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6 Mistakes We Make Raising Sons – Kids Books To Prevent Sexual Assault
[Featured Image description: Book cover of ‘Real Cowboys,’ by Hoefler & Bean.]
It’s up to us to teach our boys about enthusiastic consent and the gray areas that put girls and women in danger. Below, we discuss how to educate our sons on respecting the agency and safety of both themselves and others.
Content warning: General discussions on rape culture and sexual harassment.
First Talks About Body Boundaries
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204: Preventing Sexual Assault
We’re not raising ‘Nice Guys.’ We’re raising predators.
Parents of sons – we need to talk.
Look around at all those little girls in your son’s school playground. Those girls whose names you know, who go to school with your boys. The fierce ones, the shy ones, the messy ones, and that one with her shoes on the wrong feet.
Every single one of those girls will be sexually assaulted or harassed before she’s 20.
Every. Single. One.
RAINN’s 1 in 6 women experiencing ‘rape or attempted rape’ statistic doesn’t count unreported assaults. Nor does it count slaps on the ass while serving tables at a first job. It doesn’t include being followed home on a dark night. It doesn’t include the lovers and friends shaming them into sex they don’t want. It doesn’t include rape threats for being a female gamer/writer/zookeeper/anything.
This doesn’t count the 1 in 33 men and boys who report sexual assault, and the many more who don’t feel safe enough to do so.
This is our normal. This is the rape culture we perpetuate when we let toxic masculinity become someone else’s problem.
This is our responsibility to change. Learn to identify the mistakes we make as parents – and how to change what we expect from our boys.
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Mistake #1: Believing our perfect sons are incapable of bad choices
Victims don’t grow up in a vacuum. If they are being attacked – who is attacking them?
Our SONS. My sons, and yours – and many of our daughters. You know – those kids we’re raising to be so polite and respectful.
If you hear a quiet voice in the back of your head saying ‘Except not my son, he would never…’ that’s an example of embedded rape culture – the systemic, invisible influences we promote when we ignore what’s wrong in our society.
Our kids can be precious, wonderful, and lovely, and they can still be capable of doing stupid, awful, entitled, ignorant, and even violent things.
FIX IT NOW: Model non-toxic masculinity
Prevent male aggression: stop shaming men and boys when they show emotion, overwhelm, and vulnerability. Giving them healthy outlets for human reactions is how we prevent toxic masculinity before it boils over into an active shooter situation.
‘Tough Guys‘ is perfect for kids enamored with super-heroes and great feats of strength. While I would have preferred some variation, it means something to see strong, capable men who are willing to cry and vent their feelings in a healthy way.
‘Real Cowboys’ is deceptively simple and utterly stunning. Rough, tough, strong and powerful cowboys (who can also be cowgirls, and any race) are charged with protecting and nurturing others. They feel loneliness, sadness, and often need help. This book is magic – stories like this are what we need to tie the bravado of the ‘American Man’ into the responsibility, kindness, and vulnerability our fathers and grandfathers were never allowed to show.
‘Flare‘ is a simple early reader with a deceptively complex story. When Flare the phoenix is born, the Sun, Cloud, and Wind are alarmed to see he doesn’t cry. With some help, he eventually learns how his tears are necessary and valuable. (Seriously – it’s science.)
Just before Q entered kindergarten, he informed me that 5-year-olds are not allowed to cry. I don’t know where he got this idea, but reading ‘The Different Dragon‘ sorted out that nonsense right away. The storytelling is a bit messy and it could use some editing, but lines like this make it worth it: “It’s a lot of pressure to be fierce all the time. All that roaring and gnashing of teeth and snorting fire. It’s a lot of work to scare people and be so mean. And nobody ever wants a dragon to be funny or sad or just regular.” Bonus points for normalizing gay parents (two moms) without making it a thing!
In Clive And His Babies, male-presenting Clive gently and joyously takes care of his baby dolls in this board book. Unlike many books where the kind and gentle boy is an outcast, his nurturing behavior is normal and his other male-presenting friends share the same interests.
You might also like: Whining, Tantrums & Angry Outbursts: Picture Books To Help Kids Embrace big Feelings and Chill
Mistake #2: Equating ‘politeness‘ with ‘respect‘
When the boys were wee babes, my (male) partner argued, “Can’t we just raise them to be decent humans? Then they will naturally treat women with respect and not rape them.”
NOPE. We teach our sons not to rape people…by teaching them not to rape people.
Parents of sons are not excused from the uncomfortable conversation of consent. Parents of daughters and nonbinary kids don’t have the luxury of skipping uncomfortable conversations. This conversation was not a choice for my mother, as she armed me with a bottle of Baby Soft perfume to use as mace on my first walk to the school bus stop. That’s the day I learned that we must expect attacks and remain vigilant. At all ages. Every day. Everywhere.
I was six.
FIX IT NOW: Teach your sons that women are people, not objects. What matters to girls matters.
If over half of your bookshelf contains only male characters, we have a problem. Don’t tell me you can’t find good full of books that pass the Uhura test. There are sooo many.
Not all books starring girls are created equal – most reinforce male supremacy. Massive aggregate booklists (cough, cough… A Mighty Girl) boast ‘the largest collection of books and movies’ specifically because they include anything, even if it’s a pile of vile stereotypes.
