Whether a firm and written policy or an unspoken rule, prohibiting touch is just no good.
A Toronto girls hockey league has told coaches they can’t touch players on the bench. It’s a zero-tolerance policy and I have zero tolerance for it.
Sexual abuse of kids in sports is real. We have begun to face this terrible reality, thankfully, and are addressing the risks by putting protective systems in place. There are policies and rules that are reasonable measures to protect our kids from this type of harm. A rule about a coach not being alone with players is one.
For the most part though, protecting our children happens by equipping them with the skills to differentiate betweet acceptable and appropriate touch and touch that is to the contrary. Is there a culture of bum swatting in sport that should be curbed? Maybe… but the impact shouldn’t be to make young people think that every bum pat is sexual impropriety. And a policy shouldn’t allow the encouraging and reassuring actions of coaches to be construed as misconduct.
If we want our children to have a future free of non-consentual touching we need to talk to them about it. We need to talk to them about it often. Only then is it possible.
We can best protect our kids if we
- teach them about bodies, about body autonomy, about privacy – and distinguish it from secrecy.
- support them to exercise autonomy over their bodies and to increasingly have a say and control over who and how their bodies are touched.
- help them understand that interpreting touch is not always easy or straightforward and help them develop skills to assess patterns or cumulative experiences.
- make ourselves allies and encourage them to name other allies so they can safely and confidently express any concern with or confusion over certain touch.
- create opportunities for them to practice and notice the giving and receiving of consent.
- inform them of ways some people sometimes hurt other people. We need to share sad and dangerous realities with them about coaches or others in positions of power. They need to know that there are people who take advantage and abuse others.
These aren’t always pleasant conversations to have with our kids. If fact, some of them are gut-wrenching. But it’s our job to teach them about the harsh realities of human behaviour. And it’s our job to help them navigate a world in which these realities exist. Finally, and so importantly, it’s our job to help them see that mostly people will touch them, purposefully or inadvertantly, with no ill will or interest to harm. We want to raise kids who – with a healthy dose of caution - understand and expect that most touch is an indicator of love, respect and support.
You might also like (and feel outrage about) this post about a school policy prohibiting touch between kids at recess. Ugh.
And in case you wouldn’t guess it, I’m equally concerned with a no-touch policy between teachers and students.
These responses do not help us raise discerning and confident kids.
To end on a good note, do you know Strangers Touching? It is so lovely. Show your kids and talk about it.