'Love note' lands 9-year-old in big trouble

Nov 13, 2015 at 3:52 p.m. ET
Image: Nicole Hill/Getty Images

Everyone remembers their first crush. Experiencing their first romantic stirrings can lead to a mix of emotions in a child, but one 9-year-old is dealing with more than trying to not blush in front of a girl.

The fourth-grader from Hillsborough County, Florida, sent his crush love notes, and his mother claims the school has threatened to file sexual harassment charges against him if he writes another note.

More:How to handle kids’ crushes

While the boy’s mother told reporters that the notes were innocent and made references to the girl’s eyes “sparkling like diamonds,” the school claims the notes were unwanted and that it would consider any further notes to be sexual harassment.

No mother wants to be told her young son is sexually harassing another student, and it indeed appears that the boy's intentions weren’t at all malicious, but that doesn’t mean the school was wrong for sending a clear message that if the notes are unwanted, then they need to stop.

The situation is undoubtedly embarrassing for the boy who sent the notes, and hopefully he will come out of the situation without feeling guilt or embarrassment over any romantic feelings he may have in the future. But at the same time, it’s important that we tell girls, even ones as young as those in the fourth grade, that they never, ever have to put up with receiving unwanted attention. We also need to send a clear message to boys that no means no.

More: Ask a Raging Feminist: What does consent mean to you?

With movies bombarding us with tales of persistent men winning their crushes' affection in the end (or wearing her down), it's easy to see how impressionable kids would think this is an appropriate way to behave. John Cusack holding a boom box over his head outside a girl’s window in Say Anything seems like the ultimate romantic gesture on the big screen, but in real life, if someone you rejected showed up outside in the middle of the night, calling the police is a totally appropriate response.

If the recent It's On Us campaign about consent is any indication, we need to do a better job of explaining to our children that no means no, no matter how well-intentioned or genuine someone’s affection may be. The earlier kids learn this vital life lesson, the better the chances are that it will sink in and become a part of the lens through which they view everyday interactions with others.

As parents, we can start to teach our children the importance of consent as early as the toddler years. Teach young kids the importance of keeping their hands to themselves and of respecting their own body autonomy when they don’t want to be tickled, kissed or hugged.

For older kids and tweens who may not be ready for a conversation about sexual consent, you can talk to them about the importance of getting consent in nonphysical situations. Lead by example by getting their permission to share a photo of them on social media. Talk about how other people may feel when we share their contact information or tell an embarrassing story about them to someone else without their consent.

More: This school is teaching kids about consent before they even step on campus

Unwanted love notes from one child to another may not be sexual harassment, but just because something is well-intentioned doesn’t mean it can continue. Schools and parents have a responsibility to children to teach them about consent, even from a young age.