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Growing Up Girl: 10 Things My Daughter Should Know

I was 4 when I first kissed a boy. His name was Jason and he sat next to me during circle time at PreK. He was tall, with shaggy brown hair. He was gentle and kind and I liked him more than my favorite bedtime stuffy.

I was in sixth grade when I had my first “boyfriend.” He was in 8th grade and tall with shaggy brown hair (I had a type). We both enjoyed acting and singing and participated in the drama club. I would call his house and he’d record my rendition of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” over his voicemail machine. We talked about making out and things no sixth grader should be discussing, that is until my mom found my journal and forced us to break up.

I was in 8th grade when I received my first unwanted touch. My family and I were walking down a street in Italy when a man pinched my butt as he passed by. I was shocked and somewhat horrified but inevitably chalked it up to cultural differences.

I was a freshman when I fell in love for the first time. He was a senior and we both played basketball. He sang in a punk band with some of his other friends and I was smitten. When I visited him at work at the local pizza shop, he’d give me a red Tootsie Pop - my favorite color. We’d stay out too close to curfew and fool around in the back of his green Camry on the lane that ran through the fields of his father’s house. I was a junior when he taught me what heartbreak really was.

I was 17 when I gave it up all too easily to someone I'd been dating less than three months. He was Portuguese, had a crazy ex-girlfriend, and had already established himself in his career of choice. Turns out he was using me, was still technically attached to crazy ex-girlfriend, and made me feel like a cheap notch in his bedpost by the end of our "relationship."

I was a senior when I was sexually assaulted for the first time. He was an acquaintance I’d met while vacationing in Portugal. He wasn’t tall, had greasy dark hair and smelled of cheap cologne. He didn’t speak English, but there was nothing lost in translation. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was the first boy to teach me my body would never truly be my own.

My daughter has been cycling through crushes faster than a toddler changes their palette. She’s approaching 12 in a few short months and I’ve found over the last month or so the current apple of her eye has been a near constant discussion (in the car after school, at dinner, during bedtime cuddles, at football practice, even during a chance run-in with one of them at BJs). Her boy crazy fever is fueled by hormones, I’m sure, and I realize there’s not much I can do (reflecting on my own JTT crush that left me crying in my pillow many nights during middle school). However, her sheer determination to “have someone” because she’s “lonely” has me terrified and pondering how exactly I’m going to protect her heart and her body from the cruel realities that await her.

Two weeks ago we were hanging fireside with some friends when the discussion turned toward the steps females must take to protect themselves. The women in the room thoroughly explained all precautions we take to ensure our safety (in even the most comfortable, familiar and casual encounters and settings). The men were disheartened to hear. Then reality set in. Between us, collectively, we had five daughters. That’s five impressionable, innocent young women we must steel and strengthen to survive the world they’ve inherited. Five young women we must prepare for the “ways of the world.”

So here, beautiful baby girls. Here is your introduction to the Girl Code. Study it, memorize it, digest it, process it, then fight like Hell to change it.

Rule #1: Buddy System

If you’re going out, you go together. You return together. You don’t leave anyone behind. No matter what she says. No matter how cute/sweet/kind/cool he is. You are a pack and you travel together. If you’re out, you don’t go anywhere alone. Not the bathroom, not a different room. You do NOT leave the pack. You are a formidable group when you have numbers. You’re a much easier target when you’re solo. And speak up! If you see/hear something, report it or share it with those who need to be aware. You are each other’s keepers.

Rule #2: No Candy From Strangers

Remember when you were little and we’d warn you about accepting candy from strangers? The same goes for now. Only it also applies to drinks, food, pretty much anything anyone tries to give you. You keep your belongings with you, under your supervision at all times. Don’t consume anything from anyone else. If you think you have, refer to Rule 1 and get the Hell out of there, together.

