Do you talk to your children about sex? What do you say to them about consent?
As parents, we are responsible for teaching our kids not only positive values around sexuality, but also the meaning of consent. Kids are never too young to be taught about consequences, to understand the difference between consent and coercion, and to have compassion for others.
This is especially significant in the age of #MeToo. Kids will be hearing about this movement and we can use this as an opportunity to educate and identify what consent means.
More kids have smartphones than ever before, and as a result are engaging in sexually explicit texting behaviors. There are a significant number of teens who report sending or being the victim of non-consensual sexts. It’s important to know that being used for a sexting photo or receiving one without consent can be traumatizing. Standing up to friends and partners can help a young person to feel empowered and safe.
What is Consent?
Consent is an agreement between two (or more) people about what kind of behavior they will engage in. It’s not always about sex. Anytime someone asks you to do something, they’re asking for your consent.
To be considered true consent, an agreement must meet the following criteria:
- Not coerced
- Free from a threat of reprisal
- Free of power imbalance
- Not obtained from someone under the influence of mind-altering substances
The person must be awake, sober, not in fear, and truly willing to engage in whatever behavior has been proposed.
Benefits of Educating Kids About Consent
Once children understand consent, they will be better able to protect themselves from unwanted advances. They’ll feel more confident about saying “No,” and they’ll know how to do so. Kids will be less likely to pressure others to have sex, too.
An education in consent fosters empathy, compassion, and respect for others, all qualities that most parents will agree are desirable.
How You Can Begin Your Children’s Consent Education
The first thing to do to begin teaching kids about consent is to model the behavior. What does modeling consent look like? Start by respecting their boundaries and their bodily autonomy. If your kids don’t want to give someone a kiss or a hug, don’t force them. Don’t shame children into accepting unwanted touch, even from relatives.
Start asking your children if you can hug them before you do so, and respect their answer, no matter what it is. Reaffirm their right to say no by saying, “Okay, you don’t have to hug me right now, that’s fine. I am glad you are taking care of yourself.”
If you’re tickling your child and he or she says “Stop,” even while giggling and appearing to enjoy the game, stop immediately. When they seem confused, explain “Well, you said stop, so I stopped. It’s important to respect someone when they ask you to stop doing something.”
Explain that “asking nicely” doesn’t mean the person doing the asking automatically gets what they want from another person.
There are a ton of other great suggestions in this detailed Huffington Post article about how to teach consent to your children, from 1 year old to 21 years old.
How Do YOU Teach Consent to Your Kids?
In what ways have you taught or modeled this important concept to your own children or children you have had responsibility for? What difficulties have you run into trying to teach consent, bodily autonomy, or boundaries? Please comment below and share your experiences.