“You’re Hurting Her!” A Story of Consent in the Santa Line

UPDATE Dec 14th 2015
Since this story was first posted it has been shared extensively around the world. We have received many comments, so many in fact that our website is experiencing difficulties, and is unable to display comments at this time.

Some people believe it is a made up story, or that it has been heavily embellished. Others have reacted strongly to the story and believe it is playing into unacceptable gender norms and other societal scripts.

The Consent Crew presents this story here as it is, an eloquently retold real life story of what a father experienced when he took his seven year old son to visit Santa. It does seem too good a story to be true- and yet sometimes amazing things do happen in real life. By presenting this here, we hope to generate discussion about the ways we teach and role model consent to both young people and adults.

We have added a short statement from the father at the end of the story.

Thank you for engaging in an interest in Consent Culture. 

This story was shared by a father, and is about his seven year old son, Sage.

“So, my son and I are at the mall, waiting for pictures with Santa. He starts chatting with a boy, and discovers they’re the same age. The boy is a bit obnoxious, so my son decides to play with the toddler behind us, instead. I will hereafter refer to the kid in front as “OB.”

The line moves at the usual snail’s pace. I hear “Hey!” and turn to see a young girl giving OB a glare. “What?” he says. “I said ‘hi’ and you were ignoring me. That’s -rude-.” My son also turns and looks.
Line moves a bit more. OB takes to yanking on the girl’s braid. “Scotty,” says his mom, indulgently, “that’s not nice.” He grins at her. I assume, at this point, that the girl is his sister, as her mom is nowhere to be found.
He does it again. Cycle repeats. -Then- the girl’s mom comes over from where she was chatting with her friends. And the boy does it again.

Santa lineup
Families visiting Santa in a mall

“Scottyyyyyy,” his mom says, looking amused. “That’s not a nice way to get her attention.” She leans into the other mom a bit and says, “I think he likes her.” The other mom smiles back, with that “Gosh, ain’t young love grand?” expression. The girl looks flustered, but not terribly hurt.

I look down to see my son looking up at me with a baffled expression on his face. I resolve, at that point, to intervene if he does it again.

He does it again. I’m trying to figure out something to say as the mom “Scottyyyyy”s again. Then my son says, “Stop that!” Everybody looks at him. “You’re hurting her!”

“Oh, sweetie,” the boy’s mom says, “he just likes her. He thinks she’s pretty. Don’t you think girls are pretty?”

I decide to let him handle it.

My son scowls enormously at the mom. “What does her being pretty have to do with hurting her?”

“Oh, he’s not really hurting her. He’s just trying to get her attention.” The girl’s mom is nodding in agreement. “Don’t worry, she’s fine.” The girl’s expression is the very image of exasperation.
And OB does it again. “OW! Stop it!” the girl finally snaps. “That hurt!”

My son steps forward, spins the other kid around by his shoulder, and punches him hard enough in the gut to drop him to his knees. “Oh my god! Scotty!” his mom yelps. “What do you think you’re doing?!” she yells at my son.

He looks up at her. Shrugs. And says, “I think he’s pretty. I just wanted to get his attention.”

The mom glares at me while she collects OB off the ground and pulls him out of line. “Aren’t you going to say something?” she yells at me.
I nod. Put my hand on my son’s shoulder. Look at him meaningfully. “Well-played, sir,” I say. He beams at me. “You PRICK!” OB’s mom shouts. My son looks shocked. “-Language-!” he says to her. They storm off.

My son turns to the girl, looks her up and down, and says, “You -are- very pretty. I’m sorry I let that boy pull your hair. That was not okay. He needs to learn about consent. It’s a thing.”

They spend the rest of the line-up chatting about consent while her mother looks embarrassed and confused.

My son gets to Santa. Santa asks him if he’s been good. “Weeeeellllllll,” he says, “I just punched a kid who wouldn’t stop pulling this girl’s hair.” Santa looks at me. I nod. Santa considers. “I’d say you’ve been -very good-, then.” He gives him an extra candy cane.”

