Saturday, 27 August 2016

Why abstinence based education is harmful at any age

So today I have a ranty post for you guys, and I'd love to hear opinions that aren't mine at the end of this, so pay close attention lovely peoples.

For a bit of a background before I get into the nitty gritty, NAPCAN (or the National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect) are holding their annual child protection week from 4th to 10th September. As a part of the lead up to this week, and as a new initiative brought into schools, daycare centres and kindergartens, all children are being given lots of lectures about safety and healthy living at the moment. In Miss K's kindergarten in the last week alone they have used this as an excuse to discuss healthy foods, anatomy and exercise. They will also be holding various conversations about protective behaviour etc. One thing they have already discussed is acceptable physical contact, but I'm not impressed with the way they have handled this.

On Wednesday afternoon when all us parents went in to pick up our darling monsters, the head teacher informed us all that they had had to have a discussion about appropriate physical contact between the kids while at kindergarten. They had put in a total ban on hugging and kissing, and the kids saying I love you to each other.  This isn't the part I really had a problem with, I know that a zero contact policy is usually the norm at schools and kindergartens, so while bringing problems of its own, it is to be expected. It was when she told us that they had also informed the kids of the acceptable people to hug and kiss outside of kindergarten that I had an issue. Now I'm not sure if she was only giving us the abridged version for the sake of not holding us up too long, however when it was explained to us, she informed that the list of acceptable people to hug, kiss, and give admissions of love to outside of kindergarten consisted of parents, grandparents and siblings. That was the entire list she gave to us. Later on at home when I questioned Miss K about this, she repeated that list back to me, however given she has proven time and time again that she doesn't have the most reliable memory, she may have only been going off the abridged version that we were given at pick up. But even if that wasn't the complete list, that is what Miss K has taken from their conversation and I am mad as hell about this.

Number one, while I appreciate that they are madly trying to cram as much education about protective behaviours into a tiny window of space, with an audience not known for its attention span, it's not their damn job to dictate what my child does outside of kindergarten. I am the one who makes the rules outside of those four walls, and I do not appreciate anyone coming in and thinking they know better than me about what is best for my child. This new protective behaviours education is meant to be aimed at the parents, and not the children, so lecture me by all means, but don't do it through my child.

Number two, if that was the complete list of acceptable people to hug, go to hell. In my family alone there are eight aunts and uncles and five cousins which were excluded from that list. Then there are the family friends who we love to give affection too. Then there are the ladies at the supermarket who are always up for a hug and a chat. By making any kind of list of acceptable people to give physical affection too, they make this a shameful act, which it isn't. It is an innocent show of love and friendship given by an incredibly friendly child, and to place limits on it changes it into something dirty which I refuse to allow to happen. This isn't like the list of people Miss K isn't allowed to swear in front of, this isn't something we have to hide. Physical affection is an actual biological need. Multiple studies have shown the importance of affection and physical contact to the human brain and body, and to limit it runs the risk of harm.

I already put zero tolerance physical contact rules right up there next to abstinence based sexual education programs, and this just cements my convictions. By teaching kids the best way to be safe is to not do something, you do them a disservice. You ignore a young person's natural inclination towards curiosity and experimentation, and you fail to keep them safe. By teaching abstinence of any form, you fail to teach children to know their own limits and the limits of the people around them. You fail to teach them self preservation, because it assumes that for the rest of their life, everyone is just going to comply to the rules they were taught, which never ever actually happens. You also fail to teach them about consent which is one of the biggest lesson we can teach our kids before we let them out into the big wide world. In the short term abstinence looks like the safest option, but we have seen time and time again that it is the most dangerous thing to learn.

The only silver lining I can see out of all of this is that it forced me to have a conversation with Miss K about consent. We sat down at home and I explained to her that people were allowed to not want physical affection, and that she has to accept their wishes, I also let her know that she was allowed to refuse physical contact, and that it was her right to have her refusal accepted. This is the lesson she was meant to learn that day, not that hugs are dirty and must be stopped. I'm sure I'll need to have this conversation again and again, especially as she gets older and I begin preparing her for a world where rape apologists exist, but for now it is simply about being allowed to say no to a hug.

I would love to know what you think. Am I overreacting in my anger at the kindergarten? Do you think they botched their attempts? Do you agree with them? Let me know down below in the comments.

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