Podcast 031: Letting Kids Set Boundaries

In This Episode: Following on the previous episode, a lot of child abuse could be stopped if we encouraged our kids to set boundaries — and then we honored them. The story from the middle school in Utah where girls were not allowed to say no to boys asking them to dance really drives this all home: the rule actually sets girls up for abuse. Plus another segment of No Longer Weird.

Jump To…

Show Notes

Not How It’s Done

Sean Connery: WRONG!

Roger Moore: WRONG!

Pierce Brosnan: WRONG!

Daniel Craig: WRONG!

A military reservist shows the RIGHT way: finger completely OFF the trigger and in the “index” position until he’s ready to shoot.

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Randy: Welcome to Uncommon Sense, the Podcast companion to the ThisIsTrue.com newsletter with the mission to promote more thinking in the world. I’m Randy Cassingham.

Kit: I’m Kit Cassingham.

Randy: We’re catching up a little this week, and you can find links and a transcript on the Show Page, at thisistrue.com/podcast31

First up, let’s add another category to stories that are No Longer Weird. You can see the list of these categories at thisistrue.com/nlw — short for No Longer Weird. This week, the topic relates to something that’s all over the news lately: gun safety. And probably for bad reasons. But specifically in this case, it’s people who accidentally shoot themselves while demonstrating the supposedly safe handling of firearms.

The recent such story I passed on was from the Omaha, Nebraska, World-Herald last month. A 23-year-old man was showing two friends how to field strip, or take apart, a Springfield XD 9mm pistol. He demonstrated how to rack the slide to eject the round in the chamber — hey, great start! But then he demonstrated how the gun was now safe by putting the muzzle against his hand, and pulling the trigger.

Kit: Ouch!

Randy: At least he didn’t put it against his head. Sure enough the gun was not safe, and he blew a hole in his hand.

Kit: Up close and personal.

Randy: Yeah. 9mm’s plenty big enough to kill somebody with one shot — but not through the hand.

Kit: But fortunately the hand is not a vital body part, so….

Randy: Well, depends on what he wants to do with it.

Kit: Hm.

Randy: So he’s missing a chunk of it, at the very least. Let’s review the actual four cardinal safety rules with guns. I don’t take these from the NRA, but rather from the late Col. Jeff Cooper, who trained combat shooters in actual safety procedures.

Rule Number 1: All guns are always loaded. They aren’t, of course, but one should always treat them that way. That means not pointing it at yourself or anyone else to “demonstrate” that it’s “safe”. Responsible people don’t do that, period.

Rule Number 2: Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. That means don’t point it at something you don’t want to really hurt — like, say, your hand, or your head! Goes pretty well with Rule Number 1, doesn’t it?

Kit: It does.

Rule Number 3: Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target. This is the one I see violated the most. Look at any movie poster, like James Bond or similar, where the actor is holding a gun, pointing it at the sky — you know, to be “safe”. In almost every instance, you’ll see their finger is on the trigger. What, they’re trying to shoot a helicopter without looking at it or something? Someone startles you, or your finger twitches, you really don’t want that gun right by your face to fire. Yet Daniel Craig did it on his poster, Roger Moore did it, Sean Connery did it, Pierce Brosnan did it, and many more: I’ll have some examples on the Show Page, plus one that shows how to actually hold a gun. Having your finger on the trigger when you’re not intending to shoot is not a safe way to hold a gun, period, and you can tell if the actor has been properly trained in gun safety, because he or she really won’t want to hold it that way if they actually know what they’re doing. It’s not “cool,” and it’s not how “secret agents would do it,” because they know how to handle guns.

Kit: You know, it seems to me that any number of things could jostle you, and if your finger’s on the trigger, any number of things could get shot. And you’ve done many a story on …the “lower region” of the body that has gotten shot.

Randy: Yes, usually when they stuff the pistol into their waistband.

Kit: With their finger on the trigger.

Randy: Yeah, and the finger on the trigger is the number one way people hurt themselves with guns. Anytime you see a story about a cop, a robber, or anyone else, shooting themselves in the leg, or their “lower regions,” it’s usually because they still have their finger on the trigger when they jam their pistol back into the holster, or waistband. Well, if your finger is in the trigger guard, and you push the gun into a holster or some other tight space, that’s going to press on your finger, which presses the trigger, and the bullet goes where it’s pointed — which is often at their own leg….

Kit and Randy simultaneously: Orrrr…

Randy: Other spots. And you know, you can certainly die from being shot in the leg depending on how it’s pointed, thanks to your femoral artery running down each leg.

Kit: The largest artery …in the body…?

Randy: No, that’s the—

Kit: That’s the—

Randy: That’s the aorta, which splits into the femorals.