- Both girls and boys (and non-binary kids) should read an equal mix of protagonists as powerful, vulnerable, complex protagonists that don’t conform to narrow gender roles.
- Beware any story that features a ‘strong female protagonist’ (because the rest of us are weak?)
- Throw out stories that claim she’s ‘not like the other girls.’ (Problematic: ‘Violet the Pilot,’ ‘I Am Lucille Ball.’)
- Our BFL reader, Celeste, pointed out that a previous suggested series, the Ladybug Girl series, is a little outdated in gender roles, so we’ve updated it. Check out the comments if you want to read more about that. Thanks, Celeste!
Throwing other women under the bus to boost a single character reinforces the idea that girls have to be ‘like boys’ to make a valuable contribution to the world. Below, find just a few of the stories my rough and tumble boys adore:
‘Little Robot‘ is our favorite graphic novel here at Bumblebee Hollow. With minimal text, both my boys could ‘read’ it independently by age 3, which gives me the occasional precious break. In this story of a little girl of color befriending a robot, she experiences a complex range of emotions – from jealousy, bravery, and fear to joy and curiosity. Bonus points because she’s a handy engineer.
What’s My Super Power? gives us a glimpse into the life of a modern girl from Nanavut, celebrating what she admires in her friends, and searching for what makes her unique and awesome.
The ‘Princess In Black‘ series of chapter books is just witty enough to keep me entertained when the boys ask me to read them over, and over, and over. This super-hero who is into ‘girly-girl’ things like ponies and princess parties shows kids that being traditionally feminine is not mutually exclusive to being a kick-ass monster fighter.
You might also like: Kickass Books That Pass The Uhura Test – Kickass Books Normalizing Girls Of Color
Mistake #3: We Keep Going When They Say ‘Stop’
From birth, we’ve taught Q & R2 the importance of consent. If they say to stop tickling them, we STOP. If we are late for school and I’m wrestling R2 into his shirt and he says to stop, I STOP. If I ask them for a hug them goodbye and they aren’t enthusiastic about it – I STOP. And even when Q is in spoiled-whiny-turd mode, and I realize I’m gripping his arm as he fights to get away – I STOP.
I apologize. I verbally admit I did something wrong and I have the responsibility never to do it again.
There is no appointment important enough, no urge irresistible enough, no need of ours that surpasses their control over who touches them and how.
FIX IT NOW: Practice giving and respecting consent from birth
- Always for consent – even if they said ‘yes’ before.
- Practice saying ‘no,’ because saying ‘no’ is hard.
- Make your consent clear.
- Accept only enthusiastic consent.
- A hesitant a or coerced ‘yes’ means a NO.
- Silence means NO.
- Talk about normal reactions (and appropriate responses) when we accidentally cause someone harm.
I Like It When, Let’s talk about Healthy Body Boundaries, Consent, and Respect, Let’s Talk About Accepting No
A Not So Typical Night Out (free PFD coloring comic, via the BATJC) – Includes some sexual content and substances. As in all things – screen books before reading with your kids!
You Might Also Like: Talking About Consent With Kids – Setting Healthy Boundariesand Accepting ‘NO.’
Mistake #4: Because I Say So.
We tell kids to respect our authority, not our reasoning. Teaching our kids to defer to the whims and directives of authority without question, simply because of their age, career, or social status, is how regular folks do horrible things.
Respecting authority implies we don’t have to respect everyone.
Respecting everyone requires we approach differences with an open mind. We listen, we aim for compassion and understanding. We treat others how we’d like to be treated, and we respect the boundaries and reasonable wishes of others, while respecting our own.
Respecting authority, however, means we apply this kindness to our peers and those we have power over – but we must obey authority. If we respected everyone, there would be no need to obey those in power without question.
Obeying authority is an act of submission and subjugation.
Obeying without question compels us to remain silent and not step out of line. We must obey our elders – even when they abuse us. We must obey our teachers even when they humiliate us. We must obey our employers even when they exploit us. We must obey our customers even when they trample us. We must obey our mentors even when they assault us. We must obey our breadwinners even when trap us. We must obey our police officers even when they murder us. We must obey our owners even as they beat us. We must obey our government even when they kidnap us.
When we put authorities on a pedestal, that leaves the rest of us as subordinates. Do you see where I’m going here? ‘Authority’ is just another word for our masters. This is authoritarian nonsense is the stuff of tyranny.
I teach my boys to respect everyone and question authority.
FIX IT NOW: Teach kids to challenge questionable authority
Baby Dragon is a gentle example of why they should listen when I tell them to stay put and not follow strangers – even if strangers seem helpful. It’s not a perfect book, but it worked for us as a primer, and helped us discuss procedures for if they ever get lost in public.
That Uh-oh Feeling – Claire can’t quite explain what makes her feel so uncomfortable. Cole & Leng don’t try to portray the coach as a ‘bad guy’ – he’s friendly and approachable. If kids are always looking out for ‘bad guys,’ overt abuse, and strangers, they might fail to report things until it’s too late
What I love most about ‘That Uh-Oh Feeling‘ is that both Claire’s friends and mother believe her. If we want our kids to come to us before things go to far, they need to trust that we will take them seriously, and this book models proper behavior for both victims, peers and adults.
