Thursday, March 28, 2013

Counteracting Rape Culture: Eight Lessons I Hope My Boys Will Learn

It’s probably one of the most demoralizing corners of the internet. The comment section, where ignorance and stupidity know no bounds. I don’t know how I found myself there, but there I was, after reading a depressing article about a 16-year-old girl raped at a party by two football players in Steubenville, Ohio. It was one of those stories that makes you question the world we live in, (one where hackers are the only ones who seem to be able to uncover the truth) but nothing could prepare me for the vitriol and ignorance I found in the comment section. (Note: I didn't link to the original article I read- I can't find it/remember which site)

 “She shouldn’t have been drinking! ”

“What did she expect? Getting drunk at a party.”

“She got what she deserved!”

“Men can't help themselves- they don’t have the same kind of control that women do when it comes to sex.”

I’d like to think that people this ignorant couldn't figure out how to turn on a computer, let alone use it, but I’d be wrong. There were countless comments like these. Feminist theory calls it Rape culture”- “a culture in which rape and sexual violence are common and in which prevalent attitudes, norms, practices, and media normalize, excuse, tolerate, or even condone rape.Victim-blaming is a key component of rape culture. I’d like to think that as a society, we have moved past rape culture, but events like Stuebenville have illustrated that Rape Culture is still thriving.

Is this the culture that led these boys in Stuebenville to not only rape their victim, but to boast about it on social media? Is this the same culture that drove football coaches and others to blame the victim for her own rape and to protect these boys from any repercussions? I think so.

As a mother, tragedies like this make my heart hurt. They make me afraid. How do I raise girls who understand that they are not objects? That they should never let anyone objectify them or mistreat them? That they shouldn't feel shame for another person's actions? I've tried to convey this message to my daughter, but I also have two sons.  Here is a little list I put together of lessons I can teach my sons now to, hopefully, counteract this ignorance that seems ever so prevalent.  

Lessons I hope to teach my boys to counteract Rape Culture:

1.       Respect other peoples’ authority over their own bodies. Don’t tickle, kiss, hug, or touch another person without their permission. If someone asks you not to touch them, listen. If you are rough-housing with your friends and one of them asks you to stop, listen.
2.       You are not entitled to anything. I don’t care if someone is eating freshly-baked pie right in front of you- you have no right to another person’s food without their permission. The same applies to a person’s body. The way a girl dresses or acts does not entitle you to treat her like an object, EVER.
3.       Follow the golden rule. Treat people with the same respect you’d like to be shown. Treat every person as a thinking, feeling being. Be kind.
4.       You are accountable for your own actions. You will have to face the consequences of your choices. It’s better to learn this as a child than an adult. I know you hate going to time out or not getting what you want all the time, but that’s life, dude.  
5.       Don’t ever mock anyone for their appearance. Women are not required to be eye candy for you, or anyone. I know you will be bombarded with images of posing women- images that objectify them and make their very existence seem like it is only for your amusement and pleasure. Heck, judging from the number of provocative Facebook profile pictures I have seen, sometimes women seem to believe this lie. Ads and television don’t reflect reality. The overweight woman in the swimming suit is just as entitled to wear what she wants as the thin woman. We all come in different shapes and sizes. Besides, physical beauty can’t hold a candle to inner beauty.

6.       You are not more important than anyone else. I don’t think we will ever truly grasp just how invaluable each person is. We all have something totally unique to offer the world. Learn to treat each person with the same respect you would give your dearest friend. 
7.       Learn to deny yourself. That second slice of cake? Another hour of playing on the Wii? Get use to not always indulging in what you want or what feels good. Self-control is learned, not something you are born with. Practice it now. If you can master self-control, nothing is out of reach.
8.       Compassion. I know we live in a world that acts like being a man means being a tough, emotionless robot. That’s also total B.S. I knew your father was a “real man” when I saw him cup a spider in his hand and take it outside rather than squish it. He refuses to kill anything, even bugs. There is nothing manlier than using your emotions and energy to help or enrich the lives of those around you. Compassion is one of the most sincere forms of love and respect you can offer.