Kit: Right. Right.

Randy: So yes, it’s a pretty major artery at the very least. And Rule Number 4: Be sure of your target and what is beyond it. This is violated a lot too. What is behind your target? Because your bullet could well go through the target, or you’ll probably miss the target a good percentage of the time. Where will your bullet land? If you don’t know for sure, then you’re not being safe, and the results can be tragic, sometimes a long way away.

As always, this comes down to thinking. And if you’re going to have a gun, you need actual training in the safe handling of that gun. Having a gun may be a right, but every right comes with a strong responsibility.

Kit: [long pause] Hear hear.

Randy: They can’t hear you nod.

Kit: I totally agree. It doesn’t matter why you have a gun, you have to be trained in using it properly, safely, and effectively.

Randy: And that’s what cops do, and that’s what they need to do to because you know what? They get into trouble too. I’ve seen these stories that I’m now declaring No Longer Weird, I’ve seen cops do it too. You know, they just get lazy….

Kit: Complacent.

Randy: Complacent! That’s a better word.

Kit: Or distracted, which may be part of complacent.

Randy: Yep, and they shoot themselves in the leg and you know exactly what happened when you hear about it.

Well let’s get to the main topic this week. I wanted to follow up on Episode 30, about how two different groups of people failed in their “Mandatory Reporting” requirement — that they contact the proper authorities when they become aware of any sort of child abuse, especially child sex abuse — because when they don’t, you not only condemn that child to continue to be abused, but very often the abuser moves on to other children. In the case of Dr. Larry Nassar that we discussed last week, the doctor of the U.S. Olympics gymnastics team, whose victims reported him again and again and again, he went on to abuse at least 265 girls and young women. It could have been stopped a long time before.

Kit: That still turns my stomach.

Randy: Yeah, well, as you know, it bothers me a lot too — I got pretty choked up in the last episode. So last week there was another story, not anywhere near as horrific, but this really does tie in: a middle school in Utah, in preparation for its annual Valentines Day dance, reminded students that the girls — and I’m not clear if that also applied to boys, but specifically the girls — were not allowed to say no to the boys when the boys ask them to dance, apparently under the theory that the girls would hurt the boy’s feelings by saying no. The story, and some discussion, is on my blog: I’ll link to it on the Show Page. Anyway, some readers really didn’t get it. Here’s one, from the blog post:

The story and the comments I read skew STRONGLY toward this being an unbelievably insensitive school. I totally see it the other way around. They seem sensitive. The commenters seem like the ones that have gone off the deep end. How dare the school make such a rule? This is sixth grade we are talking about here, not high school or college. Is sixth grade so sexualized that being required to say yes carries lots of overtones? (I admit it has been a very long time since I was in sixth grade, but I did go to sixth grade in Utah, and yes I was typically chosen last for whatever.) It is or should be social, not sexual. On the other hand, I will totally agree we should do what we can to train kids to be nice to each other, and everyone to be nice to everyone. But, wow, we are over-reacting I think.

Kit: You know, first of all, I’ve got a lot of reactions to this. The responder — the person who wrote the comment you just read — is one of those people who wants everybody to get a First Place ribbon. You know, at the spelling bee or whatever, because “we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.” And I don’t subscribe to that at all: that’s not what life is about.

Randy: Yeah: sometimes you lose in life.

Kit: Most of the time you do — there’s usually just one real first-place winner, for example. But the other point is, we are way behind in teaching kids how to stand firm on responsibility for their own comfort, and their bodies. And if they have to say yes when they want to say no, that doesn’t teach them that their boundaries are sacred.

Randy: And that they’re allowed to have boundaries. So another reader replied directly to that man. Kristin in Texas spelled it out plainly, writing:

It’s setting a tone: girls are taught that they must accommodate the boys’ desires, so that the boys don’t have to deal with the pain of rejection. Sure, a sixth-grade dance there’s probably not anything sexual going on — but think about what you are teaching those children. You’re teaching the girls that they are responsible for the boys’ comfort, and the boys that the girls are responsible for making them not feel bad. What do you think happens when those sixth-graders are eighth-graders (or high school kids, or college kids) and now that dance does have sexual overtones? Do you think those girls are suddenly going to switch mindsets and have the self-confidence to say no? Or those boys are going to take the rejection in stride?

Kit: Huh uh.

Randy: Great points!

Kit: It’s fabulous, yeah.