‘Ron’s Big Mission‘ is based on the story of astronaut Ron MacNair in his 1959 fight to check books out of the library.
You might also like: Kids Books About Resistance for Courageous Kids
Mistake #5: Creating Loopholes
I’m tired. I’ve been working all day. I paid for everything. I got you this job. I never ask you for anything. You’re so inflexible. Are you sure you don’t want it?
Preventing assault is the responsibility of the attacker – never the victim. We don’t wait for our sons to use ‘code words’ when they want to stop rough-housing. It’s our responsibility as the tickler to remain vigilant for signs that we’re approaching a line.
- ‘No’ means no.
- ‘Well…okay’ means no.
- Silence means no.
We hold power over our children. One day they will have power – over a romantic partner, apprentice, or child who can’t afford the economic, career, and social fallout of drawing a hard line in the sand.
If your victim has to scream “I MEAN IT,” you have already assaulted them.
There is no excuse for letting it get this far. Anything less than enthusiastic consent means STOP. Victims can’t use ‘code words’ when unconscious. Victims can’t verbalize the reasons they feel uncomfortable when they’re young, isolated, and have nowhere else to go.
Many of us have been trained from early childhood to comply and consent to painful experiences or face dire consequences – like being put up for adoption, being institutionalized, or facing the rage of our attackers.
The responsibility preventing assault lies with the attacker. No exceptions.
FIX IT NOW: Teach kids to take responsibility for their actions
I want to list ‘Last Stop On Market Street‘ (not pictured) because it’s a spectacular book on compassion and kind action, but since it’s the boy’s grandmother who initiates kind action, I’ll save it for another day. Right now, let’s focus on stories where the boys themselves direct the action and model good decisions on their own.
‘Invisible Boy‘ gets thrown around in lists about compassion and empathy. It’s okay, but problematic. I list it here specifically because I’m sick of this being the gold standard for empathy.
- There is no empathy modeled in the book, just two kids being baseline decent human beings while the rest of the class are asshats.
- It’s full of stereotypes (nerd has glasses and no one picks him for sports, Asian kid, because chopsticks).
- The invisible boy earns friendship with kind actions, and they are immediately reciprocated.
Kindness is not transactional. Books like this encourage kids with social disabilities to ‘earn’ friendship. Making friends when you are socially awkward doesn’t actually work like that and stories like this teach neurodivergent/awkward kids it’s our fault we’re ignored and bullied.
For kids who do not have a social disability, we should teach them to be kind to kids because they are human, not because they are hoping for a payoff, and not because we owe it to them for a past kindness. WE CAN DO BETTER.
Faith McNulty’s thing is the interaction of fragile creatures from nature thrust into the world of man, relying on the compassion of powerful, conflicted humans to not squish them. I like these books a lot. Although irrelevant to boys behaving nicely, ‘The Lady And The Spider,’ (not pictured) is slow-paced and pensive, but holds up surprisingly well as a mild suspense-thriller for even young toddlers. For this list, ‘Mouse And Tim‘ is the perfect story to illustrate how we have to make the right (compassionate, selfless) choices when we are the ones who hold dominion over those with less. It’s the only book that left my loud and boisterous then-4-year-old into a deep, bittersweet, quiet contemplation after reading.
‘How To Heal A Broken Wing‘ highlights the importance of paying attention and going above-and-beyond what is expected of us. When the city ignores a hurt pigeon lying in the street, only one boy stops to care. He doesn’t have to spend weeks nurturing it back to health, but he decides to make it his responsibility.
Kindness is a muscle, friends. Work it.
Mistake #6: We Stay Silent When Things Feel Off
‘He’s just a product of his time.’
‘I’m sorry you’re offended. I didn’t mean anything by it.’
‘Boys will be boys!’
‘But he’s autistic/three years old/loves to hug!’
Nah. Stop making excuses. If you wouldn’t excuse your daughter from this behavior, you can’t excuse your son.
FIX IT NOW: Stop making excuses – and start identifying and discussing problematic behavior
We need to stop reading stories that romanticize harassment immediately.
When I first started reading with my kids, I bought a copy of ‘A Visitor For Bear‘ because it was a cute, silly story. Only recently, after finding it lost deep in our bookshelves, do I realize this is the type of book I’d put unequivocally in the ‘NOPE’ list today – there is no way I’d read this to my boys after what I’ve learned over the years.
Mouse wants to be Bear’s friend. He keeps sneaking into Bear’s house. Bear says ‘no.’ Mouse apologizes, leaves, and shows up again. Bear shouts ‘NO.’… Repeat. Eventually, Mouse wears Bear down, and they become best friends.
After reading thousands of animal-protagonist books, I’m starting to see the messages we teach our children. No matter whether Bear is male or a bear or a human or the larger and stronger animal or a boss or a king – his ‘NO’ counts.
He shouldn’t have to repeat it. He shouldn’t have to justify it. We should not see him broken down, we should not romanticize harassment.
Being less savvy with facial expressions as my allistic friends, I recommended ‘Hug Machine‘ years ago until long-time BFL’er Amanda L. pointed out that some of the Hug Machine’s targets looked uncomfortable with his affections. Not once does he ask permission, he just goes around groping people. As adorable as the story is, it’s a hard pass.
