How to teach about consent
Teaching your children about consent is important, and it can begin as soon as kids become curious about their bodies – typically about four years old.
Even if you’re years away from the sex talk, you can still educate your children about consent, says Nicole Glaser, manager of Aurora Healing and Advocacy Services.
“Consent is really about the importance of respecting people’s boundaries, getting permission to do something and accepting the answer received,” Glaser says. “The conversation doesn’t have to include sex. It is about understanding that everyone gets to make choices.”
Consent for young children comes into play in many situations – kissing relatives goodbye, whether they want someone to sit next to them and whether they want information about themselves shared.
Small children can understand basic ideas involved in consent, like how their actions might make other people feel, Glaser says.
“It’s good to get them thinking about their own boundaries,” she says. “And it’s important to have open conversations with kids and encourage them to ask questions.”
As a parent, it’s important to model respect for consent in the home.
“Make sure you’re respectful of other’s decisions,” Glaser says. “Don’t force your kids to hug or kiss family members if they don’t want to do it. Be sure to tell them it’s okay if they don’t.”
It’s also important to establish boundaries – a child being taught to honor a “no” when he or she asks for a snack is more likely to accept and respect a “no” when it concerns a person’s boundaries and physical contact.
As children get older, discussion about consent can include other topics that might be harder to understand.
“It’s good to help older kids and teenagers understand what is NOT consent,” Glaser says. “For example, the absence of a ‘no’ doesn’t equal consent, or if someone says ‘yes’ but is clearly unsure, or if a person is drinking, that doesn’t mean there is consent.”
It’s also good to help your teenager learn how to deal with rejection, in any form, from a friend or a partner.
All the concepts involved in consent are important life lessons and can benefit a child as he or she grows up. When the idea of sex gets involved is up to you as a parent, Glaser says.
“It’s important that consent is included in the discussion whenever a parent chooses to talk to their child about sex,” Glaser said.
As a parent, you don’t want your child to be a victim or a perpetrator of sexual assault or abuse. However, it’s also important parents understand that should something happen, it’s not the child’s fault. It’s also important to teach children to speak up if they see something that shouldn’t be happening, says Maryann Clesceri, counseling manager for Aurora Healing and Advocacy Services.
“Many trainings for abuse prevention are now focused on bystander intervention,” she says. “Teaching children about consent will not always prevent them from being harmed by someone who wants to hurt them. It’s important for parents to respond if they suspect a child is being harmed.”
About the Author
Heather Collier works in Advocate Aurora Health’s public affairs and marketing department. She is based in Milwaukee.