How To Teach Children About Consent
With the recent changes and conversations in our society, the importance of teaching children about consent is now at the forefront of people’s minds. Teaching them not only that they have the right to tell someone no but they also must respect when someone tells them no is imperative.
Often, in past generations, parents have put off this conversation while children are young or skipped it entirely because it made them
uncomfortable. This is part of what led us to where we are today – fighting to explain that what should be common sense is not always that common.
Teaching your child about consent should be on the top of your list of things to do now, while they are young. 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 all the way to allowing someone to touch you.
There are obvious situations in which we can see that someone has not given consent, such as an unwanted sexual encounter, and while hopefully those are becoming more talked about and brought to light, there are other situations that aren’t as clear. If you are not a hugger, but people move to hug you all the time, you may be in a pickle. Generally, people do not feel that they have to ask for consent for a hug when you are friends or family. That said, should they? Should you say something about the boundary? Probably, but will you? That’s up to you.
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 to give others this respect and to demand it in return will help to keep them safe now and in the future.
How do you explain consent to a child who is too young to learn about sex?
Consent is about so much more than sex, 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 simple 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 people 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, the idea that there is a cultural norm in this area can lead children (as well as adults) into situations that they aren’t asking for. Anyone looking to prey on another is looking at this exact norm in order to take advantage of it.
Teach your child that everyone – including them – has the right to give or refuse consent.
This means even friends and family. If your child does not want to be touched or give a person a hug – even if the person is family – allow your child the freedom to say no and back them up. How you react will set the tone for your child their entire life. 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. 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.
Practice consent with your child on a daily basis.
While a parent cannot let their child have their way on everything, they should have a 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 or these shorts. You can maintain your authority while still providing choices and freedoms. Plus, it is good practice!
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 check 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.
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 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 for sexual situation at some point in their life and this conversation will help get them through it. If your child is able to 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.