As a teenager in the 1990s, the phrase “one in four” was exceedingly familiar to me. The statistic, whose accuracy has since been called into question due to reliability, was addressed in each and every health promotion and psychology class I took throughout high school and college. One in four girls, and a similarly high number of boys, would be sexually assaulted before adulthood.
One health teacher, who stands particularly stark in my memory, asked a group of girls to look left, then right, and then behind us. From a statistical standpoint, one of us would be assaulted before we left for college.
This memory rings so clearly for me, close to twenty years later. Except today, I’m looking down my kitchen table, and not across a row of school desks.
I have four daughters, ranging in age from ten to three years old. Never before has this statistic gripped my heart with such a vice, since, if it rings true, it means one of my daughters could fall victim before they leave the safe confines of our home.
Recognizing that statistics aren’t flawless with predictive value, the vice loosens its grip ever so slightly. Certain factors could work in our favor, but even with this momentary relief, the risk of assault is still much too high.
And this risk is not only too high for my daughters, but for all of our children.
The Questions We Ask
If we can’t protect them, how do we train our children to protect themselves and everyone else around them?
How do we teach them just enough, so as not to be scared of the world and rob them of simple joys? Instead, can we show them to be prudent and cautious, while learning respect for everyone and their journey?
We don’t want to hide our children in a bubble, void of experience. Instead, we want to teach them to participate, contribute, and love their way into adulthood.
The question that rings in my head, over and over, is this: How do I teach my daughters to use their voices for good in a world where their words will be called into question?
How do we teach this generation to speak up, through all that may silence them?
And how do we use the momentum that countless brave souls before us have worked tirelessly to garner, laying the groundwork so that our children can flourish?
What Can Begin at Home
Within our home, our girls know these two things: their voices are strong, and they matter. They have been born in a time when they are educated to stand for themselves and are coached to recognize “ways out” when situations grow uncomfortable. They are lucky enough to be born into a home where they are respected, valued, and loved unconditionally. So many are not afforded such a luxury.
Because our daughters are raised knowing the strength of their voice, we have encouraged them to use their words to promote honesty, justice, and to respect the dignity of anyone who crosses their path. They also know that they have a safe, strong foundation from our home. This haven will be theirs, regardless of what the world throws in their path, the decisions that they make, or the company they keep. While we would never want to restrict them within our safety net forever, it is our goal to be their haven, even after they’ve launched into the larger world.
Beyond this, our children know that their dignity comes from nothing that they can earn or that the world can take away. Our value lies in our humanity. Recognizing that this extends to all people on the planet creates a foundation for the respect we want out girls to offer, not only to themselves, but also to everyone else.
Teaching safety fundamentals certainly has its place, but raising children to stand confident in their value can hold them all in a safe space well beyond the confines of their childhood home.
Giving all our children this foundation to move forward into adulthood might just allow the opportunity for a future where we all stand in each other’s corner.