 

A Follow-Up from Sage’s Dad:

Sage and I have been talking about this a lot.

One of the things that made him the most uncomfortable about that experience was that it turned violent. We discussed it at length afterwards — that there are different options to deal with these things. Compared to other kids his age, he’s remarkably non-violent. I have many memories of watching him stand by the side as a group of kids basically beat the crap out of each other.

As others have pointed out, kids don’t necessarily have the socialization we do. Violence is, frankly, more common for them. I viewed his response as measured and appropriate…for a seven year old.

In regards to the comments about “letting the boy hurt her” — he was apologizing for not acting sooner, not trying to rob the girl of agency. In the conversation we had afterwards, he was actually angry that none of the adults (including me) did anything about what was going on.

I don’t celebrate the act of violence. I celebrate that my son doesn’t buy into gender norms that say it’s okay to hurt girls and women, and that he was brave enough to act on it.

I think the reason the other mom looked so embarrassed when my son was talking to her was because he was pretty much repeating what we’ve taught him about consent. A lot of “you own your body,” and “no one should touch you without your permission,” etc. Which sucks, because I didn’t want her to feel humiliated. I kept hoping she’d pipe in to agree or something, but she just stood there and looked like she was personally getting crapped on. I made a few supportive comments, but it didn’t make a dent.

Of course, when I later brought up the whole “don’t you think punching him was an example of touching without permission” thing to my son, we ended up having a loooong talk about the few times violence could be acceptable.

Sage definitely doesn’t buy into the “boys will be boys” ethos. Never has, really. We’ve had to do a bit of de-programming to counteract the effects of television.

I had a fascinating discussion with him about de-escalation, and how women are taught to go passive in the face of male aggression. I come from a family of very strong women — while they do experience the same sort of crap other women go through, they immediately confront it. Sage has very strong female role models in his life, not the least of whom is his mom.

Little kids are learning about consent, but it seems to be from the viewpoint of “avoid” or “tell a grown-up.” These tactics don’t seem to do much good, as far as I can tell. Bullying continues to fly under the radar of most adults, who conveniently forget how brutally violent the lives of children can be.

 

95 thoughts on ““You’re Hurting Her!” A Story of Consent in the Santa Line

  1. Natalie Andw

    Wow 😲 for a seven year old boy he is very brave but he is right violent is not always the best answer and you are right as well now a days violence is something most kids do now but that does not make it right it would usually show the bully power it would show them that you have a weakness but all people have a weakness so what my family tells me is deal with ur own problems but if it gets too out of hand then tell adult but just don’t show the bully ur weakness or that will give them power and that will just make every thing worse and on body wants that. TRY TO STOP BULLYING !!! Cuz its not right we should do something about bullying please help stop bullying please help to do something about it!!!!!!!!!!!

    Like

  2. Elise Power

    I recall a boy in my Junior High class that would poke me every time I walked by him. I told him to stop numerous times, to no avail. One day, as I walked by, he did it yet again, and I backhanded him upside the head with the book I was carrying. He looked in outrage at the teacher, and asked her if she saw it. She nodded and said, decisively, “I sure did, and you deserved it.” Thank you Miss Dahl!

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  3. I have a seven year old like him. He once yelled at the boys in his class (while getting changed for swimming) to “stop being sexist” and “girls and boys are equal” when they were chanting “boys are best” over and over again. I was worried about him getting teased (he was yelling really loud until they stopped) and told him they wouldn’t understand what the word “sexist” was and not to yell so loud but later I felt bad that I didn’t say something (I was in there helping the kids – shoe laces and pulling up sweaty socks- as a parent helper). I told him later that he did the right thing. We read a lot of diverse books and have discussions about diversity and discrimination at home and my boys have high IQs (I’ve blogged about some of the books here https://endautismstigma.wordpress.com/2014/10/24/diverse-books-for-kids/ ). I think our kids are ahead of the majority of other kids with understanding issues of social justice ( for my boys because of their voracious reading habits) and this somewhat disadvantages them socially but is an advantage to progress generally. Sigh.

