The Scoop: Consent values begin early on.
The current political climate and many recent news stories have brought women’s issues to the forefront of our minds. Finally, we as a nation are talking about sexual assault, domestic violence, and women’s health. This is incredibly exciting for a feminist like me, because these crucial problems are getting attention. However, it also makes it very apparent that our society has some backwards ideas, which directly impact all of these issues. There is one thing that keeps coming up in the conversations I am hearing and having: We need to change the way we teach consent.
Consent is pretty black and white. Either it is okay for you to interact with someone in a certain way, or it’s not. It doesn’t seem that complicated. But we need to teach kids from the very start that their bodies are THEIRS ALONE, and that they should be the only ones in control of what happens to them. Here are some examples.
Do you remember when you were little and your parents said, “Go give Uncle Whatever a hug!” and even if you didn’t want to, you still had to hug Uncle Whatever because it’s polite? That shouldn’t happen. It’s a perfect time to let your kid understand that whatever is going to happen to his or her body should be on his or her terms. If you don’t want to hug Uncle Whatever because he creeps you out, he smells bad, or you just don’t feel like it, that’s fine! He doesn’t deserve a hug from you. NO ONE IS ENTITLED TO ANYTHING FROM YOU. To effectively teach this, ask kids if they want to give you a hug before you just scoop them up. I know it’s so tempting to snug them all the time, but it’s a really easy lesson for them to learn. If they don’t want to be touched, you should respect that right. You can’t suddenly turn on kids’ right to consent when they reach a certain age!
Another example would be with tickling or playing a game. At least when I was little, people would tickle me until I cried (which didn’t take long because I was/am the most ticklish person alive). Nothing is wrong with playing around, but when a kid says stop, you have to stop immediately. If you don’t teach them that their words are important, they won’t realize it later.
Finally, you and your kids should have honest conversations as much as possible. I grew up always talking about my feelings, and it significantly strengthened my ability to express myself. Perhaps kids won’t throw temper tantrums once they learn how to actually articulate what the problem is. (I think I still throw temper tantrums, but this works in theory). This is not particularly related to consent, except to emphasize that kids should have someone who they can comfortably talk to, and who can answer questions for them. So many issues could be avoided with open, honest conversation. And less shame!
If you teach your kids from the start to respect their own bodies and the bodies of other people, they are far more likely to have healthy attitudes toward consent and boundaries. Who knows? If Donald Trump’s parents had done that, we might not have a President-elect who talks about grabbing women by the pussy, which he somehow has a right to do simply “because he’s a star.”
Speaking of which, I will be at the Women’s March on Washington! See you there?
To learn more about consent, check out our Consent Basic!
Kendall is a senior at the University of Maryland. She is pre-law and plans to be a criminal prosecutor. She's tiny, loud, and in charge. She's also one of our campus sexperts!