How To Teach Children About Consent

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It is never too early to teach consent to your kids, so it’s time to start. Knowing that they have control over themselves is the first step to safety.


Teaching Consent For Kids

Among all of the growth and conversations in our society, the importance of teaching children about sexual consent is now at the forefront of people’s minds. It has taken many, many years for the concept of consent to become a mainstream topic, but we are finally here. 

Research is beginning to show that teaching consent is a mighty resource to preventing sexual assault later in life. If a young child isn’t aware of their own body and personal boundaries, they are more likely to deal with sexual harassment and sexual violence as they try to figure out how to have healthy relationships. 

Often, in past generations, parents have put off this conversation while children are young or skipped it entirely because it made the parents uncomfortable. They were used to that family member being slightly inappropriate – everyone dealt with it. You knew to keep away from strange Uncle Frank or Aunt Irma. But in the wake of the #metoo movement, it is time to have these conversations with our young people. 

Teaching your child about the importance of consent should be on the top of your list of things to do now. It is never too late to start this conversation, so whether your children are three, ten, or fifteen, it is time to discuss the fact that they are in control of their own bodies.

What is consent?

Before explaining to your child what consent is, you’ll want to make sure that you are clear yourself. We have all been through things in life that often make the definition a bit fuzzy, so it’s time to refresh your memory. Consent is giving permission for something to happen or to make an agreement with someone. This can range from letting someone into your home to allowing physical touch and sexual activity. 

There are many awful situations in which we can clearly see that someone has not given consent, such as sexual abuse with young kids or unwanted explicit sexual content being shared on social media. We have clear explanations about why these things violate the boundaries of others and there are (finally) methods of managing them with law enforcement and protecting kids of all ages. 

That said, there are other situations that aren’t as clear to everyone. If younger children don’t like to be touched and well-intentioned parents push them to give grandma hugs, is that okay? Is it okay to ask a child to push their body parts against another person when they are uncomfortable, even though it isn’t their private parts? 

It is an important concept to get across to a child or young adult that there is a grey area in society, but that they are in charge of their own body. They get to set their boundaries and decide what type of touch they are comfortable with. 

Why should you teach your child about consent?

Consent is an important part of being in a productive relationship with acquaintances and/or romantic partners. Everyone has the right to decide what happens with their body. Teaching your child bodily autonomy from an early age will help them feel empowered in various spaces. When one feels that they are in control of one thing in their life, they will develop the confidence that they can excel at others. 

Another reason for consent education is to teach your child to have respect for other people’s boundaries. Consent is not a one-way street and every age group should be respected. This is something that they will have to manage in their daily lives and it is never too early to start. 

How do you explain consent to a child who is too young to learn about sex?

Consent is about so much more than the sex talk, even if that is the main focus of the news stories we hear. Teach your child the concept of consent in a simple manner by teaching them to ask permission before touching another person. It is as easy as asking before hugging someone. By asking, you can be sure that they are comfortable with it. 

Young children are often encouraged to hug or kiss family friends hello or goodbye. These may be people they are close to as well as people they’ve never met before. We are taught from a young age that physical contact is not only kind and loving, but required to express our affection.

Unfortunately, this body language cultural norm can potentially lead children (as well as adults) into situations that they never intended to be in. Anyone looking to prey on another is watching these exact relationship dynamics to take advantage of them. 

Teach your child that everyone – including them – has the right to give or refuse consent.

Everyone has the right to give or refuse consent, even if they are friends and family. If your child does not want to be touched or hug a person – even if that person is family – allow your child the freedom to say no and let them know ahead of time that they have your parental permission to respond politely, but appropriately. How you react to these these situations will set the tone for your child their entire life, so if you are embarrassed, they will think they’ve done something wrong. You need to be prepared as well. 

Make sure to talk to your child about an alternative greeting before they are in a situation like this. Have the big talks with them! Maybe they would be comfortable saying, “Hi! I’m so happy to see you, I’m just not comfortable with hugs.” Make sure that they are prepared with something appropriate so that the other person feels welcomed and appreciated, but they can still maintain their physical boundaries and feel confident in their body autonomy. 

Practice consent with your child daily.

While a parent cannot let their child have their way on everything, the child should have a strong say with what happens to their body. If your child doesn’t consent to something that needs to get done (like getting dressed), try to approach it from a different direction. They must get dressed, but they can choose these pants, these tights, or these shorts. Maintain your authority while still providing choices and freedoms. 

There are other times when a child must have physical contact whether they would choose to or not. For example, a doctor does need to check them once per year to make sure that they are growing and developing correctly without concern. It would be difficult to allow your child to say no to this and still do everything you can to make sure they are healthy.

They have to submit to a checkup and the doctor has to examine them, but you should always, without a doubt, 100% be able to stay in the room and supervise. Explain this to your child. Make sure that they know why they are being touched in this way and that you are there to make sure that no one is doing anything inappropriate. If your child is uncomfortable with their doctor (as some kids are as they get older – a female might prefer a female doctor, etc.), take that into strong consideration. It is their body and they should have a choice. 

Older children can deal with harder topics, so keep your conversations age-appropriate. If your child is five, hugs are a great topic. If your child is ten, teach them that no one should be snapping anyone’s training bra. If your child is fifteen, teach them that consent with kissing and any other physical activity is always necessary. And if something they are uncomfortable with should happen to your child at any age, you are a trusted adult, there to talk to them without judgement, and will help figure out how to best handle it. 

Consent is a topic that needs to be discussed with all children, regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, or age. We all need to respect other people and respect ourselves, and teaching your child about consent is a huge step in that accomplishment.

Teach your child that their body belongs to them. Most children will encounter an unexpected or unplanned sexual situation at some point in their life and these conversations will have them prepared with the best ways to get them through it.

If your child can say no when they are young, they will be able to continue to set those boundaries as they grow. Not only for themselves, but for their partners, friends, and family as well. In the end, it will also help them know how to stand up for themselves and help give them the courage to speak up when they need to.

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