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  4. I really wish I could edit my comment. I wrote in a seemingly unconnected way that my boys have high IQs – I mentioned this solely to explain why we discuss social justice issues like many other things in great detail and they have a great understanding of those concepts. But really that is ableist. I have exposed my boys to such concepts from simple to complex over many years and IQ is not very relevant when there are so many great kids books out there (explaining things in an age-appropriate way) it’s probably more to do with the privilege of being able to afford them and the time to spend exploring those books and topics.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sarah

    This is a great story! It helps me have hope for future generations. I have four boys and one girl. My 18 yr old has special needs and was always bullied until last year when he started going to a therapeutic school. My youngest is 14 yrs and two yrs ago he received an award through his school because he stopped a bully from picking on another kid with special needs just like his big brother’s. Kindness happens but how you raise your kids is important.

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  6. Rosario

    Great story, I have a 7 year old, even at his young age, I want him to know its not okay for anyone to hurt someone else, especially you. That you should always speak up if you see something going on act of you have too, and his father and I will always back him up! I agree with the father final statements! I want share with my son and see what he thinks!?

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  7. I am very disappointed with your take-down of the previous comments.

    I think that the criticism in the comments was fair. The author of the story chose how he would present it. He claims that so many other things happened that he did not include, yet he chose to include a part where the kid looked her up and down a followed with “You -are- very pretty.” Given that there are so many ways to frame a story, I must assume that the order of events were laid out deliberately. If he looked her up and down to check if she was hurt (although he witnessed everything, so that doesn’t make a lot of sense), it likely would have been framed that way, rather than followed with a comment about the young girl’s appearance.

    The criticisms of the story ultimately had nothing to do with its subject, Sage. They had everything to do with the author of the story. The author believed that the circumstance was exemplary of behavior that other people should emulate. That’s why it’s on this site. It’s on here to be celebrated. That’s problematic.

    With the wonderful trajectory that Sage is on with the issues of consent and, perhaps, feminism, maybe it would have been more responsible to wait and post a story that is more exemplary of our collective goals (or at least, I hope, the goals of this site).

    Like

  8. Thank you so much. As a kid at school I was terrified of “the boys” . ,My best day of school was when I walked through the gate of my all girls high school. I am so glad people like you and your son and his mum are creating alternative options.

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  9. 248patterson

    I think that Sage responded with personality and care for the little girl. He has been taught not to be a push over and to speak up for what he believes him. Anger is a very powerful emotion for adults let alone children. So, I think he reacted appropriately for his age, after all it was a learning curve! If we don’t allow our children to feel powerful emotions-how are they naturally will. How can they learn to deal with them? No saying anything can be more damaging that not! They need to experience their full emotional range, to really learn how to deal with it all. The father did well I think. He discussed it, afterwards that it isn’t right to get physical, but the OB boy was condoning it and so was the mother that physical contact was acceptable in their world.

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  10. Thanks, everyone, for your comments — including emquisitive. I may not agree with emquisitive’s point of view, but it’s food for thought, and that’s never a bad thing.

    A few people pointed out here and elsewhere that we didn’t actually need Santa’s consent to publish his photo, and I agree. However, Sage was fairly adamant that we needed his consent, and I had two responses to that: 1 – I don’t want to undermine my son’s desire to respect other people’s consent, even if it’s a naive understanding, and 2 – I really didn’t want to plaster a picture of my kid across the internet. He probably would’ve been fine with it, but he doesn’t understand the consequences of public exposure.

    subjectsandpredikates asked: “Could you share any insight about how you’ve talked to Sage about consent in the past?”

