Why I’m passionate about teaching my 10-year-old daughter how to deal with unwanted attention and three ways I’m empowering her to protect herself.
Last fall, my ten-year-old daughter came home from school, complaining about a boy. He wouldn’t leave her alone.
“Oh, just blow it off,” I said. “He’ll stop if you ignore him.”
“But remember, be nice.”
She continued to complain regularly. I told her to stop being dramatic.
“Be kind,” I said. “I mean it.”
I simply assumed the boy’s behavior was the typical school-crush kind of thing. But as the weeks went on, he did not stop. In fact, his focus only grew stronger, and more intense.
Her frustration escalated as the incidents shifted from frequent occurrences to daily disruption. Everyday, somehow or another, she was having to deal with this unwanted attention.
I coached her on how she should nicely explain to him that she didn’t return his feelings. Obediently, she kindly and repeatedly told him that they could be friends, but that was it.
But then one day, on the playground, she heard her friends yelling.
Spinning quickly, she turned to see the boy running full charge towards her, and she dodged just in time as lunged past her, eyes closed, lips puckered. He was going in for a kiss on the mouth, and he almost succeeded.
She. Was. Livid.
I know kids are kids. And sometimes, boys and girls get little crushes, pass notes, make googly eyes, and even try to kiss each other on the playground.
So even though she felt creeped out, I tried to downplay it.
“Don’t be the squeaky wheel. Don’t make a fuss.” I told myself. “Don’t be that mom.”
But the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me. Suddenly, a memory from many years ago emerged.
When I was 29, I worked in a marketing role in which I traveled quite a bit.
On one trip, in particular, I traveled with a married male counterpart for a four-day trip. During those four days, I deflected his “unwanted attention” on a daily basis. By the end of the trip, it had progressed to flat out harassment, including him calling my hotel room at 11:30 p.m. and inviting me to check out his suite, have a few beers, and watch TV with him.
Up until that point, I had been apologetic and kind about declining his persistent and aggressive invitations to spend time together.
But the phone call was the last straw. So, I confronted him. I told him to leave me alone. I told him if he ever called my hotel room again, I would turn him in to HR.
Long story short, the situation blew up. He denied all of his unprofessional behavior, including inviting me into his hotel room.
Next thing I know, the two of us had to meet with our boss, each of us telling “our version” of what had taken place on the trip.
My coworker flat out denied the phone call. Said I was making it up. Because why would he risk ruining his marriage and tearing his family apart?
His word against mine. No phone records, because he used the hotel phone and not our company-issued cell phones.
Thankfully, my boss believed me. But no action was taken. My co-worker was told to leave me alone and it was left at that.
But I was the one who ended up feeling bad, ashamed, and embarrassed.
When it was all said and done, it felt like I was the one who had done something wrong. Because I spoke up. I created drama that no one wanted to deal with. I rocked the boat when I “should have” just kept quiet.
Remembering this story reminded me of the bigger picture and I realized something critical about what my daughter was experiencing.
If I continued to tell her to simply ignore this boy’s unsolicited and unwanted attention, I was basically telling her that her feelings didn’t matter.
Continuing to silence her with “be nice” and “just ignore him,” would be sending her the same message that women have been getting for years:
Oh is someone bothering you? Overstepping boundaries? Treating you disrespectfully? Just ignore it. Let it go. That’s just the way things are.
Teaching Our Daughters to Ignore Unwanted Attention is Not Okay
Overlooking unwanted attention is a problem for many women. We’ve been trained to be nice. Don’t be “that woman.” Don’t rock the boat. Stop being weak. Sweep it under the rug. Even when it costs us our dignity and our self-worth.
We’ve second-guessed and questioned ourselves.
“Did that really happen?” “Was I imagining that?” “Why am I making such a big deal about this?” “Am I bad for feeling this way?” “Am I overreacting?”
We tell little girls to be nice, be quiet, and look the other way. We tell them to just go to the other side of the playground. We tell them boys will be boys.
When we do this, we are teaching them that their boundaries don’t matter. That their personal space does not exist. Their voices don’t count. That they have to just deal with it.
When my young daughter is standing with a group of friends at school, she shouldn’t have to suddenly duck and dodge to keep from having some kid touch her or kiss her.
If I don’t start teaching her how to stand up for herself when someone goes too far, then I’m just setting the stage for her future.
I’m setting the stage for her to overlook it when a man tries to force a kiss on her in an office, puts his hands on her at a party, or repeatedly make inappropriate comments.
How Can You Empower Your Daughter to Deal with Unwanted Attention?
Here are 3 Ways You Can Start to Empower Her Right Now
1. Encourage your daughter to trust her feelings
If she feels uncomfortable, there is a reason. Girls (and boys, also) need to understand this. They need to learn to put their feelings first.
How often do we tell our daughters that they are overreacting or being dramatic? How frequently do we downplay stories and situations?
Instead, let’s be very careful about how we use those words when talking with our daughters. We should want our daughters to understand how to trust their inner voice.
Encourage them to listen to their gut if something seems off or doesn’t feel right.
They should not feel obligated to be “nice” when something seems off or amiss.
Talk to your daughter about processing this feeling when they experience it, and knowing that she is feeling that way for a reason.
2. Encourage your daughter to speak up
Our daughters also need to know they don’t have to tolerate unwanted behavior and attention. They have the right to speak out against anything, verbal or physical, that makes them feel uneasy.
They should feel confident calling out inappropriate behavior or telling someone what’s going on.
Teach them to speak up and speak out against things that don’t feel right and things they don’t want.
Make sure your daughter knows she can come to you with anything that is upsetting, questionable, or that makes her feel uncomfortable.
Provide a safe space for her to talk when she has fears, issues or concerns. Talk to her about who she can go to if you aren’t there. For example, if something happens at school, what teacher or staff can she talk to? Help her understand who she can trust.
3. Talk to your daughter about setting healthy boundaries
Being kind is one thing. Letting people infringe on your personal space or overlooking things that make you uncomfortable is another.
Girls need to know what unacceptable behavior looks like. Discuss with your daughter what the concept of personal boundaries means. Identify and define what kind of behavior is acceptable and what is not.
Teach your daughter that she should not have to tolerate anyone that is not respectful of her physical space. Nor should she have to tolerate anyone acting verbally or emotionally inappropriate or aggressive.
Model healthy boundaries for your daughter. She sees you as her primary example. So in all relationships, be a positive example.
After the Missed Kiss
So what happened next, with my daughter and her not-so-subtle admirer?
I stopped telling her that she had to be nice. I quit encouraging her to ignore it. I made sure she understood her right to space and boundaries.
She went back to school. She stood up for herself. She used her voice.
I backed her one hundred percent.
It didn’t end there. It turned out to be a longer story.
But I’ll tell you this: It did get resolved eventually, once I empowered her to speak up, and I empowered myself to speak up on her behalf.
Moms, Dads, and caregivers….we’ve got to empower our daughters, (all children, really) that they do not have to accept repeated, unwelcome and unwanted attention.
Our daughters need to know how to recognize inappropriate behavior. And when it happens they need to know how to stand up for themselves.
As women and moms, we need to know, too.
Maybe you weren’t taught to use your voice. Maybe you think your voice doesn’t matter.
Your voice does matter. Your boundaries do matter. Our girls need to know this as well.
Yes, it can be hard. And awkward. But we have to learn to speak up. For ourselves, and for our girls.
Have you had an experience where you had to teach your daughter how to deal with unwanted attention?
Leave a comment below and tell us about it!
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