One day in 9th grade my seminary teacher brought fried grasshoppers to class. He spent an entire period persuading every student in the class to eat a grasshopper. By the end of the hour, every student in the class had crunched a grasshopper between their teeth except me.
My teacher was relentless. He focused all his attention on me, as did the rest of the class.
“Come on, Jeanette,” he cajoled. “Everybody else has tried one. Why not you?” That didn’t work.
“Just take one bite. You don’t have to eat the whole thing.”
Finally, he said, “Don’t you love me? Won’t you do it for me?”
I did love this seminary teacher. And he knew it. I practically idolized him. He introduced me to the New Testament, and for the first time in my life I received a powerful testimony of the Savior, Jesus Christ. I never missed a day of class. I read all the assignments and I participated with enthusiasm. Because I loved my seminary teacher I didn’t want to disappoint him. I didn’t want him to think I didn’t appreciate all he had done for me, so I opened my mouth, popped in a grasshopper and swallowed it whole.
Ah Ha! My teacher gloated. He had made his point. The lesson was supposed to be about the Word of Wisdom, and how easy it is for our peers to persuade us to go against our beliefs. (Speaking of damaging object lessons, see “Are We Doing a Good Job Teaching Abstinence?” ) The point my seminary teacher made with me, however, was far different than the one he intended. I felt punched in the stomach, betrayed. I felt my trust had been violated, and that he had used my love against me. I continued to attend seminary and continued to love the scriptures, but I learned a lesson far more important than obeying the Word of Wisdom. I learned to be extremely careful who you love.
Exploited by Those You Love
As a psychotherapist, I have seen people in a position of trust abuse love in heinous ways. The most tragic abuse of love I witness on a regular basis is that of a young child who loves a father (or an uncle, or a grandfather) and that adult sexually abuses the child. The child often complies with the adult’s demands because she loves her abuser and she wants to make him happy.
While not a criminal act, adolescents in romantic relationships can be victims of abuse just like a child. Of the many ways a teenage boy persuades a teenage girl to “go too far” sexually is to prey on her love for him. Those who dismiss teenagers in love, thinking that they are too young to truly love are more naive than the teenager. Adolescents can love at a very deep level, and a “first love” can be extremely powerful. A young girl in love will go to great lengths to prove her love, and giving in sexually may be a price she is willing to pay to keep what she imagines is reciprocal love.
There are several well-known ways to protect our girls from such a vulnerable position. First, and most obvious, teenagers have no business being in love. Emotional intimacy leads to physical intimacy and the surest way to avoid physical intimacy is to avoid emotional intimacy. There is no purpose to emotional intimacy during adolescent years. During adolescence young people benefit from friendship, not romance.
When our children become young adults, the time is right for them to experience emotional intimacy. However, emotional intimacy still leads to physical intimacy, so we help young adults live the law of chastity with additional well-known precautions: 1) form relationships only with those who have your same values 2) avoid being together in compromising situations 3) when in a position to marry, don’t put it off.
Less Well-Known Precautions
Another experience revealed an invaluable precaution I use frequently to help people avoid becoming exploited by those they love. When I was four-years old my father hefted me onto the top of my parents’ king-sized bed, all made up tidily with a white chenille bedspread, and he started to tickle me. He had completely pure motives: just fun, playful bonding with his oldest daughter. But his hands were strong and I was small and the tickling got so rough it hurt. I remember laughing along with him as long as I could stand it, but his tickling became so rough my ribs felt bruised. Suddenly I started to cry, and begged him to stop. He stopped immediately. He lifted me off the bed and said, “That’s enough for today.”
“No, tickle me more,” I pleaded. I loved the attention, the laughter, the bonding. I just wanted him to be more gentle, not so rough. Nevertheless, he refused. Then I changed my plea, “It’s okay. It’s not too rough. I won’t cry.” He still refused. Perhaps he had other things to attend to, and it was merely an opportune time for him to return to his work, but at age four I internalized a different message: “If you want to keep someone close to you, you have to be willing to get hurt.”
Although the hurt wasn’t nearly as deep, or invasive as the hurt a young girl experiences who is molested by a loved one, the message was the same, “If you want to keep someone close to you, you have to be willing to get hurt.” This is a message we must NOT allow our girls to believe. No woman should have to endure deliberately inflicted pain just to maintain a relationship. We need to teach our daughters that’s it’s not worth it. Having a boyfriend, or even a husband, is not wonderful enough that their own safety and peace should be sacrificed. We need to teach our girls to say “No! If you exploit me, I don’t want you.”
Children need what attachment theorists call “secure attachments”. Secure attachments occur when parents continue to love their children, even when their children disappoint. When a parent withdraws his or her love based on the child’s behavior, the child forms an “insecure attachment.” The child often believes the only way to keep the parent’s love is to behave exactly as the parent wishes. Loving parents will not withdraw their love when they disapprove of a child’s behavior. They will stay close to a child, even when the child doesn’t comply with their wishes.
Secure attachments allow our young women to say “no” when “no” is appropriate. Young women with secure attachments know that they can stand up for themselves, and still keep the love of the people who are important to them. I tell my clients that if someone loves you only because you are willing to sacrifice your own well-being for them, that is not real love. That is exploitation, and they will want to flee from exploitation.
As an adult I learned it was possible to say “no” and maintain the love of those for whom I cared.
Soon after my marriage my father approached me and asked me to join him in his Amway organization. I didn’t want to sell Amway. I adored my father, and I wanted to please him but I didn’t believe in multi-level marketing. I was tempted to capitulate just to please him, but I garnered my courage and said, “No. I love you Dad, but I’m not going to join your Amway organization.” Dad was understanding. He did not withdraw his love. His love was not contingent upon my sacrificing my well-being for his.
We prepare our daughters (and our sons) for occasions in life when others might try and exploit them for personal gain, if we allow them to say “no” to us, and continue to love them just the same. Then if they meet someone someday who might want to exploit them, they will recognize that those who truly love them will continue to love them even when they say “no.”
JeaNette Goates Smith is the author of Unsteady Dating: Resisting the Rush to Romance available at www.amazon.com and www.unsteadydating.com