Randy: The mother in Utah who was upset about this in the first place had it right. That mother, Natalie Richard, and this wasn’t quoted in the original story run in TRUE, said, speaking of the principal, “He basically just said they’ve had this dance set up this way for a long time and they’ve never had any concern before.” She hit it on the head with a restatement of her problem with the whole idea: “Psychologically,” she says, “my daughter keeps coming to me and saying I can’t say ‘no’ to a boy. That’s the message kids are getting.” And in this day and age, that’s not what you want to teach girls or boys — they can’t say no when someone is making them uncomfortable? That’s unconscionable.

Kit: I’m feeling that this issue ties in with the school shootings we’re seeing so much of lately.

Randy: How so?

Kit: Those kids who do the shooting are kids who are angry, and they’re not knowing what to do with their pent-up emotions, their—

Randy: And very often those emotions come from being bullied at school — that’s why they’re taking it out on the school.

Kit: Maybe by the teachers, maybe by other students. But they haven’t been taught what to do with those emotions. With any rejection. So they take it out on innocent and “guilty” parties by shooting. And if so in sixth grade everybody learns to say no, or accept no, maybe we would have fewer shootings. There’s a lot more to it than that!

Randy: Obviously, but that’s an interesting insight.

Randy: As a guy who worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, trust me, I know: this isn’t rocket science — it should be obvious why the principal’s policy was a problem. And for most, it is obvious. Those who don’t think it’s a problem need to think about it. Let me add this to the mix: kids are also usually taught “don’t talk about” anything to do with sex — so when they can’t say no, and the boy (or the teacher!) does something to them anyway even if they do muster up the courage to say no, then they don’t have the encouragement, or maybe even the vocabulary, to tell their parents there’s something going on that’s making them terribly uncomfortable. That’s one of the many reasons child predators get away with so much for so long. They’re counting on you to look the other way. We all need to stop cooperating with that expectation. Girls, boys, women, and men shouldn’t merely be able to say no, they should be empowered to say no. And they should be able to get help when someone doesn’t take no for an answer.

Kit: They should be able to say —not be able to, they should say no loudly and firmly, and not hesitate to make a scene. Man, this topic brings back all kinds of memories from mostly college and just after college for me.

Randy: Where you had people, or I guess I should say men or boys, that wouldn’t take no for an answer?

Kit: Or, in one case, I wasn’t comfortable saying anything, or removing myself from the situation ’cause I didn’t want to hurt his feelings or make a scene, ’cause we don’t make scenes in my family. But the other case was, I don’t know if I was about to be kidnaped or what, but I did make a scene — but I was laughing while I was making the scene. It made him uncomfortable and he left, but it undermined my message.

Randy: Because you were so nervous, or…?

Kit: Yeah, and because I was making a scene, and my family doesn’t make scenes. So…

Randy: So you were trying to make light of it.

Kit: I was embarrassed, but uncomfortable enough to make a scene. I had a whole plaza of people watching.

Randy: So, because this mother in Utah, Ms Richard, pushed the issue, took it to the media, pointed out how utterly stupid it was, Utah’s Weber School District got the message: they forced the principal to back off of his “Just Don’t Say No” demand of the girls he’s paid to protect.

“In the best interest of our students, we are re-examining the procedures surrounding these dances,” the district says in a written statement, “and will make any necessary changes to promote a positive environment where all students feel included and empowered in their choices.”

If that sounds as non-commital to you as it does to me, they made the bottom line very clear as they continued with that statement: “We have advised our schools to eliminate any sort of language in the instructions surrounding these dances that would suggest a student must dance with another student.” That’s right: even any suggestion of having to say yes every time is going too far. And they’re right. They thought about it, and realized the horror of what the principal is doing, and forced him to stop it.

Kit: Bravo. And hopefully the principal’s finally getting the message and is gonna change his thinking, not just his actions.

Randy: And because this really blew up, thanks to that one mother, I think other schools are getting the message too, that they need to rethink some of these policies, and realize that kids should have boundaries. They should be able to set where those boundaries are, and they should be able to defend them. So here’s the thought I want to leave you with: what if that mother didn’t object. What if she didn’t go to the media, which resulting coverage went viral internationally, putting a lot of pressure on the school district to step in and put a stop to this policy, which the principal admitted had been going on “for years”?

This clearly shows that one person can make a huge difference. One person could have stopped Dr. Larry Nassar from molesting so many girls, and one person could have stopped Colorado middle-school teacher Brian Vasquez from molesting girl after girl after girl — we’re talking the age range of 11 to 14 in that case. But they didn’t do anything to stop it, even when they knew they had a legal obligation to do so, which is what “Mandatory Reporting” means. The case in Utah wasn’t at the level of sexual abuse — yet. But that mother spoke out, she pushed it, and got what is a truly outrageous policy changed.

Kit: I love it. You know, this issue of personal boundaries, that was brought home to me years ago when a friend of mine wouldn’t even hug his 3-year-old son without his son’s permission.

