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In a Facebook thread on the Brock Turner rape case, a mother posed the provocative question that serves as the title of this post, “How do we teach boys not to rape?”
It is a remarkable question. But, I believe there is a simple and solid answer.
The Opposite of Love
St. John Paul the Great reminded us that the opposite of love is not hate, but use. When we love someone, we build them up, we make them feel more human, more real, more whole, healthy, and grace-filled. But when we use someone, we treat them as if they were the opposite of a person. We turn them into an object, a thing, a tool or a toy that we can use however we want. Rape is the ultimate act of using someone.
Parents teach their boys not to rape by teaching them from the youngest ages that every time they interact with someone, their behavior either communicates, “I love you” or “I am using you.” A child says, “I love you” not by mouthing the words, but by taking turns, willingly playing the other child’s game, doing his chores, being appropriately affectionate, intentionally looking for little ways to bring a smile to the people around him, and doing any number of things that take care of those around him. A child says “I am using you” when he does the opposite.
By the time a child is 4 or 5, he can understand the difference between loving and using. If his parents teach him, both in words and by modeling it in the family interactions, he can understand–on a surprisingly deep level– that his body has been given to him as a gift from God to love others, to do things that make people happier and healthier. He can understand that he must never use his body to hurt or use another person.
Working for the Good of Others
Parents serve their children well by outwardly acknowledging–in little ways like a smile, or a hug or a simple word of encouragement–when their children use their bodies and actions to serve others and work for their good. And when their children act selfishly or in ways that use their bodies to hurt others or tear others down, good parents not only apply consequences that get their children’s attention, but they also require the child to make a plan for healing the damage they have done to the relationship.
Families also do well when they practice asking each other, every day, “How can I make your day a little easier or more pleasant today?” Spouses should ask that question of each other every morning, and then ask their children to respond to that same question at breakfast. Root the day in a spirit of loving service.
Finally, parents do well by their children when they are extravagantly affectionate, showing their children what it means to be loved in healthy, generous, appropriate ways and giving their children a positive, authentic experience of what good and godly touch feels like.
The child raised in such a household has a visceral reaction to the very idea of using someone. He is disgusted by it. It would never occur to him to use another person.
Can I Get A Witness?
I was raised in a similar manner to this and it has served me well my entire life. I remember once, when I was in college, I was visiting a girlfriend in her parent’s home. In the morning, she came in to wake me up for breakfast. Before I knew it, she climbed into bed with me. She asked me, “What would you do if I got under those sheets with you right now?”
So many feelings flooded my mind and my body all at once but I said, “Please don’t.”
She smiled and responded in her most flirtatious voice, “And what if i did it anyway?”
Don’t get me wrong. Part of me wanted her to. But it just felt…wrong. Not shameful. I didn’t feel bad about it. I just knew it wasn’t the right way to show her how I really felt about her. I said, “I think I’d have to get out of bed.” I’ll never forget the hurt look she had on her face.
I remember taking deep breath to compose myself. I looked at her and said, “I love you and I think what we have is amazing, and as much as I really want you to do that, I would never want to do anything with you to mess this up. Does that make sense?” She nodded and left the room.
Of course, I was destroyed when she broke up with me later that week. No matter. God saved me for an amazing woman who knew how to give me the same gift that I wanted to give her. And together, we are raising three amazing kids, two of whom are adults who put both my wife and I to shame when it comes to the strength of their faith and their moral maturity. I know–without a doubt–that each of our kids, in a similar circumstance, would respond as well, if not better, than I did back in college. When you raise a child to understand–on a gut, experiential level–the difference between loving and using someone, it is next to impossible to even think of using someone–even if they want you to. More than simply knowing that using someone isn’t right, everything about it just feels wrong, less than, hollow, incomplete, and ultimately, demeaning.
So, to go back to that mom’s question, “How do you teach your boys not to rape?” The answer is simple. From day one, you teach them what it means to love.
If you’d like to discover more ways you can help your children become loving, godly, grace-filled adults, I invite you to check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees. Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids.