In Depth

What parents can learn from the Jian Ghomeshi trial

Regardless of the verdict of the very public trial of former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi, one thing is already patently clear: the issue of consent is now firmly in the spotlight. Here's some tips you can take home to your children, whether they be tots or teens.
In this courtroom sketch, witness Lucy DeCoutere, right, is cross-examined by defence lawyer Marie Henein as Jian Ghomeshi and Justice William Horkins listen in court. (Alexandra Newbould/Canadian Press)

Regardless of the verdict of the very public trial of former CBC host Jian Ghomeshi, one thing is clear: the issue of consent is now firmly in the spotlight.

For many parents, the trial is dragging up a number of issues. Not only is it forcing us to reflect on our own experiences, and those of people we know, but we're also left wondering about the world our children are heading into.

Here are a few lessons parents might want to consider when helping children navigate difficult waters in their future dating lives:

For parents of teens

Hopefully you can talk about the Ghomeshi trial with your teens, particularly about the need for clear and ongoing consent.

The case is a stark reminder that sexual relations are murky, difficult, illogical things. Such matters are hard to negotiate as an adult, let alone as a teenager.

Boys often get confusing messages that conflate masculinity with toughness, while girls can get caught in the trap of trying to please.

Parents want to make sure both genders know that it's okay to say "no," to say "stop" and to speak up if they see someone else acting inappropriately.

Also, teens need to know that sometimes being polite and walking away, or confiding in friends, isn't enough. If they feel uncomfortable or someone is trying to overstep boundaries, they should tell an adult.

Encouraging your children to consider themselves the protagonists of their own lives won't necessarily protect them from bad things, but hopefully will help steer them away from bad situations.

For parents of younger children

Consent isn't the issue here, but establishing boundaries is. In my family, I want my toddlers to grow up confident they can draw a line and stick to it.

But that doesn't mean that their wants trample over the wishes of others. Yes their boundaries matter, but so do other people's.

Question the social norms that often value assertiveness in boys, and acquiescence in girls.

This can be hard: Boys are more rambunctious as youngsters and girls are, generally, more eager to please. We need to make sure we don't fall into the trap of rewarding those behaviours. 

It's important to start this early. In times of extreme uncertainty, children (and adults) are more likely to fall back on a lifelong habit, rather than a learned lesson.

If that habit is to please people, or to be aggressive in order to get your own way it can lead to some extremely difficult situations. If that habit is to be guided by a strong inner voice and to have the strength to speak up, there's a better chance of being clearly understood. 

Parents can help their children become strong within themselves so they know what they will — and won't — do and then how to act appropriately.

Teaching boundaries while enforcing rules

As parents we need to educate our children about personal boundaries and enforce rules. That can be tough.

For example, one of my twins hates wearing mitts. Often, I end up just overpowering her and stuffing her hands into them.

The Ghomeshi case has made me ask myself: What does that teach her? That physical roughness isn't allowed — unless it's mummy with a snowsuit? I'm already undermining the lessons I'm trying to teach.

If you can, stop and really listen to your children. Give their emotions space, even if it doesn't make sense. They're feeling something, acknowledge those feelings.

Then, if you do have to override their boundaries, explain why: "I'd love you to do this yourself, but we have to get you to school on time," for example.

This will help your kids develop a more nuanced understanding of "what I want to do" and "what I will do".

About the Author

Tenille Bonoguore

Parenting columnist, CBC KW

Tenille Bonoguore is a writer, editor, and parenting columnist for CBC Radio Kitchener-Waterloo. She was formerly a news reporter in Australia and Canada, and continues to write for Today's Parent magazine. She is also the exhausted mom of two hilarious toddlers, and stepmom of two awesome adults.


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