Teaching Consent. Starting Early and Simply.
By Tina Mattsson
I have younger kids. My daughter is ten, and my son is seven. I hear a lot in the media about teaching consent and teaching our young men that no means no. And I always just assumed that was a lesson for my children in a few years. But in the past few weeks, I’ve had a change of opinion. I believe we can start teaching our children about consent at a young age by teaching respect for others and boundaries, which are all vital components of a child’s developing healthy sexuality.
Example one. My daughter came home from school upset my son was bothering her at recess. I asked her if she asked him to stop. She said she had, but he didn’t stop. My husband told her to ignore him. I was almost about to agree because that’s a pretty standard solution. Just ignore someone who is bugging you, and they will get bored and go away. And then it hit me that we were not teaching our son the importance of respecting his sister’s boundaries, and we were not teaching our daughter that she deserved to be respected. I told him she had asked him to stop, and he needed to respect that and leave her alone. And if he continued to bother her, there would be consequences.
Example two. A friend of mine mentioned a boy on the bus was using his iPod touch to take photos of her daughter, and her daughter did not want him to do it anymore. Again these kids are young, 4th grade. It can be viewed as something for my friend’s daughter to ignore. The boy probably just has a crush on her after all. But really, he needs to be taught to respect the other child’s wishes. Children are not too young to understand that if someone asks them to stop, they need to.
Example three. A close friend has two school-age children and a small 2-year-old. The youngest does not like being hugged and kissed and handled. My friend has taught her older two kids to respect the toddler’s wishes. Because her older kids are bigger and capable of ignoring the youngest child’s boundaries, she has made a point to not allow that behavior. (Ricardo, n.d.)
Here are some starting points for teaching children about boundaries and consent:
- Boundary – Limits or borders that define where you end and others begin. (Ricardo) Can be physical or personal.
- Physical Boundary – Everyone (kids and adults) has a private bathing suit area. No one should be touching your private area, and we should not touch any one else’s private area. Molesters often use both behaviors. (Fitzgerald, 2006)
- Personal Boundary – Certain rules and behaviors that everyone we interact with must follow.
- Every grown-up has a job with specific rules pertaining to their job. For example, a coach’s job is to teach the sport, not to dress the child or give them rides. (Fitzgerald, 2006) Teach your child about these boundaries.
- Children should respect their peers’ personal and physical boundaries.
- Consent — to agree to do or allow something, to give permission for something to happen or be done. (Merriam Webster)
As my children age, they will be faced with more difficult choices regarding boundaries and respect. We can start young. We can teach boundaries and respect as soon as our children start to understand language. And we can teach them how this relates to predators and grooming.
These are the first seeds of understanding and teaching consent.
See our book 30 Days of Sex Talks for ages 3-7, 8-11 and 12+ to find ways to start conversations about topics like this; including lessons and activities to empower your child with knowledge of sexual intimacy!
Tina is a Mother of 2, a writer and a champion for children’s education.
Ricardo, C. (n.d.). Boundaries: The Importance of Valuing Yourself. Retrieved July 19, 2015, from http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Boundaries_the_importance..html
Fitzgerald, P. (2006, April 1). What is a boundary? And how can it help keep my child safe? Retrieved July 19, 2015, from http://safelyeverafter.com/la_family_mag_April06.html
Consent Defintion. (n.d.). Retrieved July 9, 2015.