(Please see resources at the bottom of this blog for more info after reading)
It’s common to notice push back by parents when it comes to teaching kids about consent. “Parents have to be conscious and cautious of everything nowadays!”
Yep, I hear you. There’s more that us parents have to take on as society betters itself, but we need to get over these minor hassles which protect the safety of our kids, their safety as they become adults and the safety of others that our kids will interact with. This is merely another lesson we teach kids between what is right and wrong.
Like hypocritically (and unethically) teaching a child not to smack others by then smacking them, teaching a chid about swearing by then swearing at the child, teaching a child road safety and then backing out of a driveway before they have their seatbelt on; you don’t teach consent by not allowing kids bodily autonomy and consent boundaries.
I’m not innocent when it comes to poor examples of consent and my kids. I did the “kids crying with Santa” photo many years ago, and although I thought it was little bit of a laugh at the time (*cringe*), WHAT THE HECK did that teach my kids? That you have to sit on an old man’s lap even if you don’t want to, because others find it entertaining? 😳
Lets be real, teaching consent isn’t new. The way in which we now discuss it and boundaries we are setting are. It’s really just the updated model of the old phrase “keep your hands to yourself!”
And teaching consent isn’t hard.
I notice the most common example of not allowing a child to consent is forcing them to hug.
The intent can be well intentioned but we need to consider how it makes the child feel and what it teaches them especially for later in life. Although sometimes it can feel as though parents not only have to teach their children this boundary but also grandparents, friends and the older generation too, we need to get over our feelings that our child wont be seen as cute or polite if they say no, and put how children feel before our own feelings.
Instead of “give uncle Barry a hug” it’s quite simple to say “would you like to give uncle Barry a hug?”
The response should be both in the child’s verbal response but also in their body language. Consent is to agree wholeheartedly and confidently!
Additionally, if a child says “no” to that hug or interaction, we must support them by not proceeding or stopping immediately.
And bribing them with “if you do it, I’ll give you a lolly” doesn’t empower their choice. Consent isn’t consent if the person is coerced. Empowering the word “no” is important.
Plus there are alternative choices that can be given to hugging and kissing too! Hi-fives still make contact but don’t need you to be as close. Thumbs up doesn’t require touching but still conveys appreciation for the other person. And even then kids may not feel like it, and that should be okay too.
there are times where safety and health are important and consent lines feel blurred
Like when they are refusing to eat dinner, having needles or holding hands to cross a road. But rather than saying “eat your dinner or no iPad”, I personally find explaining why and allowing them to have input in making good choices more helpful. “Eating your dinner is important to be healthy. Do you want to eat your broccoli and I’ll eat mine with you?”
We also need to treat consent seriously in our own lives.
Exampling good consensual behaviour is important (though this should occur whether our kids are present or not!)
Stop touching black people’s hair without permission.
Stop rubbing pregnant bellies without permission.
Stop pushing people’s wheelchairs without permission.
Stop taking photos of kids when they’ve said no.
It doesn’t strip the joy out of life by making sure the person on the other end is okay, it should give you more joy when you know the interaction is mutual.
Consent is important.
Because in this time when society is progressing and more openly supporting victims of things like sexual abuse, we need be empowering and educating people from a young age to prevent nonconsensual abuses from happening in the first place.