The #MeToo movement kicked off in 2017, and women who had been sexually harassed or assaulted shared their stories far and wide. The social media driven phenomenon exposed several powerful men as predators, drew attention to women’s causes and made a multitude of victims feel less alone and more empowered to stand up for themselves.
It seems though that the repercussions of this bravery have not yet impacted South African men. The latest hashtag doing the rounds is one we should all be ashamed of. Take a look at #AmInext on Twitter, or browse any local news site and you'll discover what appears to be a full scale attack on women and children in this country.
Right now, South African women are in mourning. We're afraid, we're disappointed, we're frustrated. And we're angry.
IN PICTURES: South African women and children have had enough
As mother's we're afraid not only for ourselves and our sisters, but also for our precious children. #MeToo and #AmInext isn’t only about women, and it isn’t only about adults.
Who is responsible for improving the current status quo? The government? The police? Our schools? Men in general?
Debate will rage, but at the end of the day as parents we are raising the men and women of the future, and it is in our power to do our best to ensure a healthier, more balanced, more safe South Africa for the next generation.
What can we, as parents, do to ensure a safer future for our children?
The answer is to talk about it. Do away with the taboo. Teach kids to respect themselves and each other, to stand up for themselves and others.
As difficult as it might be to discuss not only sex, but also all the associated topics such as safety and consent, with your kids, it is now more important than ever to teach our kids about empathy, boundaries, relationships and communication.
Because if you don’t, then who will?
“Sex ed isn’t adequately taught in schools," says South African sex educator Kate Rowe, "understandably so, as there is just too much content to get through. The CAPS curriculum recently changed the Life Skills subject to focus more on budgets and tax, for example - all very useful, but there are very few relationship-based topics. In my opinion, the social-emotional skills we need to navigate relationships, boundaries, consent and so on are not addressed in schools.”
How do we communicate?
“Parents need to stand up and pay attention,” she says. “They cannot assume the schools are handling this part of education. Children can Google anything they want, but it turns out that what they really ask is 'How do we communicate?' 'How do we flirt?'
One particularly insightful question was recently asked of me by a 16-year-old boy: "How do we not get divorced?”
Clearly today’s kids are in need of connection skills, so Rowe says parents must aim to create an environment where families can discuss anything.
“Engage with what your child brings,” she advises. “Parents need to know where their comfort zones are. They need to have a vision of what they want for their kids, and then model it.”
What if I can't bear talking about these things with my kids?
She suggests that if as a parent you are having trouble discussing certain topics with your kids, then it’s okay to hand these over to a trusted individual.
“If a topic is difficult for you, you won’t be able to have a balanced conversation with your teen. Provide access to a safe and trusted adviser, one who doesn’t assume the child already has sexual exposure. Too many sources of information assume a certain level of experience, which is usually incorrect,” Rowe says.
She quotes a recent Harvard article about how adults can promote young people’s healthy relationships and prevent misogyny and sexual harassment: “For adults to hand over responsibility for educating young people about romantic love—and sex—to popular culture is a dumbfounding abdication of responsibility.”
Many parents think their relationships with their kids are fine, but Rowe reveals the kids are not agreeing.
“Parents are not seeing the dire straits our children are in,” she says. “They are stressed, they are anxious. Children as young as 11 are having sex, experimenting with drugs – it’s not a good situation.”
As the founder of Explorare, a local business that offers courses to educate parents and kids on these tough topics, Rowe is well placed to share her tips for engaging kids in these potentially difficult topics.
“It’s not a once-off conversation,” she says. “It must start the moment they are born. Children need constant engagement, and ongoing discussion. Once you get over the first awkward conversations, you’ll see it doesn’t have to be so tough. Sex is everywhere, yet no one talks about it. But kids need to know they have control over their situations.”
Kate Rowe advises parents to:
- Have more open conversations to provide safe emotional spaces so conversations can happen.
- Model good relationship skills such as communication, listening and empathy.
- Practise saying no, and be clear, honest and authentic at all times.
- Teach that it is okay to change our minds, even after saying yes. This goes for friendships, family relationships, at work – everywhere.
#MeToo is about consent, and kids need to know what is okay for them and what is not. “It is important to notice what we are feeling, because feelings give information about what is okay and what is not. And not only in sexual relationships, but all through our lives,” she adds.
And we can hope and pray that the long term impact will be a safer South Africa for women and children.
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