As an autistic woman, I hate ‘My Brother Charlie‘ with the heat of a thousand suns (hyperbole!) but for now, let’s just look at the cover. Look at it. Does he want that hug? NO HE DOES NOT. Back off, jerks! Charlie does not deserve your abuse. Seriously, I haaaaaate this violent, discriminatory, ableist crap book soooo much. Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.
In ‘Mud Puddle,’ a sentient mud puddle repeatedly attacks a young girl, violating her personal space, clothing, and body – forcing her mother to repeatedly wash her to get clean again.
If she didn’t want to get dirty, she shouldn’t have left the house, amirite?! My 5yo found it hilarious. I did not.
‘You Will Be My Friend‘ is a cross between ‘Hug Machine’ and ‘A Visitor For Bear.’ Lucy chases down and physically assaults various animals until one of them likes the way she behaves.
I totally identified with the Lucy – this was my experience as an autistic kid! Insipid stories like these tell us assault is okay if the attacker is a girl.
I know better now – and I’m sorry.
‘The Bad Mood And The Stick’ not only teaches kids that we can’t just get out of a bad mood – we have to foist it off on someone else. That’s not even the terrible part!
The terrible part is when a white man takes his pants off in the workplace of a black woman even though she protests and explicitly tells him not to.
This delights her so much, they get married. What the actual fuck. Oh wait, I forgot Lemony Snickett has a history of unacceptable behavior toward black women.
Examples of mutual, affirmative, enthusiastic consent
And no – I’m not some radical feminist monster who is against hugs. Just unwanted ones.
If you’re looking for a cute alternative to ‘Hug Machine,’ try ‘Hug Time,’ which features hugs so in-demand, a whale leaps out of the water for them. (I could be wrong, but the main character’s best friend looks surprised by a hug, but not uncomfortable).
Also check out ‘Hug Me,’ about a cactus that wants hugs and manages to keep his prickles to himself until he finds someone who wants them.
If you want a story like ‘You Will Be My Friend’ without the home invasion and assault, try ‘Elwood Bigfoot,’ which was so sweet it made me cry a little, and both boys rejoiced at the ending.
You Might Also Like: Raising Tomorrow’s Fathers – Children’s Books Featuring Loving dads
Stay Curious, Stand Brave & Teach Boys Not To Rape
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On-point. Thank you.
My partner decided to stop reading one of my all-time favorites to our oldest because it modeled bad behavior. “The Monster at The End of This Book” stars beloved Muppet Grover, who continually asks the reader NOT to continue reading… but the implication is that the reader must violate his wishes in order to solve the mystery (just who IS the monster at the end?!?). When she pointed that out, I agreed and we took it out of rotation.
That is awesome. A couple months ago I tried to read ‘The Book With No Pictures,’ to R2 since Q adored it when he was 3. The book makes the reader moan and groan and complain while reading it, and R2 wouldn’t let me finish it. I reassured him it was just make-pretend, but after the second time reading the text pleading to stop, he was so unsettled he took the book out of my hand and put it in the other room while muttering. He wasn’t cool with me even pretending to be uncomfortable with the experience of reading it. I raised an adorable little wet blanket.
I guess you’ll have to retire every single fairy tale ever written then, because all archetypal stories like that, that have helped guide human kind for millenia have at their beginning an interdiction, that then gets broken by the seeker in the tale. It has nothing to do with consent culture, but has to do with the development of the inner hero, wounded healer, leader and becoming an adult person. By saying “don’t read to the end” it encourages curiosity, and courage. Maybe the part of him that feels fear says ‘don’t go to the end’, and by overcoming that part the child encountered his own shadow (the monster at the end), have you thought of that? . To throw out the baby with the bathwater and ban books that don’t conform to these standards, you will deprive your children from deep knowledge. It’s the same as when religious people take religious stories in a literal way. They are not meant that way.
Sabina – let’s be clear. At no point, in any of the work we do at BFL, do we promote banning books.
In fact, I’ve focused entire posts, public talks, and workshops on how to USE problematic books to analyze the implicit bias and discuss how far we’ve come and how far we have left to go.
I read problematic books with my boys all the time. The difference is, we point out how subtle coercion and the assumption of power/supremacy and the erasure of harm, when left unchecked, teaches us to be a-holes.
So when I say “NOPE.” I don’t mean “BURN IT.” That’s a big leap. I mean “NOPE. Do not let this be normal. Do not accept this behavior.”
Within the scope of this lens, specifically, consent. The books above labeled as problematic ARE problematic. It doesn’t mean they can’t be used for other lessons, literacy analysics, whatever. The point is, that when we’re reading them, we also have an obligation to unpack the assumptions and lessons we’re taking away from them.
Regarding the line, “They are not meant that way.” – I invite you to look into the concept of impact versus intent, and how that plays out in reinforcing whitewashing, violent behavior, and what responsibilities we have when we cause harm.
Thank you for this great list and insight! My youngest is 16 months and I will definitely be finding these to read to him ❤️
Do you have any tips for an 8 and 10 year old?
Thank you, Mel!
