We want our children to be safe and healthy – both physically and emotionally. That’s why it’s vital for us to teach them about consent from an early age. Consent isn’t just about sex; it’s about respecting other people’s boundaries and understanding that they have a right to say no at any time. It’s also essential for children to know they can always come to us if they’re ever feeling uncomfortable or unsafe around someone or a situation.
What is consent, and why is it important for children to learn about it early in life?
Consent is when someone agrees, gives permission, or says yes to something. It’s an important part of life because it helps people stay safe and healthy – physically and emotionally. But, when it comes to sex, consent means that both people involved are comfortable with what’s happening and have agreed to it.
However, consent goes beyond sexual relationships. We should teach our kids about consent in many different situations, such as:
Consent to touch is when a child decides if they want to be touched and where. For example, some children feel comfortable hugging and kissing their friends and family; others may prefer a handshake instead. We should encourage our kids to seek other consent and reassure them that it is OK to say no when they don’t want to be touched.
This teaches your child that their preferences are valid and others respect their bodies.
A child can choose not to conform to social conventions such as kissing or hugging goodbye. They need to know it is OK to say no to a family member or friend when they don’t want to be touched.
Unfortunately, according to YWCA, 93% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abuser and less than 10% are abused by a stranger.
Not conforming to social expectations teaches your child that they can say NO even if the person making the request is part of the family or someone they know.
When making a group decision, it is important to seek consent. I’m not saying you need to run all your family decisions by your child. However, children should be included in decision-making when appropriate.
When we involve children in decision-making, they learn that their opinion is valid and that negotiation and problem-solving skills are essential to achieving group consensus.
I think this is a big one that we, as parents, often don’t consider much. When we post a photo or a video of our children on social media, it gets viewed by more eyes than only our family and friends. A video of your toddler running nude in your backyard might be cute, but it could also fall into the hands of the wrong people. It is an issue of safety and consent as your child is not old enough to decide whether the post is appropriate or not. Or, if you have older kids, you might think that a post about them doing something funny at home is harmless, but it could cause embarrassment and bullying to them.
Consent is about respecting all boundaries, including everyday situations such as borrowing a friend’s pencil, opening someone’s bag or playing with a sibling’s toys. In all these scenarios, consent needs to be sought.
Here are some simple things children can learn about consent to help them understand it better:
- Consent is always voluntary and can be withdrawn at any time.
- Everyone has the right to say no to anything they don’t want to do, even if they’ve said yes in the past.
- Just because someone doesn’t say no, doesn’t mean they’re saying yes.
- If someone is drunk, high, asleep or otherwise unable to consent, they can’t give consent.
How can parents help their children understand consent?
1) Talk openly and honestly with your child about consent. Explain what it means, and discuss scenarios where your child needs to seek consent (e.g., touching someone without permission, entering someone’s room without asking first, etc.).
2) Help your child understand that they have a right to say no at any time, regardless of the situation or relationship status.
3) Encourage your child to speak up if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe around someone else. Let them know that you’ll support them every step of the way.
4) Promote healthy communication within your family unit – this will help set the stage for open dialogue regarding sensitive topics like consent later on down the road.
5) Model healthy consent behaviour yourself! You must lead by example if you want your kids to learn to respect others’ boundaries.
What are some of the challenges that come with teaching consent to children?
There can be several challenges that come with teaching consent to children. Some children may have difficulty understanding the concept, while others might feel uncomfortable talking about it. Additionally, some parents may feel awkward discussing such a sensitive topic with their kids. However, it’s important to remember that consent is an important life skill that all children need to learn. By openly discussing consent with your kids, you can help them understand its importance and how to practise it in their everyday lives.
So, how do we start teaching consent to our children?
It begins with parents modelling healthy consent behaviour in their own lives and homes. We can also discuss these concepts with our kids as they get older. Use age-appropriate language that will help them understand what it means to give and receive consent. And finally, we can provide resources like the one below for kids who want to learn more about consent on their own.
Let’s work together to create a generation of people who know how to ask for and give consent thoughtfully and respectfully. Because everyone deserves that kind of respect. If you’re looking for a helpful resource on this topic, download our free printable infographic on Consent for Kids!