by Whitley Pierson
A popular question I seem to get when doing outreach education with teens, parents, and teachers is “how do we teach consent to kids without bringing up sex?” This seems to be a consistent fear with adults, as if teaching kids and teens about the importance of consent can make them more sexually active. This is simply not the case. There are ways to make consent and body autonomy a basic part of growing up without ever bringing sex into the equation until a parent feels it is age appropriate to do so. With that being said, where do parents start? How do you have these conversations?
Starting consent education in your home can start as early as five years old. Consent can be a part of learning the basic concepts of sharing or taking turns. Consent and body autonomy are all about respecting boundaries and other people’s bodies. First, let’s define consent. Consent is a sober and enthusiastic “yes” to any activity. Here are a few tips on how to work consent education into everyday life with your kids:
1.) Avoid Having “The Talk”
For the parents who are concerned about sex, don’t even bring it up! Talk about consent by focusing on boundaries, body autonomy, and mutual respect. You do not have to bring sex into the conversation until you and your child are ready to approach the topic.
2.) Talk About the Phrase “Your Body Your Choice”
We can get a head start on consent education just by teaching kids they own their own bodies. Maybe start with simple things like what color shirt they want to wear to school, whether they want to wear a jacket or not, or how they wear their hair for the day. Make sure to let them know “your body your choice” when they are independently making these simple decisions in their everyday routine.
3.) Teach Body Cues Along with Verbal Consent
While a verbal “yes” is always important when teaching consent, we also need to talk about the importance of non-verbal cues. If you notice your child playing rough with another child, point out to them to look at that child’s face. Ask your child “does it look like they are enjoying that?” It is a great way to point out the different clues others give to show they would like space. You can also point out facial expression and body language in books by pointing out how certain characters look in different situations.
4.) Don’t Diminish How a Child Feel About Their Body
As adults, we often have a tendency to devalue the way a child may feel if we are not having the same experience. For example if a child says “I’m cold” avoid telling them “oh you’re not cold.” Doing this instills in them they are not aware of how their bodies are feeling and therefore, they should not express when they’re bodies are feeling uncomfortable. Instead, place value in what they feel and ask how you can help them.
5.) Avoid Pressure or Guilt When it Comes to Physical Affection with Family Members or Family Friends
When teaching consent and body autonomy, we must keep in mind kids may not want to hug or show affection to everyone they come into contact with. We should never force a physical interaction if a child does not wish to do so. To let them know they are in control of how they show affection, you could give them a few choices. For example, maybe they give someone a hug or maybe just a high five. Let them know they are in control of what they do with their own bodies.
6.) Honor “No” and Make it Fun
Whether it is during play time or when asking for a hug, we have to honor when someone says “no.” A great example for this tip is tickling. Many times during a tickle fight someone my appear to be having fun, maybe even laughing, but then they say “no no, stop it.” This is a great opportunity to try a few different methods of “no.” You could do a “slow motion no” or a “frozen no.” Which ever way you choose, be sure to make it fun and to not continue play until verbal consent is given back to you.
My final thought when it comes to teaching your kids and eventually your teens consent is this: you are not just raising kids, you are raising adults. Why do I say that, you ask? It all goes back to statistics, especially the astonishing statistics of on-campus sexual assault and rape. According the the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in sixteen men are sexually assaulted while in college and nearly two-thirds will experience sexual harassment. I can not help but to think if we start empowering our kids to take ownership of their bodies early on and begin asking for positive, enthusiastic consent before they engage in any kind of activity, we may be able to decrease this statistic.
For more information on how to teach your kids consent or if you would like to set up a training, please call us at 1-800-300-5321. We would love to talk to you more about this important topic.
“Campus Sexual Violence Resource List.” National Sexual Violence Resource Center, www.nsvrc.org/saam/campus-resource-list.
Rivera, Monica. “Body Sovereignty and Kids: How We Can Cultivate a Culture of Consent.” YouTube, TEDxCSU, 14 Mar. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch? v=EvGyo1NrzTY&t=2s.