Since my oldest is 5, I avoid recommending anything for age groups I can’t personally vouch for – but ‘Mouse & Tim’ & ‘That Uh-Oh Feeling’ is targeted closer to that age range, so you might find those helpful.
Another thing you could try is ‘Sex is a funny word,’ we took a look at that book (aimed for this range) this summer in the Facebook group while reviewing books on sex education. I’ll take note of your request when we do a formal post on consent and sex education 🙂
a great post this! when it comes to consent often times consent can be verbalised but what about the non-verbal cues for those of us who can’t see there’s always the gray area where somebody might say “I don’t care” whether that means no or it’s just the lack of a straight answer
Hey Kyle! I’m so glad you brought this up!
This is exactly why we teach our boys to only accept clear, enthusiastic consent – and this is important particularly for our autistic & allistic blended family. “I don’t care” is not enthusiastic. It might be that the person truly doesn’t care, but it’s also a common way for those of us who don’t have the power and authority to outright refuse (say, against a boss, teacher, or spouse who supports us financially) to demure.
If we receive anything less than enthusiastic consent, it’s on us to back off or come up with an alternative they DO care about. Since this is about bodily autonomy, I’m assuming you’re not talking about asking a friend what we’re going to do for dinner tonight. In that case – no one is going to feel uncomfortable after acquiescing to getting pizza when they secretly wanted tacos.
Let’s say you ask a friend if he wants to snuggle, and his response is “I don’t care.” You can take that at face value and assume he truly doesn’t care – and since you want a hug, go ahead and hug him. This might be fine – or it might cause him to be uncomfortable because he said that knowing how badly you want a hug. This is the stuff of divorce and broken friendships when it builds up over time, because the person who didn’t verbally say ‘no’ feels like they didn’t have a choice, and it’s so hard to verbalize and justify why they feel ambiguous in the moment under pressure.
It’s so, SO hard to say no – especially for femmes, disabled folks, poc, abused children, and everyone who’s been trained from birth to comply.
If you back off, and decide that him not caring isn’t consent – you don’t hug him. Then nothing happens. You are both comfortable. You can hug someone else who is enthusiastic about it, or a teddy bear if you need hugs – and with no ambiguity about whether they want it or not, that hug will be amazing.
We found a really great book, Miles is the Boss of His Body, about a young boy whose loving family and others encroach on his personal space because they are excited about his birthday. Miles reaches his limit and yells, “That’s it! It’s my birthday and I’m tired of being touch, hugged too tight, tickled, etc. etc. when I don’t want to be. I’m the boss of my body!!” He huffs into his room, and when his Mom comes in, she and his whole family tells him how proud they are that he took control of his own person. They reassure him he is in control of his own body, and they help him make a plan for when he doesn’t want to be touched. My son LOVES the book, and it has taught him not only to demand other people respect HIS body, but also that he must respect other people. Highly, highly recommend it.
There is a second book, When Miles Got Mad, that is great at helping teach kids to talk through their feelings.
This is amazing! I can’t wait to read the book based on your recommendation! We read ‘Miles Got Mad’ – it’s similar to Ahn’s Anger & ‘Sam’s Pet Temper’- you might like our collection on regulating big emotions & temper tantrums 😉
I can not Thank You enough for This!
Currently I’m trying to help my two sons (7 & 5) repair some boundary crossing from family that is not only being excused it’s now become that it didn’t happen or that I’m raising them brainwashed to be too sensitive!
I appreciate the universe reminding me through this post Why the mindful parenting I practice that strives to honor all life & connections is the only way to break the cycle & what I will not give up on!
They primarily have a model of interest & empathy toward all life
but by having their boundaries violated they (especially older) had begun hurting as a way to process. I was worried it could long term damage the attuned loving respectful young humans they are!
I will take my reignited fire to help them repair & learn they can love these family members but never allow them to hurt us or deny the choices they make & force on others.
That all humans should be able to do be safe & question anything without being shamed or blamed,
To be aware that Any person is capable of anything but we live to honor our values & are accountable for our choices.
We may also expect the same in life & when someone crosses boundaries it’s our right to share that & heal ourselves; their self preservation is not our concern.
You’re welcome! Keep up the good work raising kind & brilliant little men.
This is a terrific post. Your thoughtfulness and insight always pushes my thinking. I have one challenge for you to consider, in the segment about questioning authority. Yes, what you says is absolutely true. But for many African American and Latino boys their lives may depend on submission to the police or the principal or some other powerful authority. What is critical is teaching children how to respond, and who they can go to for help. It is essential to know their family has their back, and that if they have to pretend to be polite and go-along – so be it. Come home alive, and then let your family protect and champion you.
YES! Julie – you are absolutely right, and I’m going to look this over again to make it very clear that this is not about victim-blaming.
I’m not sure if you’re familiar with some of our other posts, but this one in particular can’t work in a vacuum. While this article is targeted toward potential aggressors (and the people who raise them), my hope/guess is that readers from marginalized groups are already cognizant that they need to do whatever it takes to stay alive.
We discuss this sometimes when referencing tokenism. How the onus of responsible representation, when placed on the one outlier who is doing what they can do to survive, faces double-victimization both from the group identity they are ‘betraying,’ along with the people they are trying to placate so they can survive.
Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story is a good example of this.
While this particular article, by necessity, has to be short and directed to one tiny aspect of rape culture, we have another that focuses on victims, and how we as parents and adults need to create a safe environment so they have the ability to say no, to retreat, and to find a safe space. It’s over here:
May I recommend Tough Boris by Mem Fox as another antidote to the “Boys don’t cry” message.
I will check that out. Thanks, Nancy!
Hi! I’m not a parent (though all but one of my friends are married with young kids), and I’m unclear on your attitude on teaching about authority. Working with children has always been a natural gift and passion of mine. As an educator and hopefully future mother, I wonder how are you teaching young children to follow directions if not by obeying certain people?
I’d never teach a child to obey any and every adult. I present rules and expectations with consequences that are as logical as I can make them for individual situations with consistent discipline protocol and positive behavior reinforcement across the classroom. (For example, a child I worked with 1:1 one year repeatedly climbed the stairs imitating various animals despite a prior reminder each day to “walk up the stairs like a 2nd grader”. I’d stop him and send him back down to come back up appropriately, and occasionally it took a couple tries. After a month, he consistently climbed the stairs safely.)
I’ve reasons for each rule and expectation that I’d happily explain to any parent who asked, but inviting any student to question my logic is inviting classroom management to go out the window with a 3rd grade melee of “Why?”s and wild hypotheticals. “Why do we have to turn in our homework to the basket here instead of the basket being over there or someplace else?” “Why do we have to number our paper this way? Or write our names in this corner?” The only answer is, “I’m the teacher. I decide the location of the homework basket.” In other words, “Because I have the authority to give you that direction.” Or, more bluntly, “Because I said so.” (a phrase I’d never tell my students verbatim).
I can’t imagine my friends who have pre-schoolers have the time or energy to explain the logic each time they direct a child to put on shoes and jacket other than, “We’re leaving the house now.” Based on studying I’ve done into child psychology and various parenting approaches, I plan to try giving my children very little latitude in *not* following directions at a level reasonable for their age. The common practice of counting to 3, for example, actually can reinforce that children needn’t listen when the direction is given or at “1” or “2”, which is not a precedent I wish to set. (I’m also aware many non-parents have all sorts of grand plans that the reality of their first child turn upside down.)
So, long background given, how do manage the behavior and daily activities of two young children without teaching them “to obey the authority” of their parents?
(When the time comes, this will also be incorporated into my children’s spiritual formation: God commands parents to care for all their children’s various needs, including showing them how it feels to be loved unconditionally, nurtured, forgiven, cherished… Children need to obey parents’ directions in part so we can meet their needs like keeping them safe or ensuring they eat nutritious foods and get enough sleep so they can grow and be healthy. I appreciate the spiritual component is not a consideration for every family!) I know this is a very long comment that incorporates values that may differ from yours. You needn’t address those differences. On a practical, daily level, how does this work in your family and home? Thank you!
P.S. And, lest it be misunderstood, I’m very much a proponent of phasing out “rape culture”. I understand more how your other items apply. As a female, of course I’ve been victimized. Not in the daily ways some women encounter but in brutal instances that will forever leave certain scenes, names, dates, images imprinted in my brain. My mother and father don’t believe “rape culture” exists. To them, somehow all my encounters of very criminal natures, some against the statistics because they involved complete strangers or a weapon, none when I’d been drinking (I don’t drink) or “someplace I shouldn’t have been” or any other ways used to undermine a victim, half that I reported to the police with one actually resulting in arrest/prosecution/incarceration… to my conservative parents, their conservative daughter who’s “a nice girl” has just been “unlucky”. They will never get it. They’ve witnessed my PTSD, the panic attacks and hallucinations. They wait for me to “snap out of it”. No time for me was consent even a question. This change must be our generation radically impacting the next!
HI NL –
This is awesome. Okay. Let’s unpack this.
I think we’re on the same page – except there’s one big difference here. I’m working on a micro-scale, speaking mainly to parents, over the long course of 18+ years, 24/7, and you’re thinking globally, in terms of herding 30 little monsters into being reasonable human beings within a finite amount of time, while also appeasing administration and curriculum demands.
From my end – let’s be clear that you are smarter than me and have more education and experience with respect to managing a large group of children at once. We have a lot of readers in the education industry, and I hope they can chime in with what’s worked for them.
On my side – I’m working to dismantle the restrictions put on educators like you, so that you actually have the time and resources to create procedures. Re: funding public education, giving teachers more flexibility and power to follow unique curriculum, and such. That’s not in this post, but it’s in others, along with some other work I do outside BFL.
In a perfect world, once I personally dismantle the kyriarchy and/or lead a generation of new humans who can give educators like you these resources, you will have the ability to create classroom guidelines that give you something like:
1. The ability to answer a question with “We don’t have time to answer that right now, Billy, but can we add your question to our classroom meeting itierary on Friday?” and actually have the time to lead a class in discussion, perhaps with debate and voting about the best place to turn in homework.
