Parenting

Middle School's Policy Won't Allow Kids To Say No When Asked To Dance

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To kids dancing at school dance
Alicia Hobson/Facebook and Jupiterimages/Getty

A Utah mom is sounding the alarm about a policy at her daughter’s middle school that forces kids to dance with their peers even if they don’t want to

A Utah middle school is gaining attention for a policy in place for its middle school dances — that no child in attendance is allowed to say no to any fellow student who asks them to dance. The policy is meant to spare kids the pain of being rejected, but one mom is sounding the alarm over the fact that the rule in no way teaches kids about consent.

Alicia Hobson took to Facebook recently to address the situation at her daughter’s school. Azlyn, 11, was excited to attend the Valentine’s Day dance at Rich Middle School in Laketown, Utah. Hobson told TODAY, “It was supposed to be the best day ever.” That was before Azlyn turned down a boy’s request to dance.

“A kid at school that makes my daughter uncomfortable asked her to dance at the school dance on Valentine’s Day. She tried to say no thank you, and the principal overheard and intervened and told her she’s not allowed to say no and that she has to dance with him,” Hobson writes. Principal Kip Motta allegedly told Azlyn she had no choice. “He said something like, ‘No, no. You kids go out and dance. He basically shooed Azlyn and the boy off onto the dance floor.”

“This boy has been quoted as publicly saying something very disturbing of a sexual nature. It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. It doesn’t matter if rumors are terrible and should be dismissed. That’s irrelevant. The point is that this kid makes my daughter feel uncomfortable. She should not have to stand close to him with his hands on her if she doesn’t want to. She has the right to say no to anyone for any reason or no reason. Her body is her body and if she doesn’t want to dance with someone, that’s her prerogative,” Hobson writes.

Hobson understands that the policy’s aim is to avoid hurt feelings, but that in itself is problematic. “In life, you get rejected all the time. They need to get used to it and learn how to cope with their frustration. Girls HAVE to learn that they have the right to say no and that those around them have to respect that. I’m not going to quietly stand by while my daughter and all of her classmates are being wrapped up in rape culture,” she says.

In a letter to Hobson, Motta stood by the policy. “We do ask all students to dance. It is the nice thing to do and this will continue to be our policy,” he said. “There have been similar situations in the past where some students have felt uncomfortable with others, and, as stated prior, the issues were discreetly handled. This allowed all students to feel welcome, comfortable, safe, and included.”

Hobson tells Scary Mommy that despite her raising concerns, the policy is still in place. “The last update I got from the superintendent stated that the principal is going to consider changing it for next year,” she says. “There are no more dances scheduled for this year.”

It’s understandable that the principal would look at the policy from a place of wanting to be inclusive, but this is simply not the way. When it comes to helping kids feel included, we never want that to mean that another child feels uncomfortable having been fed the message that another’s happiness is more important than their own. Rejection, as Hobson says, is a fact of life, a fact of many areas of life, and learning that their peers won’t always consent to physical touching is a solid lesson all children need to absorb early and often. This policy flies in the face of those important concepts and teaches kids, and let’s face it, girls in particular, that the alarm bells going off in their heads should be silenced in the name of protecting someone else’s feelings.

If I may take this a step further, the ideas behind this culture of girls and women ignoring their own feelings at the expense of a man’s is why Bob in accounting thinks it’s fine to put his crusty old hand on a female coworker’s shoulder or small of her back without permission. And if that female coworker goes to HR to report Bob’s creepy ass, she might be branded the harpy prude who just can’t understand that ol’ Bob means nothing by his creepy touching, she should just let it go, because we don’t want to hurt his feelings when he means nothing by it, right? Wrong.

Teaching our adolescent kids to ignore their instincts to protect themselves and not consent to being touched by someone they don’t want touching them is a brand of damage with long-term implications. My school didn’t have this type of policy, but we did have a partner dancing unit in gym class through all of elementary school. By around age eight, I had grown to dread it — being paired up with a boy who would put his hands on my waist or shoulder made me feel physically ill. I vividly remember the day in 4th grade when our class had uneven numbers of boys and girls and I got paired with another girl. I was flooded with relief. I didn’t like having to touch a boy when I didn’t want to and as a grown adult, I still feel sad remembering how helpless and unprotected I felt.

All this misguided policy does is deny kids the chance to experience and work through a form of rejection they will face their entire lives. At some point, someone will turn them down for a date, a drink, a kiss, sex. It happens to every single one of us and the last thing we need to do is groom kids from the very start to think that everyone should say yes, because a “no” is so unthinkable and hard to face that the adults in charge are making sure there’s no chance of it even happening.

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