It was hard to watch the Senate hearings involving Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Witnessing someone recount trauma, especially from the tender time of adolescence, is challenging. And beyond the lives of these two personages, we have had to grapple with the larger—and often unaddressed—implications of young adult sexual misconduct.
Regardless of what you think or whom you believe, we all can agree that we don’t want our children on either side of sexual misconduct. We want better for our children. We want them to empathize with each other as human beings, to express themselves as individuals without shame, to respect each other’s bodies and desires, and to find the courage to stand up and speak out when they witness inappropriate behavior.
At the end of this past week, I was aching for hope. As is generally the case, spending time with children helps. I visited second grade to read Jacqueline Woodson’s The Day You Begin, a beautiful story about finding the courage to connect with others, even when you feel different and alone. In first grade, I read Jim Averbeck and Yasmeen Ismail’s One Word from Sophia, about a girl who discovers through trial and error how to solve problems and to persuade her family to buy her a giraffe. In Kindergarten, I read Julian is a Mermaid, about a boy whose desire to be a mermaid is accepted and supported by his abuela, who gives him a spectacular necklace to enhance his costume and takes him to a parade to commune with other mermaids.
I have always loved teaching literature because of the discussions it engenders. Not a single Kindergarten student was fazed by a boy wanting to be a mermaid. Their focus was on sharing their own imaginative fantasies and dress-up characters. In first grade, students revealed that “please” works as a negotiating tactic because it demonstrates respect, and a couple students even cheerfully shared when their “please” resulted in compromise or didn’t work at all, acknowledging that asking kindly simply felt good. Second graders gave examples of times they felt scared or alone and another child noticed and befriended them. Discussing these stories built community when children shared their unique experiences and recognized their responsibility to take care of others.
These situations may seem simple, but students are practicing mindsets and behaviors that will lay the groundwork to navigate trickier situations as they grow. In middle school, deans and advisors are creating opportunities for age-appropriate conversations about consent and how to establish and respect each other’s boundaries in every social context. We also want to help all children recognize double standards in our expectations about the behaviors, interests, and talents of boys and girls, and encourage them to examine and think critically about the implications of these often too-rigid definitions of gender roles.
I have researched, taught, and written about gender dynamics for over 25 years. As most of you know, I am also the mother of two sons. Like you, I often struggle with how much (or how little) to talk to my kids about these issues. Below you can find some articles that can help to provide age-appropriate suggestions and advice. I hope they help you broach these topics with your child(ren).
I am proud and grateful that at Turning Point, we have identified elements such as friendship, respect, inclusion, advocacy, accountability, empathy, courage, and compassion as integral to our students’ respective “positive equations.” By valuing these elements and interweaving them into our curriculum, pedagogy, and daily practice, we empower our students to embody them as integral to their character and moral compass, which will certainly serve them well as they tackle difficult decisions and situations innate to the teen years, and beyond.
Dr. Laura Konigsberg