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When my oldest son was eight and about to enter the third grade, he started asking questions about where babies come from. I had given a lot of thought to how I would handle “the talk” when the time came, but I wasn’t prepared for the questions to start at such a young age. Given my son’s mature personality, I decided to go ahead and talk to him about sex and puberty using some kid-friendly books that I had found to be fairly comprehensive at the time. My son responded well to the information and I feel like the talk went well.
My middle son showed no signs of being ready to discuss sex and puberty until he was in intermediate school, and my youngest was going into middle school before he seemed ready. By the time I was ready to have this discussion for the third time, I had come to the realization that I had missed out on several discussions that really should have happened at a much younger age. The books I’d chosen to drive our talks weren’t nearly as comprehensive as they should have been. What was missing was any mention of consent.
Consent should be taught from a very young age, and I worry sometimes that I didn’t start teaching it early enough. We teach our kids to be kind and understanding. In her book, Dear Ijeawele, Or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, author Chimamanda Nigozi Adechie offers an example of when another child takes a toy from our children we offer up another toy to replace it instead of teaching our kids to take the toy back because consent is important.
I have since talked to all three of my boys about consent. I have been very blunt with them. It is so very important that all children hear from the adults in his or her lives exactly what consent is and what it is not. Here are some ways we can teach our kids what consent means.
- Don’t require children to hug or kiss relatives without first giving consent. Teach family members how to ask first.
- If another child takes something away from your child, teach him or her to take it back. Role play ways your child can be assertive and respectful at the same time.
- Use the word “consent” with children. Explain that it means “to give permission,” and that it is okay at any time to say “no” to anyone.
- When kids are ready to learn about sex and puberty, teach consent in the same context. I told my boys that the only way consent can be obtained is with a verbal “yes.” A verbal yes is the only true offer of consent.
- Consent should be obtained before any type of intimate, physical contact. That includes hand holding, hugging, and kissing.
Boys and girls should both be taught about consent because everyone should feel empowered to say yes or no to being touched in any way. Sometimes in our quest to raise polite, kind children we neglect to raise polite, kind children who feel confident to stop unwanted touches and to assert themselves when appropriate. It can also be confusing to kids when we make him or her hug and kiss relatives they only see on birthdays and holidays, but simultaneously teach it’s not allowed to touch anyone else without consent. It might hurt family members feelings, but surely a simple explanation that you are teaching your child the importance of consent would be enough, especially in a time when sexual harassment is so prevalent.
If children are uncomfortable giving hugs or being affectionate they should never be made to feel shameful for it. Once they associate shame with protecting their boundaries we compromise what we have taught about consent and protecting themselves.
I wish I had started talking about consent with my boys at a younger age, but I do believe I’ve taught in no uncertain terms what it is and that it is a requirement to be given consent before any type of physical contact with friends and family and in any type of intimate situation. Consent isn’t “a one and done” lesson or chat either. This should be a topic that is brought up frequently in all kinds of situations so kids become comfortable with it.
Amazon offers some great option for books to help you get the conversation started with your child or teen. It can be awkward to start talking about topics you hope aren’t on your child’s radar, but if it is on the radar, the time has passed. The important thing is the conversations are happening and parents encourage open, honest communication about even the most uncomfortable topics.