    We started very young. Children experiment with violence from a very young age, often from a very “What happens if I do this?” perspective. In Sage’s case, as a toddler, he used to come up to his mom and bite her. Just out of the blue, for no reason. We began there. His mom would react loudly (louder than the wee bite required), in order to show him she was hurt. Then she’d tell him she was sad. The biting stopped very quickly.

    As he got older, he would often be around other kids who were also experimenting with childish levels of violence. It’s funny — our thoughts on violence started out pretty simply. We wouldn’t deny him exposure to it, because it exists and he needs to be able to handle it, but we would also categorically put it down as bad. Then he started playfighting with his friends, and had all sorts of questions about that. So we had to modify it to, “Well, it’s okay to roughhouse with your friends, as long as no one is hitting in anger and no one is hurt.

    The questions became more and more complex as his thinking evolved. It’s startling to realize how much conflict exists when you find yourself being posed fairly heavy ethical questions by your kid on a regular basis, ranging from things he sees in media, to the actions of other kids, to the actions of other adults. I expected fatherhood to be a lot of “this is how you do things” with a light touch on moral issues. Well, it turns out my kid can figure out how to do practical things on his own, and the overwhelming majority of his questions about intangible concepts.

    Sage has had friends go through divorces. He’s had friends moved away against their will. He’s had friends get bullied. He’s had friends get sexually assaulted. And each time, he’s had questions. “Why are my friend’s mom and dad not together? Don’t they know they’re hurting her?” So we had to discuss weighed consent, and minimum harm. “Why are my friend’s parents moving when he wants to stay?” So we had to discuss consent in light of practical issues like survival. “Why is my friend’s dad saying mean things to him?” So we had to discuss how people do hurtful things, and how they don’t respect consent. “My friend told me a secret. I don’t want to tell you, because I promised I wouldn’t.” So we had to discuss in what circumstances it’s okay to keep secrets or not. “What do you do if a bully hits you? What if he hits your friend?” So we had to discuss acceptable use of force in self-defense or the defense of others.

    In short, consent is an ongoing, complex, frustrating discussion. Ongoing and complex because as my son and his peers grow, their experiences become more and more complex. Frustrating because it’s not simple, and because other people don’t spend much time talking about it, -especially- with their kids. Many people express that teaching children consent will spoil them; will make them weak; is over their head; will undermine parental authority; etc. I think that’s bullshit, myself. Teaching a child about consent teaches them how to interact with the world in a constructive fashion. It teaches them respect for others and themselves.

    The underlying approach we’ve taken is pretty straightforward. I treat my son with respect. I don’t assert my authority to prove I’m the boss, or because I’m tired and don’t feel like answering a million questions, or in any other way that’s simply convenient, unless it’s an immediate survival issue (I won’t ask his permission before pulling him back from stepping into traffic without looking — not that he does that).

    I respect his space. If he closes the door to his room, I knock. If he is doing something and doesn’t want me to look, I don’t. If he says he’s done something, I choose to believe him. All of these things teach him that I trust him and that I think highly of him. In return, he wants that good feeling to continue, so he acts to live up to our positive expectations of him.

    I ask him questions, rather than make statements. I am willing to compromise. I am interested in his feelings, and when we run into the “you don’t understand this or that,” I don’t say it’s because he’s just a kid. I say it’s because he lacks experience, and then we seek out the experience together, or we put a definite timeline on it.

    In short, I treat him like I would any other person who hasn’t shown themselves untrustworthy — with respect, dignity, and operating under the assumption that he won’t be foolish or cruel.

    An example: A few years back, he wanted to be naked. All the time. Streaking around the house. And we said no reflexively. He asked why. And I explained one in a long line of “your mother and I don’t care, but society does, and you need to respect the sensitivities of others” conversations, pointing out the windows in the front of our house. I figured that was the end of the discussion.

    He said, “What if I go upstairs? People can’t see through those windows.” And he was right. I was tempted to say, “For pity’s sake, child, JUST PUT ON YOUR CLOTHES!” But I didn’t, because his answer was logical and offended nothing but my sense of parental authority. He played naked for a few hours, and that was pretty much the end of Streaking Sage. He tested his boundaries, got a sensible response, and was done with it.

    We -have- discussed sexual consent with him, because he’s aware that sex exists (though he declares it weird and yucky most of the time), and because sexual assault of children still happens on a horrific level. We wanted him to be aware that he owned his body, and other people owned their own bodies, and there would be no touching of any kind if they protest it. I found it fascinating how consent over sexual touching and consent over violence have melded clearly in his mind. We discussed acceptable touches (hugs, kisses from family and close friends — he has a male friend his own age who insists on kissing him on the cheek, and he loves it) and unacceptable touches, and to trust his gut. If a touch made him feel weird, it was not a good touch. If a touch was ever in certain places, definitely not a good touch. If it was a doctor or a family member, and he wasn’t sure if it was a good touch or not, err on the side of bad touch and tell his parents.

    And he gets it. It’s easy for adults to forget that kids want to know about sex, and that they often think about sexuality from a fairly young age. My kid knows he has a penis and that it does interesting stuff and that it feels nice to touch. It’s not a topic we avoid or that we make shameful. We’re matter of fact about it, and so he discusses it freely and easily. As he matures, he’ll know he can discuss sex with us without feeling judged or humiliated. I suspect that if more people took this approach, there’d be a much lower incidence of sexual assault.

    In closing:

    My son is an extraordinary child in a number of ways. He’s smart, funny, generous, kind, and incredibly loving. He loves to sing. He loathes injustice. He likes to help people. He also thinks his butt is hilarious, that Dr. Doom is pretty cool for a supervillain, has a crush on Sabine from “Star Wars: Rebels,” hates baths (until he gets in them, then doesn’t want to get out), is the world’s pickiest eater, greets his friends by mutual tackling each other, doesn’t like his school work, and occasionally accuses his parents of being “tyrannical monsters set out to destroy all fun in the universe.” <- That's a quote.

    Some people think that raising a child with an understanding of consent will make them a target for bullying, or weak, or a social outcast. My son is none of those things. He's a pretty spiffy, pretty normal kid who just happens to respect consent, as much as he's able to understand it within the limited scope of his life.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Esmeralda Lopez Soto

      I am very proud of having you in this world, with a son so mature in morals and understanding of other peoples boundaries. When I read about your child, it seems like I am reading about my children and grandchildren. They are as inteligent and strong in character as they are genle and caring of o y hers. If we teach these lessons to our children, there would be no buullying. I was raised that way and raised my, that way also…even though there are exceptions to the rules, we had some in the family that wanted the power to bully others and were not included in many of the family get together for fear of hurting them. We wanted them in our lives, but not in their terms. You cannot change others, but you can change how you react to them. We know what been bully is. They have always been there. GOD BLESS YOU AND YOUR FAMILY…..MERRY CHRISTMAS and aGREAT NEW YEAR.

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  12. Molly

    As far as his response being violent, I think it’s an issue of being heard. He tried a nonviolent approach first, but it was pretty clear he was not being heard by either the kid or the parents. Kids often have trouble even having their perspectives considered by adults, so I can definitely see why he felt the need to respond the way he did. Even though he does not generally support violence, he did what he felt was necessary to protect this girl, and I’m so glad he did. And judging by her mother’s response, she probably doesn’t get that kind of protection very often. I’m not saying it’s necessarily good that her mother was embarrassed, but I hope this was enough to change the way she handles these situations. And even if it wasn’t, maybe this girl will remember Sage’s words when she’s a teenager and enters the dating/relationship world.

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  13. wholovesbabies

    The boy did the right thing, given the circumstance. It’s true that violence doesn’t solve problems, but the bully’s mom was actually advocating that it’s okay to be rough to girls. I say this lesson is more for the mom, than her bullying child instead.

    Like

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