2. Inclusive facilities that allow for the stigma-free experience of walking up the stairs like an animal, and other students will be like, “Oh, yeah. Billy is neurodivergent, that’s just how feels comfortable controlling his environment. Hey Billy, once you’ve finally joined us, come hang out and play kickball.” AND support for teacher-parent connections that open dialogue on why and how teachers and give kids who feel the urge to exert control over their school routine in a way that helps them get through the day. I should probably point out here that this is a space where we model the social model of disability, and sometimes, we neurodivergents just need to do seemingly weird things to keep it together so we don’t have a meltdown 3 hours later. Unless he’s walking up the stairs like a lion stalking other students like prey.
There are a lot of details missing in this staircase example that I’m wondering about. I’m assuming you’re neurotypical, and I’m wondering if there could be simple changes to interactions like that which would make it easier for neurodivergent kids (who often appear just to be messing with you) to understand you. The act of making kids go and re-do the stairs, without further details, invokes in me a sense of shame and public embarrassment, and I have to admit I would actively hate someone who did that to me. Maybe you did it in a fun way, but just from my first read, it makes me uncomfortable. There are many ways to adjust this behavior without that risk of shame.
3. Regarding latitude – we actually have another post here about saying no, saying it often, and I’m waiting until I have say, a living wage or affordable childcare to write about it. I agree with you that counting and giving too much latitude makes life harder on both adults and kids. I don’t *ask* my kids to comply when something is very important. I tell them. Otherwise, that would send up some messed up messages if I get angry when they don’t respond to my request the way I want. If anything, that just reinforces the idea that they don’t have the right to say no.
This might be helpful: https://booksforlittles.com/consent/
That said, when I tell kids to do things, we’ve had a long history as parent-and-child, with all the time and repetition it entails, to give my kids learned experience and build trust. When I say, “Sit down in the tub, otherwise you might to slip.” they might choose to disobey me. In which case, I argue that instead of forcibly grabbing them, screaming at them, or shaming them, I just…let them fall down. Parents, with the luxury of time, can count on natural consequences eventually playing out.
Then we can discuss later about how my lived experience and greater years of knowledge, PLUS: *The fact that I have never violated their space and the trust I’ve earned from never lying* means…well, what did we learn? Mom is right. We should listen to her next time.
But…if you’re with a kid for three hours a day, 4 days a week, for 9 months, and then it’s over. Building that trust is really hard. I don’t have answers for that. But I trust there is a way to raise our kids to do it. And it probably involves a lot of what we do at home – which is, as a parent, explaining to my kids that their teachers are smart, professional, and educated, and unless their teachers ask them to do something dangerous or harmful, they should listen to them.
So the crappy answer is – you kinda have to rely on parents to be on the same page on this. Which kinda sucks and makes your job harder. (Sorry.)
Is that helpful?
If you’re promoting reading, please tell the person who wrote the article to fix the usage of thecwors their in the Tough Guy recommendation. …their feelings, not there feelings.
The tone of this is a little condescending, and therefore ironic, but okay. Thanks, Toni. I appreciate the help.
I orchestrate book research, web maintenance, hand-holding, writing daily posts, and a whole mess of work in providing this resource to parents and educators for free. By myself. It’s a full time job, and I am currently making under $850 in patreon support per month.
If you’d like to volunteer your skills as a copywriter, or want to help us out on the Patreon campaign so I can hire an assistant to copyedit and catch my errors so we can…promote reading, I’d love for you to join us.
I appreciate the book references to try. Thank you. However, the comment on #6 about “he’s autistic…. He loves to hug….” May not be an excuse. When it comes to Autism, it is never an excuse and more of something some kids struggle and parents struggle with daily in how to interact. That is something I wish more people would understand.
Nancy, I think we’re getting our wires crossed.
In section you are referring to, I explicitly state that autism is NOT an excuse to violate someone’s boundaries. Let’s look at the first season of Netflix’s Atypical (amount tons of pop culture examples) – in which a white autistic teen yanks of a girl’s hair, and his parents don’t address the fact that he assaulted a woman instead of say, moving away from her. This series is chock full of examples like that, where he violates a woman’s safety and space, and faces zero consequences or education on how not to be a complete jerk (which is he is fully capable of learning.)
I am an autistic woman. I am expected to keep my hands on my own body. The same is not expected from my masculine counterparts. If an autistic woman or autistic boy of color yanked a woman’s hair, there would be consequences we’d have to face. But no – when white autistic dudes stalk, harass, or harm femmes, his autism is used as an excuse, not the toxic way he was raised to use his disability as a diversion.
Separate from this – I take issue with this line:
“When it comes to Autism, it is never an excuse and more of something some kids struggle and parents struggle with daily in how to interact.”
Autism is not something kids struggle with. Living in a world that is hostile and that misunderstands and stigmatizes autistic behavior is what we struggle with. Social norms is what we struggle with. Judgement from others is what we struggle with.
On the parent side – raising a kid who they think differently from is what they struggle with. Dismantling their own ableism is what they struggle with.
Similar to the way my Asian features, short stature, and odd bra size are not a challenge I struggle with – living in a world that values thin, tall, whiteness is what creates the challenge. There is nothing inherently wrong or challenging about being Asian, nor anything wrong or challenging with being autistic. It’s only within a hostile environment, a one based on the supremacy of NOT being those things, do challenges arise.
