Good Touch, Bad Touch

Originally posted on July19, 2007

Senator Obama’s recent comments about age-appropriate sex education has caused a bit of controversy. Mitt Romney, along with several other conservatives, are up in arms about the idea of teaching it to kindergarterners and first-graders. Part of the issue is a misinterpretation of Obama’s intentions. As it was later clarified, Senator Obama:

“…supports sensible, community-driven education for children because, among other things, he believes it could help protect them from pedophiles. A child’s knowledge of the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching is crucial to keeping them safe from predators.”

While some people may be bothered by the idea of teaching any sort of sex education to children, I wonder just how effective this suggested education will actually be in preventing sexual abuse.

Most children are abused by people they know. Most people who prey on children will not forcibly assault the child. Rather, they will use coercion. And the best form of coercion is trust. How realistic is it that a five-year-old will think a person he trusts is touching him inappropriately? I think of my godson, who is older than the children in question, and I can easily see him being coerced or tricked or manipulated into an abusive situation just because he trusts the person doing it. Even though he has been told numerous times that no one is allowed to touch him in a way that makes him feel bad or weird, if I told him to let me touch him he would.

Despite what we know about people who prey on children, this sex education sounds like more of the trite I was taught in school about “stranger danger.” While there may not be any pictures of guys in trench coats with white eyes and fedoras,  the mentality behind programs like this one has not really changed. It is not the stranger children need to be taught about, it is the teenage babysitter who asks the kids if they would like to touch her breasts. It is not the guy on the street, it is the older cousin who comes over every weekend to play “games.”

Adding to the confusion of “good touch, bad touch” is the fact that adults really do not listen to children’s wants and demands.  If a child says “Don’t touch me!” the average teacher will do just the opposite and touch the child. Even if done in an attempt to comfort, the message sent is that some adults–if not all–are allowed to break the rules and touch you if they want to. In other words, children are not really allowed to say ‘no’ to adults. That message gets hammered home fairly often and is one of the reasons why children are so easily tricked by predators.

Of course, the bulk of this could be avoided by simply treating children as people. If they see that they can set the same boundaries as adults, then children will have a better chance at dealing with questionable people. That brings up the most important issue: the child’s home-life.

What happens if the child’s home is one in which the child is demanded to do as he is told? It need not be a violent or abusive–which would obviously negate the sex education. It could simply be a strict home in which adults make the rules and children follow them unquestioned. What if the home is relatively open and safe? Then what? This is difficult for adults to figure out. For a child who has no experience outside of his home-life, how would he be able to reconcile the notion that child are supposed to do as adults tell them to do?

I assume this program would take that kind of situation into account, but it is completely possible that it does not. And that puts the child in a most unfair situation. In the end, it might have the same affect it had on my generation. We watched the videos and read the books and looked out for some non-existent man dressed in brown. Unsurprisingly, no one has ever reported him for any sex crimes.

8 thoughts on “Good Touch, Bad Touch

  1. It’s always the same thing with government and do-gooders; it’s always the simple solution. The thing is, simple solutions more often than not either do no good or fracture the problem into a lot of small problems and the sum of those small problems is greater than the ‘value’ of the original problem.

    Always realize that simple solutions are not good solutions. It’s never the easy way that is the right way.

  2. While Obama’s adminstration had some noble intentions, the reality is programs like these only end up being used in the wrong situations. And “Unwanted Touching” can also be interpretated poorly by outside parties. Thus, children are also venerable to a person’s “Idea” of unwanted touching rather than the facts.

    I remember reading about a case in the paper about a five year old boy hugging his female school bus driver. The bus driver felt uncomfortable because the five year old’s face was buried between her breasts, so she thought of it as a sexual violation of some sorts and informed the authorities. The boy was punished and told about ‘Inappropriate Touching”. Nevermind the fact that the boy was only hugging her with no sexual intentions whatsoever. And the face between breasts; It was a small boy hugging an adult. Of course their face is going to end up in sensitive areas like that spot. Doesn’t imply at all he was intentionally violating her.

    Nevertheless, he was punished and now he has it in his head “I was bad because I hugged someone”. Some of you will think “He should know that’s not the case”. He was five years old. Five year olds are going to react to this way when they did something others thought was bad. I think the parents advocated on his behalf but it fell on deaf ears.

    I get the feeling the bus driver probably had negative experiences. So I don’t blame her if that’s the case. But she should’ve exercised precautions like telling the boy “You can still hug me, just not there as bad things happened to me” while also keeping in mind that the boy has no intention to violate her. Now, thanks to this overeaction, the five year old has a negative experience regarding “Hugging”.

    Programs like this do lead to incidents such as the one outlined above whether the adminstration likes to admit it or not.

  3. I recall this story. It was stunning to me then and remains so now. Small children have no real idea of sexuality as adults understand it. So even if the boy did rub his face between her breasts, it is highly unlikely that he meant anything other than a show of kindness. I completely agree that now the boy will think that a hug is something bad and something that will get him in trouble rather than being a friendly, loving gesture. My remedy for this sort of “problem” would have been to remove the teacher’s aide. If she is that bothered by being hugged by little boys then she should not work with small children.

  4. This post is probably the most sensible and wise treatment of this topic that I’ve seen. And that story about the 4-year-old boy being suspended is indeed terrible, but it’s good that the boy’s father has complained and that the author of the article has an opinion similar to yours.

  5. What really makes me cringe is that, just because he buried his head between her breasts, though some commentators support the boy they still call for some kind of investigation as the boy might have been abused or something in his household.

    I’m beginning to think, if this were a four-year old girl who did this, nobody would call for an investigation.

  6. In fact the original complaint would never have occurred had the child been a girl. The charge included “sexual harassment”. It was made on a gender basis to begin with. Only a boy could have been treated this way.

  7. “If a child says “Don’t touch me!” the average teacher will do just the opposite and touch the child. Even if done in an attempt to comfort, the message sent is that some adults–if not all–are allowed to break the rules and touch you if they want to. In other words, children are not really allowed to say ‘no’ to adults. That message gets hammered home fairly often and is one of the reasons why children are so easily tricked by predators.

    Of course, the bulk of this could be avoided by simply treating children as people.”

    Yes!!!

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