What would you add to this list? I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Ask a Behavior Analyst: Finger Biting

Hi Everybody,  now that I have introduced myself and my field via a simple video I am ready to answer your questions*.   If you have a question for me, feel free to email me at

And now for the first question.     

I have a 3 year old daughter who was addicted to her pacifiers from the day she was born.  We tried to wean her off her pacifier slowly, having her toss them as she chewed through them.  She threw the last one away about a month before her brother was born (6 months ago).  We decided to use a different type of pacifier with him to avoid tempting her (which has worked) but she has been chewing her fingers since the last pacifier was gone.  I can't get the skin to heal.  and one finger on each hand is not only gross but has missing skin and bleeds easily.  What can I do to break her of this habit?  We have tried asking her to sop, we have tried taking her hand out of her mouth and covering it but she just chews on the cover.  

Oh man.  I feel you on this one.  My daughter went through nearly the same thing when we weaned her off her pacifier.  Except she was a lip picker (scabby, bloody lips look darling in pictures, let me tell you).  So I am not going to sugar coat it, habits like these (thumb sucking, fingernail biting, lip picking) are hard to break.  You can't just take away her finger like you could take away her pacifier.

To start off with, I am going to make an assumption and it is a big one.  But first I have to digress a little into basic behavior analysis.  Bear with me.  In general, the reason behind a behavior can be broken down into one of four categories (behavior analysts call these "functions of behavior" because we like to sound fancy and scientific.
  1.  Attention:  Kids behave a certain way so that people pay attention to them.  Example :  Joe does his homework because he likes his teacher to tell him, "Good Job." 
  2.  Escape/Avoidance:  Kids do a certain thing to get out of a task.  Example:  When Suzy cries, her mom doesn't make her do her homework.  
  3. Tangible:  A kid does a behavior to get something.  Example.  Emily does her homework because her mom gives her a quarter for every sheet she completes.  
  4. Sensory:  A kid does a behavior because of something internal.  This behavior does not rely on the environment and thus is the hardest to change.  Example.  Tom does his homework because he likes the feeling of completeness.  
Anyway, back to the finger biting.  I am assuming that your daughter is doing it for a SENSORY reason (this is the most common function). So my advice only applies if that is the case.  If you think she is doing it to get attention, or get out of doing things, write back.  I'll give you a whole different approach.  

The first step is to limit the environments where she is allowed to bite her fingers.  If it were me, I would limit it to her bed.  Every time I saw her biting her fingers, I would say "Oh, you must be tired" and send her to bed.  Yes, this will be exhausting at first but you want her to have to choose between biting her fingers and doing something fun.  No watching her favorite TV show while nibbling on her fingers.  Just be matter of fact about it, and consistent. 

Second, I would try to think of something she could do instead of nibbling her fingers.  Replace the behavior.  You will have to experiment here.  Your job is to figure out if it is her fingers that need to be kept busy, or her mouth.  Is it that she likes the sensory experience of putting something in her mouth, or the sensory feeling of picking at her fingers?  Maybe try something to keep her fingers busy.  Silly Putty?  Or have her wear silly banz that she can fiddle with.  You could also give her something that is okay to chew on (teether?) or a satisfying chewy food.  You will probably have to try several things before you find something that sort of works.  And truthfully, it will never be as fulfilling to her as chewing her fingers but it might help break the habit.

Finally I would write her a little story.  I know it sounds weird but if your daughter likes reading she may be really receptive to a book about herself (a lot of kids are).  I am posting the one I made for my daughter to give you an idea.  As you can see, it is very simple and I let her color it herself.  And I am not an artist.    You could also use actual photographs instead of illustrations, if you prefer.

The one thing I wished I had had in my book was a page about how "sometimes it feels good to pick your lips".  Whenever I said that to my daughter, she really appreciated the validation.

Good luck!  and let me know how it goes.

*This probably goes without saying but since I only know what you told me in your one little paragraph, my answers are, by necessity, more general in nature and may not apply perfectly to your situation and child.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

What in the heck is Behavior Analysis?

Before we start an Ask A Behavior Analyst feature, I thought I should probably explain what Behavior Analysis is.  So here is a little video I made to help you understand the basics.

If you have a question for Ask a Behavior Analyst, please email or facebook us.