Rule #3: No Means No

Your body is yours. And you’re the only person who has any say and control over it, got me? Don’t like how he/she is touching you? Make it clear. Make it known, loudly, that you disapprove. Keep making it known. I don’t care if they’re draping an arm over your shoulder. If you don’t like it, tell them so. As a human, you have every right to set boundaries and they have every responsibility to respect them.

Rule #4: Get Physical

No means no, but sometimes even that won’t be enough. There are some people out there, who, when they’ve got their mind set, won’t settle for anything less than what they want. They will attempt to take it from you. Though you certainly don’t need it, especially from me, you have every permission and right to FORCE them to stop. Use the heel of your palm and jab upward into their nose. Stomp on their foot as hard as you can. Knee them in the groin. Bite. Smack. Scratch. Use whatever means you can to make sure they know you’re serious. Find the inner strength you know you have, be as loud as you can, and stand firm.

Rule #5: Arm Yourself

When all else fails, equip yourself with the skills, tools, and knowledge to protect yourself. Take self defense class - most local police forces offer RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) classes at very little cost (some for as little as $25) and to women as young as 13. Get a license for pepper spray. Go to a range and learn (properly) how to shoot. Do what feels right to you.

Rule #6: Be Aware of your Surroundings

Do you remember the first time you went to a carnival? Or a concert? How much do you recall? When we’re enjoying ourselves, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. And when we’re with people we feel comfortable around, we tend to let our guard down. You can’t afford such luxury anymore, baby girl. From this point forward, you need to be constantly aware of your surroundings. Notice everything and everyone. Take mental pictures of things that stand out to you (street names, landmarks, icons, outfits, hairstyles). Be hyper vigilant of those around you and the places you’re in. Always have a safe and quick exit route.

Rule #7: Trust Your Gut

The anguish I could have saved myself at your age if I’d learned to just listen to my own stupid intuition. Sweetheart, if something doesn’t feel right, or something isn’t sitting right with you, chances are they aren’t. Get out. Grab the girls and get gone. One night isn’t worth years of emotional trauma, or worse. And if the gang’s not ready to leave, call me.

Rule #8: Actions Speak Louder Than Words

A lesson 30+ years in the making for me, I’m hoping you learn this one a bit faster than I did. You’ve reached the point in your life where people will begin to tell you exactly what you want/need to hear. They’ll have ulterior motives and their intentions are impure. Listen to what they’re really saying. See beyond it. What are they doing? How are they behaving? How do they treat you, your friends, their friends, siblings, parents? How do they speak of others when they’re not around? What has been said about them? Take it all in and examine all of the information carefully. Then use this knowledge, combine it with your intuition, and decide if they’re truly someone you want to be around.

Rule #9: Know Your Worth

It’s easy to get caught up in the crushes and butterflies and all the fun that comes with being in a relationship. But sometimes crushes aren’t reciprocated and relationships don’t work out. Never, ever let someone else dictate your worth. Don’t allow someone else’s feelings or words eat away at who you are or how you feel about yourself. Baby Girl, you belong to no one. You are not a prize. You are not a possession. And no one can make you feel inferior or worthless unless you give them the space to do so. So know yourself. Love yourself. Believe in all the gifts you have to offer. Be a complete person with your own passions, beliefs, convictions, and character all on your own and then allow someone else to come and add to your gifts - to compliment your life, not be the center of it.

Rule #10: Trust Yourself

This one is super hard to do. And unfortunately there’s a rather large and painful learning curve. But as time goes on, you’ll get better at trusting yourself. Learn to see your mistakes as experiences and glean all the wisdom you can from them so you can protect that heart a little bit better the next time around.

This is by no means an extensive list. But it’s a start. An unsettling one. You’ll add to this list as you go and grow, Baby Girl. And it pains me to write that. But ignorance is not your friend in this regard. The more you know, the realer we get here, the safer you’ll be. And that’s just not something I’m willing to risk.

Ladies, what else would you add to the Girl Code? Help protect our sisters, daughters, friends, this future generation in the comments.

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