Teaching Our Children About Bodily Autonomy


Once, a long while back, I read an excellent article by a blogger on Blogspot, written about how we train our children to be sexual targets – by dismissing bodily autonomy.
I have searched and searched for that post, because aside from the usual “don’t make them hug people they don’t want to, etcetera,” she also mentioned something that had always bothered me but I couldn’t put my finger on until she said it, and I shouted YES! as I read it. About the message we give our children in the doctor’s office.

I wish I could find that blog article- if anyone reads this and it clicks for them, please send me the link!

As I am reading through Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker for a reading group, I can’t help but think over and again about the concept and realization of bodily autonomy and how we treat it culturally shapes our children for better or (usually) worse.


I think the concept of bodily autonomy is not understood very well (or perhaps, more accurately and sadly… accepted and supported) in American culture.
Most parents (not all) teach their children to give physical affection to close friends or family members even when they are clear they don’t feel comfortable giving that affection away.
We teach children to “politely” tell people no with excuses so that we don’t chance hurting someone else’s feelings rather than recognizing *no is a complete sentence*, whether we tell them that directly or subtly through our own actions.
We often tell them that their body is a private place and no one should touch it without their permission – except doctors. Then the child should calm down and let the doctor “do his job.” This was the point made on the other blog, she detailed it so much better and it made much sense in the context of bodily autonomy.

Let me take the doctor aspect to its terrible implications: as we are young, this is the one person we are told can touch us, even when we scream in protest at their jabbing foreign chemicals, DNA, blood, aborted fetal cells, viruses, and more into our blood stream; even when they strap us down as infants (if we have the horrific misfortune of being born male in America) and slice 1/3 of our foreskin off; and even when we say clear “NOs” to various touches and medical examinations… because what we want for our body is trumped by someone else (parents or doctors) “knowing better.”
As adults, were someone to give us “medical” exams, procedures, or drugs against our screams of protest, it is almost universally illegal, but we teach children to accept this behavior. Then, as grown women, we generally accept it, despite that it is illegal – this is where the term “birth rape” comes to be used.

Why, after forcing our boy’s genitals to be mutilated against their protesting (and “need” to be strapped down to prevent his little body from revolting off the table) and teaching our children to do whatever a doctor tells them to, are we surprised when women are coerced, threatened (with CPS, with lies about baby’s safety, etc), and degraded into doing whatever a Dr tells them, when they are at their most vulnerable?  And we expect the men whose mothers sought genital mutilation on them, to protect a woman’s genital integrity?

Bodily autonomy is a foreign concept here… and despite my inexperience with other cultures around the world, seeing images of women who were burned with acid because they were escaping physically abusive husbands, having babies murdered inside of them when they didn’t grovel for their government’s permission/licensure to grow life in their womb, and males and females of every age around the world having their foreskin forcibly removed… I think it may be foreign elsewhere, too.

Some good things to teach our children to build the concept of bodily autonomy, which will empower them against numerous issues (whether to stop it, or prevent as much trauma via self-blame if it does):

~ moms and dads: tickling stops as soon as the child says no. Period.

~ if you don’t force adults to hug, kiss, and sit on the lap of another person they don’t want to (or even if you have no clue and would), don’t do this to children. Grandma or Uncle Bob are a big girl and boy and can deal with their own hurt AND hopefully they will learn why it’s a good thing to respect children as people – traumatizing a child and teaching them they are not able to say no to emotional/physical affection is extremely difficult to undo.

~ if a child says no even to a doctor touching their body, honor that. Let them choose. Guess what will be far less traumatizing, if you choose to be a respectful parent? Talking to them about it. “Why don’t you want them to touch you?” “You have a broken leg. It’s going to hurt, but will feel much better if we let them set it back into place. Do you trust that mommy wants good things for you? I won’t do anything knowingly that will hurt you, and I think this is the best thing for you. Can we do this together?”

~ trust your child when they tell you a specific person makes them uncomfortable. Tell them they never need to be around them if they don’t want to be.

~ allow them to see that there is nothing they can tell you that is too big for you to handle. This goes a LONG way towards them feeling safe and confident in their own body, with you protecting them as best you can.

~ teach them Survival Signals (via Gavin de Becker), so they know what to be aware of: forced teaming, charm and niceness, too many details, typecasting, loan-sharking, the unsolicited promise, and discounting the word NO.

2 responses »

  1. Pingback: Looking Ahead to High School health, some more | Beautiful Chaos

  2. Pingback: Sexual Honesty | Beautiful Chaos

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