Many parents are preparing for the mountainous milestone of sending their child off to college. Many parents feel ambivalent about this departure.
“I don’t know if I can take another day of this – I can’t wait till they go to school! ” Yes, parenting teens can be trying.
“I cry just thinking about them leaving.” Yes, it is very sad seeing them leave. For the first month.
“OMG, where did the years go?” Yes, the years did fly by. But you haven’t seen anything yet.
“Is my child ready to live alone? She won’t even make her bed!” Yes, they are ready – you’ll be shocked how clean they keep their dorm rooms. Yet when they return home, all those homemaking skills mysteriously vanish.
“Can I go instead of them? Please?” And no you can’t. You may go to a different college if you’d like, but this is your child’s time to spread their wings. You did the roots thing – your job is done. (Well, it is never really done!)
I remember when each of my three daughters set off for their freshman year of college. One daughter was five hours away by car, the other two were five hours away by plane. It was not easy saying goodbye to my “babies”, however, I knew the next phase of their lives would offer exceptional learning experiences: both academic and social.
Concerned about their personal safety, I sent them off with the usual advice:
- Don’t accept drinks from anyone.
- Don’t set your drink down. If you do, just discard it because someone most certainly drugged it.
- Always attend events in groups.
- Never leave a friend behind – and certainly don’t be left behind.
- Stay sober. Always.
I still stand by that advice, of course. I’m a mom! And we all know our kids heed our advice, right? Okay, you can stop laughing now.
The problem with that advice…
Adults may view that above advice as useful and practical, but the truth of the matter is we are subtly informing our children that if they are sexually assaulted, it is because they did not follow “the rules”. In other words, if they are assaulted, it is their own fault. We call that victim-blaming. In fact, if a young woman (or man) is raped on campus (well, anywhere for that matter), typically the questions asked of the survivor are:
What were you wearing?
Were you drinking?
How much did you drink?
Why did you go to their house?
It is an arduous and often humiliating experience to report this crime – for the victim.
Therefore, rather than reporting the incident, they will choose to suffer in silence:
- They may be fearful of running into the perpetrator on campus or in class, therefore, begin to skip classes or avoid certain parts of campus.
- They may feel guilt and shame: Why did they wear that outfit? Why did they drink too much?
- They may begin to suffer from depression.
- The mental and emotional repercussions are devastating and can potentially last a lifetime.
What do we do about campus sexual assault?
In the last decade, sexual assault awareness has ever so slowly become a topic of discussion on college campuses. Finally. Unfortunately, having a discussion about respect and consent when your child enters college is about 18 years too late. We must talk to kids about consent, respect, and healthy relationships throughout their childhood. They construct their personal narrative about what is “right” and “wrong” during their formative years from what has been primarily taught at home, but also from peers, media, school, and other external influences. The #MeToo movement has also had a significant impact on these conversations.
Want some tips?
- Starting at ages 0-5, model consensual behavior. This can be done by sharing toys, food, and playing with others.
- Beginning in kindergarten, schools must teach these same concepts of respect and consent at developmentally appropriate ages. In other words, sex education starts in kindergarten.
- Demand that your school district provides (sex) education which includes disscussion of consent and respect.
- Many young people do not understand what consensual sex looks like. Discuss different scenarios with your child about appropriate sexual behavior.
- Consensual sex occurs when both (sober) parties enthusiastically agree to participate.
- If alcohol or drugs are involved in a romantic encounter, it is an automatic “not now, lover.” (Sadly, alcohol is the number one date rape drug.)
- If a person relentlessly badgers another person to have sex, and the other person finally agrees to a sexual encounter to get them off their back, it is not consensual sex. In other words, if the object of one’s desire says no, move on – don’t be a pest!
- Young men are taught that their sexual prowess is an important aspect of their masculinity. As parents, we must change the social norms of what defines a “man”. Power and dominance over others is not a sexy trait.
- Use media such as television to open conversation about appropriate and inappropriate behavior towards others. It frightens me that we have high-profile leaders modeling very inappropriate behavior. It is not something to shrug off — young people are paying attention.
Title IX, which demands that women have the same educational opportunity as men (including a safe learning environment in which they don’t worry about being assaulted), has helped structure conversation about sexual assault. Programs are popping up that demand women be taken seriously when reporting an assault – in fact, universities will lose funding if they don’t implement programs to help victims of assault. There are external programs geared for men in which they teach them how to be positive role models for other young men. This is one instance in which peer pressure is a great thing. There are other programs such as It’s On Us that offer programs on college campuses to teach students how to prevent sexual assault.
Do you have a child heading off to college?
Watch this amazing series of interviews by USA Today. I was blown away by the honesty these young people and adults displayed. Make time to talk to your child about consent and respect. If your child identifies as male, discuss how social norms skew the idea of what it means to be a man. Don’t be afraid to have the conversation – they really do want some guidance. But most importantly, let them know you are there for them – unconditionally.