Randy: Wow.

Kit: “Billy,” or whatever his name was, “I would love to hug you. May I?” And if the little boy said no, my friend didn’t do it. [But] what little boy says no to dad’s hug?

Randy: Usually not, but if they’re upset, or bothered by something or they’re mad at you—

Kit: Or in the middle of a game, and they just don’t want your attention.

Randy: —and they don’t want it, I think it’s wrong to push it on them.

Kit: Yeah.

Randy: I think it’s wrong that they have to kiss grandma, or whatever, you know?

Kit: Moldy old grammy!

Randy: They should have the ability, the empowerment, to set their own boundaries.

Kit: Yeah.

Randy: So I want to end with another reader letter, this one from a long-time reader, a retired Roman Catholic priest, Father Tom. I’m going to read his letter verbatim:

I was in a “Can’t say ‘no’” situation and decided I was darned well going to say no to a big shot. Shut the f***er up it did. Several of us were at a backyard picnic with a former mayor and current imbiber. I asked for a 7-Up or ginger ale. Jerkoff shouted out loud, “What’s the matter, Father? Aren’t you man enough to drink?” I yelled back, “I’m man enough to say no!” A quiet dropped out of the sky for a moment, then things went on as usual. I had the feeling they [the other guests] were waiting for someone to shut him up.

And here’s where it gets really important, Father Tom’s specific advice, from his teaching days at, yes, a Catholic school. He says:

I always told the female students at the college that is alright, nay, necessary for them to say “no,” and in whatever voice level is appropriate. Match [the] boy’s level, then increase as necessary. If it’s an adult, start louder and report. If a person in authority over you, go higher and then drop by the newspaper and TV station. Keep a written record of ALL threats, boys and higher, no matter how incidental; paper trails are important from the first moment.

And he signs it “Tom, Guess what I do for a living. Before then, I was in the media.” Yeah, I know: I gave it away at the start, but I think his letter is much more powerful knowing he’s a priest. See why I like Tom? He’s my kind of priest: he understands the way the world really works, and gives practical advice.

Kit: I just love that letter.

Randy: Isn’t that great?

Kit: Yeah.

Randy: And yes, it did say “f’ing” and “jerkoff” — I really did read it verbatim. So that’s it for this week. If you have a story to tell about saying no, or wish you had, or otherwise wish to comment, let us know on the Show Page, at thisistrue.com/podcast31. And if you’re not already a subscriber to This is True’s text newsletter, you can sign up for free at thisistrue.com.

I’m Randy Cassingham…

Kit: I’m Kit Cassingham.

Randy: And we’ll talk at you later.

[Easter Egg]

4 thoughts on “Podcast 031: Letting Kids Set Boundaries

  1. A very interesting podcast, and I agree with you, but it seems a little odd (tone deaf, maybe?) that your response to a very deadly school shooting is to talk about gun safety.

    That isn’t my response to the school shooting. The topic was in fact the “next in line” for No Longer Weird before the shooting, but rather — as mentioned in the podcast — “the topic relates to something that’s all over the news” (emphasis added). All that said, there’s a very good reason that it does fit in well to the “national discussion” we should be having about guns. Listen to that part again (or go through the transcript below), “think about it,” and see if you can connect with what it is I’m doing. -rc

    • I like your challenge. The “national discussion” part is what clued me in. At least, I think I’ve got it: if the right to bear arms is either a Constitutional or natural right, then we as a society can’t, or at least shouldn’t, ignore the concomitant responsibilities, which hasn’t really been a significant part of that discussion. Yes?

      Bingo. First try, even! 🙂 Thanks for demonstrating the way to react to someone suggesting you “think about it”: you took it as a friendly challenge, not an insult. -rc

  2. I’ve trained myself so well that I find I even carry drills and hair dryers and anything else shaped in the same general way … finger along the axis and not on the “trigger” until I’m ready to use it. 🙂

    That’s actually a smart safety idea, especially with power tools. And sure enough, I do the same thing. -rc

  3. Somewhere in the Five Books of Moses there are explicit instructions that only parents may handle a baby — all others, including grandparents, hands off! (Read it myself once but can’t remember where.)

    I was brought up that way and hate to see strangers come up to a family and treat infants or children as though they were so much community property, to be fondled or kissed without a second’s thought! It’s degrading — not to mention a health hazard!

    Hell! Who is stupid enough to approach a domestic animal without the owner’s permission? But children? They’re supposed to be ‘nice.’ Read: helpless to resist. Maybe part of the problem is that many conservative communities have their roots in the 19th century, when children WERE considered the property of their parents, without rights.

    It’s time to reconsider.

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