How Old Should My Child Be Before I Start Teaching Him/Her About Rape?

I’ve seen variations of this question come up in the wake of Steubenville. I’ve said several times lately that it’s important to educate boys and men about rape, because we do a piss-poor job of it. We do teach girls and women, but we present a very slanted, one-sided, and often harmful picture of what rape is and who’s responsible. We need to do better.

So how old should your child be for you to start teaching them about rape?

I don’t understand the question. How old should they be before you start teaching them language? Before you teach them about love and respect?

How long should I wait to start teaching my son that women are people?

I haven’t sat down with my eight-year-old son to discuss the horrifying details of what Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond did to their victim and why it was wrong, nor have we talked about the witnesses and everyone who tried to ignore or cover up the crime.

On the other hand, my son struggles with awareness of personal space. For years, we’ve been working to teach him that he can’t touch other people without their permission. That lesson can begin as soon as they’re old enough to comprehend it.

I’ve tried to teach both of my children that they have the right to control their own bodies. As my daughter approaches her teenage years, she doesn’t always want hugs from me, and that stings. But I’ve tried not to push the issue. I want both of my children to understand that not even their parents have the right to hug or kiss them without their consent.

How old does my son need to be to learn about bullying, and that when he sees someone being hurt, he can go and get help?

How old do kids need to be to learn that the word “No” means no, and that whining and wheedling and arguing with Mom and Dad isn’t a good way to get what you want?

There are twisted people out there who will molest children of all ages. How long should we wait before teaching our kids that they can say no, that it’s not okay for anyone to do this to them, and they should tell us if something happens? That if they see a grown-up or another kid doing something that seems wrong, they should tell.

How long should I wait to start modeling a loving, respectful relationship with my partner?

I think a lot of us underestimate how much our kids pick up. I certainly wasn’t expecting my son to ask about sex as early as he did, but I did my best to answer honestly. (I’ll admit to being both entertained and pleased when he made a face and said, “Gross!”) I suspect there are an awful lot of conversations that, if we wait until we’re comfortable and think our kids are ready, we’ll have missed the boat.

Rape is one of the most common violent crimes out there. It comes up in the news and in movies and TV and video games and books… There are countless opportunities to start that conversation with your children. To find out what they understand and what they’re confused about. To clarify misunderstandings and provide facts to dispel the various myths.

In my opinion, it’s never too early to start teaching your child about rape. It’s a conversation that will evolve over time as their understanding develops and their social life becomes more complex and confusing, but it’s a conversation that needs to begin early, and to continue. It’s a conversation we have to have with our sons, not just with our daughters. It’s a conversation both parents should be involved with, when possible.

It’s not a conversation most of us particularly want to have. But we’re parents. This is our job.

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