Answer the question

Warning: there is some strong language in this post. I think it’s appropriate, but if you read and are offended, well scratch your mad place.

evil google
Not funny, Google. Don’t be evil, my eye.

It is now customary when making a purchase to be asked, “Can I have your phone number/email address/mother’s maiden name?” When this first started, it was generally just the zip code, which I was fine giving. Then they started asking for your email or phone number, and I still tended to give it, although a bit reluctantly. Like I was afraid to say “No” or the teenager at Party City wouldn’t give me my balloons.  I know, bless my heart. Now, I always say “No, thank you,” or more frequently these days, “You already have all my data.”

We have been socialized from the time we are very young to give almost anyone who asks our personal information. In the age of data mining and security breaches, I think more and more of us are realizing how dangerous this is, but there’s a whole group of people — perhaps the majority — who think, “Well, they already know anyway. Nothing is private. Why pretend it is?” And so we surrender our data gladly for free — or maybe for a 20% coupon at Payless.

As free as my generation is with personal information, younger generations, especially kids currently in school, have been trained to give any and all information to any quasi-official who asks. Yesterday, I read a story out of California where 8th graders were ordered to stand under signs in front of their class to indicate how far they’d be willing to go on a date. Their options were “smiled at, hugged, kissed, above the waist, below the waist, and all the way.”

[Curse filled rant redacted.]

So many things bother me about the story. Let’s go through them, shall we?

  1. THE HELL!?!?!?
  2. Apparently, this curriculum “has been used over the past several years,” yet this is the first time anyone said, “THE HELL!?!?!?”
  3. The response of parents wasn’t, “No way do you have any business asking that of anyone, you creeping perverts. Your job is to teach reading, writing, and ‘rithmatic, not socially engineer sexual behavior or use a minors intimate thoughts and beliefs for your classroom example. Perverts.” But, “They need to have it on paper, no names on it. They can do it at their desk and put it in a private box if the school really wants to know.” WHY DO THEY NEED TO KNOW IN THE FIRST PLACE?!?! Why is it okay to mine this data from kids, even if it was done in a way that respected their privacy?
  4. Even the young lady who complained to her parents felt compelled to participate despite the fact that this is personal information that the school has no business asking, much less broadcasting to the entire class.

Of all the worrying worrisome worries that this story presents, the last one is the most worrying. Despite the fact that revealing this very personal intimate information made the 14-year-old girl feel uncomfortable, she participated anyway.  We don’t feel we have the right to refuse to disclose that information, and kids certainly don’t.

It made me think of this post about this very awesome woman who intervened between a young woman and an obvious creeper. There’s language at the link, but you can’t really blame her. (You’ll need to read it before going on for this to make sense.)

I can almost guarantee that guy started with an “innocuous” question like “What’s your name?” Maybe he commented her outfit or her hair. He almost certainly asked if she had a boyfriend, and I’ll bet she told him. Not because she wanted to, but because we’ve been conditioned to answer any questions we’ve been asked and to share all the details of our lives. And that’s how pedophiles, creepers, and manipulative sons of bitches work. They ask you “harmless” questions or “small” favors until they can determine if you’ll make an easy mark. Too many of us are easy marks. We say “yes” even when we want to say “no.”

The main problem is we don’t want to be trouble makers or considered rude. Women, in particular, are terrified of being considered a bitch. We have to learn — and more importantly to teach our kids — that the people pushing our boundaries and asking inappropriate questions are rude, we are responding appropriately to rude and wrong behavior. Moreover, I don’t want my children to fear being labeled by those who would hurt them. I’d like my daughters to be able to respond, “Being a bitch is better than being a creeper. Go away.” I don’t know what my boys would be called, but trust me, I’ll teach them a witty retort, too.

An aside: It is inappropriate for an adult man to strike up a conversation with a teenage girl, comment on her appearance, and/or ask personal questions. Always. Full stop. Does that make me a bitch? Maybe, creeper. (Note what I did not say: that it is always wrong for an adult man to talk to a teenage girl.)

We need to first and foremost let our kids know (and believe it ourselves) that our personal, private information is ours and no one has a right to it, not for marketing purposes, for teaching purposes, for idle curiosity, or whatever. If they don’t want to answer a personal question, they don’t have to. (Homeschool parents, we really need to teach our kids this. They get quizzed by strangers about their education all the time, and they need to have the permission and power to say, “That’s a personal question I’d rather not answer.)

We need to tell them to listen to their gut/instinct/Jiminy Cricket/whatever you call it. I tell my kids that God gave them a feeling in the stomach (when they’re little, obviously) that tells them when something is wrong and they should always pay attention to that feeling. When they feel that, come find one of us right away and let’s talk about it (or whatever adult is with them.) One thing they don’t need to worry about when obeying that feeling is being rude. Do your kids have permission to be rude?

Teach your kids (and yourself) to say:

  • No, I don’t want to give out that information.
  • That’s a personal question I’d rather not answer.
  • That’s an inappropriate question. (You freaking creeper, to be used as the situation warrants.)
  • That’s none of your business.
  • You don’t really need to know that.
  • Get a warrant. (Joking. Maybe.)

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I repeat: It is not rude or disrespectful to refuse to answer inappropriate questions. It may sometimes be difficult to refuse, especially if you’re the only one saying “None of your business” in front of your entire class, but it isn’t rude.

We like to go hiking at our local nature preserve. There are snakes in that preserve. There are poisonous snakes in that preserve. Yet, we still go. But every time we go, before we get out of the car, we review what to do if anyone sees a snake. (For the record, it’s: Stop, take three steps back, turn around and walk calmly away. Then tell me so we can avoid the snake.) They are aware of the danger and what they should do if they meet it, and so are better able to enjoy the beauty.

It’s a dangerous world but also a beautiful and fascinating world. I don’t want my kids to fear it, I don’t want to hide them away from it. I want them to go forth and explore, but I do want them to be prepared when they meet the inevitable dangers.

Two books that have informed my thinking on these particular dangers are The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift by Gavin de Becker. (af)

2 responses to “Answer the question”

  1. Jennifer Avatar

    Wow! This article is fantastic! I have become much more thick-skinned as I’ve gotten older, and I don’t mind telling people that the info that they’re requesting is private. However, I’ve never really thought about teaching this “art” to my kids. Born and raised as a Southern lady, I have always been taught to mind my manners and to have a quiet spirit which did, at times, put me in situations that were a bit precarious. I had to learn to say, “No.” Thank you for your insight on this. I will definitely be more intentional with teaching this to our kids.
    Oh, and I wanted to mention that your writing is impeccable! I am a proofreader for court reporters, and most blog posts make me cringe. I just sail right through yours. It’s so refreshing to read a blog that’s not riddled with errors. Thank you for producing excellent work!

    1. April Avatar

      I’m in the same boat! That ingrained “be pleasant” reflex is hard to buck. While it’s generally a good idea to be a friendly person, friendly and doormat aren’t the same thing. I’m trying to teach my kids to recognize that distinction and to be able to listen to their gut. Being a mom has also sharpened my, “Don’t even try it” look.

      (P.S. We have the same training, although I’m no longer proofing. Three cheers for proofreaders! ;-))

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