you be okay if someone tried to pick your nose? I’m guessing the answer is “No,” but not many adults have taken the time to figure this stuff out in a safe space.

I find it fascinating to help someone learn to express their boundaries. The first time I watched others in the exercise of doing this, I swear that as I witnessed the scenes they were role-playing, it was like they were speaking a foreign language. When it was my turn I found myself literally paralyzed. I didn't have the language to do it on my own.

It's extremely humbling to be in a situation where you need to speak up and can’t.

This also showed me how beneficial it is to teach our children to watch the body language of their friends so that when they see their friend is uncomfortable, they can check in to see if they are doing okay and offer to help.

2. Children must learn the language for expressing these boundaries.

This will help them express any discomfort and be aware of when they are on the verge of allowing their boundaries to be crossed. It’s not only perfectly acceptable but advisable for children to learn this. However, it’s impossible to learn from any experiential exercise just by reading about it. Some adults may need some role play experiences of their own first in order to help role play with their kids. 

I would be pleased to refer anyone who is interested in trying these exercises to a Somatica Method colleague who can help you locally.

My bottom line is that the hackneyed parenting refrain that “Children should be seen and not heard” is just way of grooming kids for sick f*ck predators Chad Cameron Camp.

But by working through the questions and exercises above, you can help your own children be strong, assertive, and confident kids who wouldn’t stand for shitty behavior like this from anyone.

xxoo,

The MamaSutra

Dr. Lanae St.John, ACS is a San Francisco Bay Area Board Certified Sexologist, Parenting & Relationship Coach, and Sex Educator who teaches Human Sexuality to college students at City College of San Francisco, writes a blog as “The MamaSutra” and has recently completed a manuscript for a parenting book about human sexuality. She is also the proud mother of two daughters with whom she actively embodies her message of empowerment, freedom of expression, and a sex and body-positive mentality.

 

This article was originally published at The MamaSutra. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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