I invite you to do some reading on the social model of disability, and our disability rights work in other posts, such as this one:
Thank you so much for this list! I am the mom to a seven year old boy and the pervasiveness of toxic masculinity scares the crap out of me. I am also a children’s librarian, so I am always on the lookout for exceptional kids’ books. I have one minor quibble with your list. While there is a lot I like about the Ladybug Girl books, I have some critiques about the portrayal of gender roles:
Celeste, you bring up excellent points. I wrote and compiled this book list a loooong time ago, and it was before I spent a year researching more books that pass the Uhura test. I settled for Ladybug girl, despite the gendered implications, because that was the most accessible series at the time.
Looks like it’s time for an update! Thank you for noticing this and pointing it out!
To the unnamed author of this article, may I suggest Rape Culture Hysteria: Fixing the Damage Done to Men and Women by Wendy McElroy.
My husband pointed out that Pout-Pout fish is problematic bc the Kiss-Kiss fish just kisses Pout-Pout w/o consent. It’s amazing all the places you see the lack of consent when you are conscious of it.
I’ve heard this from other readers, too. Bummer!
Wonderful wonderful piece – I will be sharing widely
Thank you, Anna! I’m so glad you’re a part of this!
Dinosaur Kisses– I used to think it was a funny book, until grown men talked about walking up to women and “just kissing them.” Definitely a fail for teaching kids about boundaries. Not to mention, Dina harms each unwilling (usually weaker/smaller) creature that she tries to “innocently” kiss.
YES! Thank you, Nicole. Noticed this too. It’s a shame, because the idea the author was going for in this book was SO cute. But the attack-y devices and the lack of consequences or follow-up on actively hurting someone was a total missed opportunity.
I’m an educator, nurse and counselor with over 40 years’ experience serving young survivors. In 2010, frustrated by the messages in books advertised for child abuse prevention, I wrote my own. I’m also a sexologist, so the concept of ‘good touch, bad touch’ is especially problematic to me for many reasons. The resulting book and program is called Inside Out: Your Body is Amazing Inside and Out and Belongs Only to You. It’s available on Amazon. I’d be pleased to send a copy to you for review. I’m also the author of The Nonnie Series – interactive books for trusted adults and young people in grades 3 – 8 on challenging topics. To date, I’ve written Nonnie Talks about Gender, Nonnie Talks about Race (with Mariotta Gary-Smith and Tanya Bass), Nonnie Talks about Pregnancy and Birth (I’m a ‘seasoned – old – childbirth educator), Nonnie Talks about Puberty (a gender-inclusive book), Nonnie Talks about Death (I’ve worked in Pediatric Oncology and hospice), Nonnie Talks about Sex…& More, and Nonnie Talks about Trauma (after Parkland). I’m currently authoring Nonnie Talks about Consent with my therapist friend and colleague Dr. Lexx James. All are on Amazon, and I would be happy to send copies of any titles of interest to you. https://www.amazon.com/Inside-Out-Your-Amazing-Belongs/dp/1470113996/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1538806663&sr=1-7&refinements=p_27%3ADr.+Mary+Jo+Podgurski
I was with you until your commentary about the bear book contradicted your comments about not bullying or being kind to everyone. The mouse wanted to be friends and the bear didn’t, the bear didn’t want to be friends with mice. Was the mouse harassing the bear or was the bear a racist?
You’re referring to this?
“Mouse wants to be Bear’s friend. He keeps sneaking into Bear’s house. Bear says ‘no.’ Mouse apologizes, leaves, and shows up again. Bear shouts ‘NO.’… Repeat. Eventually, Mouse wears Bear down, and they become best friends.”
False equivalencies aside, let’s pretend this isn’t trolling.
It’s not racist to refuse to let someone into your private home and demand that they leave you alone.
Kindness means treating people with basic human decency and respect. It means equal hiring practices, equitable education, and taking your foot off their necks. It doesn’t mean you have to allow strangers into your home, be friends with them, and give them your time, energy, attention, and access to your body and personal belongings.
I’m so happy to find such wonderful examples to share with my son! My husband is on the spectrum and is extremely uncomfortable with physical touch and I’m a sexual assault survivor. Although my son is only 8 months old, I’ve been searching for books that can help him understand consent language, privilege, as well as inclusivity and normalizing the LGBTQ+ community and POC (we live in a VERY small town). So thank you!!
Also, have you ever read Julian is a Mermaid? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!
Tarah – it sounds like you’ve found exactly the right POC autistic-founded, consent-affirming place to find books 😉 Welcome!
We discussed Julian Is A Mermaid briefly over in the Facebook group. It’s a lovely book, but there are some things we should keep in mind while reading it, to clarify with our kids. You can check out our discussion here:
I love this! I have an older guy and would love any books you have for 11 or 12 year olds.
Unfortunately that’s outside the scope of Books for Littles (hence the littles). I explain why in the FAQ.
Thanks for creating a guide on how to raise children into mentally unstable adults.
You’re welcome, lil’ buddy!
Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you
relied on the video to make your point. You clearly know what youre talking about, why
throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your
weblog when you could be giving us something informative to read?
I don’t have you marked down as a supporter – will you be contributing anything in exchange for all these free labor and resources?
I added the video over a year AFTER the original article was written, to support folks with different learning styles.