Teaching Kids that People Are Not Objects

Teaching kids that people are not objects can open a lot of conversations.

[Trigger Warning: Sexual abuse]

When I was in training to become a Lutheran Deaconess, one of the requirements was to learn about recognizing, responding to and preventing sexual abuse. It was my first real understanding of the dynamics of power and abuse. Now as a parent, I teach my child about abuse in age-appropriate ways so he develops healthy ideas about giving and receiving respect.

People Are Not Objects

It seems to me that a lot of abuse happens when people stop seeing others as people. In this distorted and sinful perception of others as objects, real people are beaten, bullied, and discarded at will.

But people are not objects! They are living beings with rights, needs, and feelings. All people are worthy of dignity and respect, no matter what!

Object Lessons

I often use the phrase, “people are not objects” when I talk with my son about abuse in all forms. It is simple to grasp, yet opens many conversations.

We discussed “people are not objects” in a simple form when my son was in preschool. “We do not hit other kids because they have feelings; it is okay to hit your punching bag because it does not have feelings.”

When he was in public school, together we attended a presentation about bully-prevention. Since then we continue to talk about how bullies treat other people like objects and that is wrong. We talk about ways to avoid being bullies as well as the importance of standing up for ourselves and others.

When my son told me that his peers referred to girls as “hotties,” I told him girls are not just things to be judged by their appearance. When we discussed this year’s Super Bowl ads, he said, “You probably don’t like that ad because it treats people like objects.”

Framework for the Future

These are just a few vignettes of the types of conversations we have. While we have never had to face the horror of serious abuse, we have been talking about milder forms for years now.

I have deliberately given him words to identify the problem with treating others as objects. The framework we’ve built can support our future conversations. As the threats and temptations get more serious, we can relate new concerns to established ideals.

I recognize that I can’t protect my child from every possible threat. And as time goes on, he will be responsible for the decisions he makes in how he treats others. Still, talking with him about it throughout his life is the best way I know to help him recognize, respond to and prevent abuse in all forms. These conversations are imporant because people are not objects.

3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Terri Kardos on May 11, 2013 at 8:52 am

    What a wonderful lesson. I could have used this 28 years ago! Thank you, Jennifer.

  2. Posted by Hermano Grande on May 11, 2013 at 11:18 am

    I am constantly amazed at how much I respect you! Your strategies that you have discussed in this entry show that you take seriously the awesome responsibility of helping your son become the best man possible. This topic and your handling of it brings to mind the promises we make when a child is baptized. By teaching him the way he should go you equip him to make his own godly way as an adult. Needless to say, I am quite proud of you!

  3. Posted by Sharol Herr on May 11, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    I recently attended a session on human trafficking. The speaker, Theresa Flores, is a woman who had been trafficked. She talked about when people become a commodity to be sold, used, etc. To learn more I recommend the book that tells her story: The Slave Across the Street available at Amazon. Thanks Jennifer for the direction in having such a difficult conversation with children.

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