When will no actually mean no?

Well over a year ago, I found myself reading a blog by a woman I don’t know. I found her blog through an online network of bloggers who come together to support each other’s work. I thought her title and teaser looked fun, so I clicked.

As I read more of her words, though, my stomach dropped and my blood pressure increased tenfold. Was I really reading this? Was this for real?

Sadly, it was. This self-proclaimed “boy-mom” really just publicly shamed a little neighbor girl for not wanting Nerf darts shot at her while she rode her bike. This woman was frustrated that the little girl’s mom came over to address the situation. And instead of taking a moment to explain personal boundaries to her dart-wielding son, the woman resorted to calling the little girl a sissy.

I guess that makes me a sissy, too. I wouldn’t want to be shot by darts while I tried to ride my bike.

Back then, with the ugliness of physical violation of girls fresh on my mind–and seeing as how this blame-shifting mindset can easily lend to more severe issues down the road–I couldn’t bring myself to read through to the end. Hands shaking, I clicked the red X of the page and closed it.

Thinking about this blog post still makes me shake. The attitude behind it still makes me mad, too, if we’re being honest.

When will no actually mean no?

I’m both a boy-mom and a girl-mom. I feel like I can be fair to both genders when I say that we need to teach both boys and girls to respect the boundaries–respect the no–of others, regardless of gender. Just because a girl doesn’t like to get hit by darts doesn’t mean she’s a sissy. It means she doesn’t like it. Letting these “innocent” things go, in my opinion, leads to a no-good road and in fact, perpetuates the rape culture we live in.

It takes effort and time to teach boundaries, but the work will be rewarded as kids grow up.

By way of adversity, our family was forced to take heed of this, and take it seriously. The more we talk about it, the more my kids are able to discern when their boundaries are violated, and that it’s not OK.

I’m not even limiting this to physical violation, but that to any degree is wrong. We have to start believing this! If we want to work against rape culture, it starts with the innocent stuff. It starts with respecting a girl who doesn’t want to be hit by Nerf darts, and sitting down with the son to address the seriousness of the matter. Change doesn’t start with calling someone a sissy for not liking something. That’s called being a bully.

And this problem isn’t just somewhere out there in blogging land. It’s in our communities. It’s in our churches. It’s in our schools.

Consider this example: My daughter doesn’t like having the stuff on and in her school desk messed with. There’s a boy who continuously crosses her boundary. We’ve talked often about telling him to stop. She does. He refuses. It’s frustrating for my daughter, albeit innocent. But you can bet I’m taking note. If he can’t respect her no about stuff on her desk, how will he be able to respect her no on anything else?

And it’s not just opposite genders or between kids, either. Respecting boundaries needs to happen within any relationships, regardless of gender and age. Kids need to know who is safe and who isn’t. Having the wisdom to understand this comes with instruction and practice.

For instance, there are adults my children come into contact with that refuse to listen to “no” or “stop.” But it’s all fun and games, right? Not in my opinion. My kids need to learn to be wary of anyone who refuses to listen to their words, even in play. We have conversations when spending time with these adults that go like this: “You know so-and-so won’t listen to you when you ask to stop. This is a pattern we have seen many times. Because of this, don’t put yourself into a situation that you eventually won’t like. So-and-so won’t listen when you want to stop.”

It’s not ideal–maybe it’s not even fair–to put the weight of acting like an adult on a child. But when it comes to respecting boundaries, it is important enough for me to do so. My kids need to know they have a voice, and that they have control to avoid certain situations that have routinely shown a disrespectful pattern.

They also need to have a clear idea of what a safe person looks like.

Parents and extended family, this is relatively easy to teach. When a child says no, even if it is to giving a hug, accept it. If a child’s body language shows they don’t want close contact, back off without being asked. Teach kids they have a voice, and safe people listen to it. When a child asks to stop, even if in the last 30 seconds they were laughing at the same thing, end the play immediately. Their “please stop” is important. Don’t make them ask again.

Within sibling groups, teach them to respect each other. If a child doesn’t stop when a no is issued, intervene. Within friend groups, teach that being a good friend is listening to and heeding each person’s words and space.

Why is this important now? School is in full swing. I get reports home from my kids. I hear other parents express concern at the various ways lines are crossed at school. The issue is at hand, but it’s not beyond repair.

By positively influencing the circles we’re already in, let’s work to make this community a place where no doesn’t make you a sissy, it really does mean no.

Malinda Just has been writing Lipstick & Pearls for the Free Press since 2008. To read more of her writing visit her blog, malindajust.com