5 Ways to Teach Your Children about Consent
Talking to our kids about sex is not an easy task. We live in a world where everything around us is soaked in sexuality- it is used to sell everything from home appliances to cars, toys, and the food we eat. While we try our best to censor everything our kids are exposed to, we are not certain of what they engage in when we are not with them.
While many of us are more effective than ever at talking with our children about normality sex and all it entails, others are clueless on how to properly educate our kids, especially the boys on sex and how to consent. Our country is plagued by a worsening epidemic of sexual violence, and as parents, we must do our part in ensuring there is change.
It’s becoming something normal to hear about the issue of sexual violence, but most of the talk is about how to help victims in the aftermath of their suffering. But when the subject of prevention comes up, the emphasis is often placed on what girls should to do protect themselves: they should avoid wearing provocative clothing, they should never walk alone at night; they should take self-defense classes, and never get drunk at a party. There is little mention of what should be done to stop our boys from growing into men who are capable of committing these disgusting acts in the first place.
I think we believe that if we teach our kids the difference between right and wrong—assuming that it goes without saying that sexual assault is the latter—then we’ve done our job. Rape culture is fueled by misinformation and a lack of proper education, and it’s never too early to start teaching children the proper definition of consent.
1. If your children are still very young, encourage them to ask for permission before showing physical affection—”Let’s ask Debby if she wants a hug right now.” Also, never force them to receive affection from someone, even if it’s a family member, if they don’t want it.
2. Talk with your child about the importance of “gut feelings.” Explain that sometimes, we feel weird inside when we sense that a person or situation isn’t right, even if we can’t really say why. Tell them they should always listen to that inner voice, that as human beings, our brains are wired that way in order to protect us from danger. Emphasize that they should respect their instincts.
3. Teach your children to respect the power of the word “no,” that when someone tells them to stop doing something, they need to immediately cease their behavior. Encourage them to say no, as well, and continue saying it, loud and clear. If their friend doesn’t honor their “no,” tell them that it’s okay to not want to spend time with that person anymore.
4. As your children get older, you can get more specific about their sexuality and consent. Teach them that consent means asking for and waiting to hear a “yes”—it does not mean continuing to touch someone sexually until they hear the word “no.” They might roll their eyes at you, they might say they already know it all, but remember, by continuing to talk about it, you are normalizing the discussion of consent, which will help them actually have that discussion in a potentially critical moment.
5. For children in middle school, and on into high school, you can use examples from the media—movies, and television, especially—to discuss what healthy sexuality really is, and how consent is often inaccurately portrayed. The scene from a movie you are watching with your child can help prompt the talk about consent. At every opportunity, reemphasize and reinforce what you have taught about respecting a person’s “no.”
Telling children that sexual assault is wrong is not enough. If it was, a woman wouldn’t be sexually assaulted in the country. If we are willing to change that narrative, we need to make the issue of consent a more detailed and integral part of sex education. We need to equip our children with proper knowledge and innate tools they can use to navigate the complex streams of sexually-charged situations. Then, and only then, will we stand a chance at changing the tide.