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Building a Safer Future


Shoot the breeze. Push comes to shove. Knock it off. Nail it down. Kill some time.


How often do we think about the level of violence in daily language? These are some of the more benign examples, too. This is not about being politically correct. Violence is woven into our lives in ways that we don’t notice because it’s become normalized.


We chat a lot in our office about abuse culture and the cycle of violence. In my role at The Friendship Center, but also as a parent myself, whenever this topic comes up, I find myself thinking about my kids and youth in general.


Sadly, abuse culture is threaded into almost every facet of our society. Sometimes it stays largely hidden because we don’t realize how we might be unintentionally participating. It is so pervasive and normalized, we don’t even see it. But, once we are aware of the ways abuse culture infiltrates our lives, we have the power to make the future a safer place for everyone.


I am convinced that the key to disrupting the way our society normalizes violence and puts people into certain boxes based on their gender is through our children; not only will this influence future generations, but it forces the current generation think about these issues as well.


Many people feel intimidated to talk with children about these topics, but the good news is that it does not have to be complicated or scary.


When we think about kids and parenting, boundaries are an essential first step. Talking about consent with kids is:

  • Talking about personal space and how each person has their own level of comfort when it comes to contact

  • Asking for permission – to play, to hug, to tickle, to share, at meals, to talk, etc.

  • Respecting someone’s answer and trusting that they will tell us if they were joking or actually want something different.

Paying attention to our language is vital. As I mentioned earlier, violence is threaded throughout many everyday phrases. Gender norms are similarly entrenched in our culture. Even little things contribute to how our boys and girls see their roles in society. For example, I am struck by how much more challenging it is to find my daughter quality and functional outdoor wear than it is for my son or how narrow the toy options and book topics are when looking for gifts for my son.


I can’t count the times I have heard a boy’s behavior dismissed with, “He picks on you because he likes you.” This normalizes inappropriate and abusive behaviors down the road, and these types of messages start when our kids are on the playground.


There are so many ways that our children are instructed about how to look, act, think, and feel, whether overtly or not. Gender-based violence is rooted in these harmful gender norms and attitudes and we see it with victims. Although domestic and sexual violence can happen to anyone, it is much more common for women and girls to be victims. This is even more complex for non-binary, gender non-conforming, and LBGTQ+ people, who experience intimate partner violence at equal or even higher rates than their heterosexual peers that research has historically focused on.


Moreover, the stigma and lack of services for boys who experience sexual violence makes it even less likely that such incidents will be reported. According to Save the Children, “…traditional gender norms around masculinity will likely affect whether boys access mental health services, as well as how boys are treated by service providers when they do report sexual violence.”


Noticing how we unintentionally confine our kids to certain attire, interests, or activities, is part of increasing our awareness. Once we notice these issues, we have the power to make intentional choices around parenting to ensure we are not contributing to abuse culture.


I am not immune to contributing to abuse culture myself. The more I learn, the more I notice, and the more I see it everywhere. The way we change future generations and our generation is to find ways to notice the unnoticed and then choose a new way to move forward.

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