The #MeToo era has forced us to reevaluate many social norms that have for so long contributed to rape culture. A particularly important takeaway from these movements involves the skewed understanding of consent and what consent entails.
Consent in its most simplistic form means agreeing to do something or agreeing with what is happening. Consent must be freely given, ongoing, informed, unimpaired, explicit, and enthusiastic. There should be an enthusiastic ‘yes’ both verbally and physically. Consent requires respect and communication. It also involves understanding that everyone has their own particular boundaries, and we must be careful not to overstep. Verbal consent is what should always be identified and anything less clear or short of a ‘yes’ cannot be considered consent. Non-verbal consent is tricky to identify and should never be used as an excuse to justify harmful actions and behaviours. Reading body language and non-verbal cues is where this becomes important to understand. Ensuring that the other individual is comfortable even if they haven’t explicitly said so is where things can take a drastic turn, which makes it twice as important to help children understand what comfortable body language looks like.
Educating children and discussing topics of sexual health and consent can start as early as grade 1 and continue into college years. Although comfort is a critical aspect that prevents many parents from discussing these “taboo” topics, it is important to recognize that the greater the delay, the more harmful the effects can be. Particularly, in South Asian and Middle Eastern households, topics regarding sex and consent are not openly discussed because of how they are perceived by men and women. Often in these cultures, women are provided fragmented information on what consent entails and that typically men hold the power in the house. They are taught to listen and always agree with what they are being told. This concept of consent can perpetuate sexual assault and harassment. This is primarily why it is important to discuss consent with children at early ages and evolve those ideas as they grow. Below, I have outlined some topics of consent to discuss according to age.
Children Ages 5-8
- Always teach your children to ask before they touch someone, even if it is hugging a friend.
- Teach your children to always ask if they want to borrow something from someone. This allows them to recognize that asking questions and permission for minute tasks is important and they will translate this into their relationships.
- Words such as “no” should be respected. They should not push or argue when someone tells them they do not want to do something. Hearing yes should be just as common as hearing the word no. If someone has initially said yes and then changes their mind to no, that’s okay and they should never get angry at that.
- Ask children to read facial expressions and other body language cues. Teach them what it means to look scared or confused.
- Make it a safe space at home and with family to speak about their body and parts. They should not feel ashamed or afraid to speak about their bodies or what they feel
Children Ages 8-12
- Ask your kids to discuss what are good feelings and bad feelings with respect to their body
- Teach them the importance of checking in with the people they are with. Checking in reminds them that individuals are allowed to change their mind and consent is fluid.
- Teach kids to help others when they see consent is not being followed. What they should do, how to react, how to help, etc.
- One of the most important forms of consent involves teaching kids concepts of safe words. This means helping them understand when an activity becomes uncomfortable or they no longer want to participate in the activity.
While these are critical years to speak to kids about consent and “good” vs bad” touch, talking about consent over an individual’s lifetime is crucial. Particularly, as the child is entering their high school and college years and they become exposed to the party lifestyle, where drugs and alcohol become more prevalent. Discussing consent where one/both parties are intoxicated is perhaps one of the most important conversations to have with your children. This allows them to have healthy relationships with drinking and recognize how their actions and behaviours impact those around them.
Written by: Shreeya