With the rise of the Me Too movement and allegations of sexual misconduct against many high-profile figures flooding our current events many parents are wondering how to talk to their kids about consent. It is not as tough of a conversation as you may believe. Here is a quick guide to help you feel confident and get started talking today.
Helping kids understand consent (permission) early and understand their bodies belong to them makes it much easier to discuss sexual consent as they get older. The behaviors and mindset you help your child create have the power to be carried with them into adulthood. Here are some important lessons to pass on to your kiddos. You've got this parents!
Begin with teaching children that their bodies belong to them and that a person needs to ask permission before touching their body. This includes hugs, kisses, holding hands, tickling, doctor visits, bathing, bathroom help, etc. As kids get a bit older and are capable encourage children to wash their own genitals during bath time. Of course, parents have to help sometimes. When you do, model consent by asking for permission to wash your child’s body. “Can I wash your back now? How about your bottom?” If your child says “no” then hand them the washcloth and say, “Cool! Your booty needs a wash. Your turn to practice washing it.”
Never force a child to hug, touch, or kiss anybody, for any reason. For example, if Uncle Mike comes to visit and asks your child for a hug and your child says "no", don't make your child give Uncle Mike a hug. This may hurt the adult's feelings, but you can simply explain that you are teaching your child about autonomy and s/he may change their mind later. Uncle Mike will get over it. You can offer alternatives if a child is resistant by saying something like, “Would you rather give Uncle Mike a high-five or blow him a kiss, maybe?” Respecting children when they don't want touch helps them establish bodily autonomy.
Teach children "No" means "No". If someone says "no" or asks them to stop they need to respect that. This message goes both ways. To protect your child against abuse it is also helpful to tell them what to do if someone doesn't respect their "no" and that they must always tell a trusted adult even if the person told them to keep it a secret. At home use the word “surprise” instead of “secret” with your child. Ask other caregivers to do the same. Teach your child that adults should never ask kids to keep secrets.
Help children read body language. A large part of communication is body language (like facial expressions). Point this out to children and practice how they think others may feel in everyday situations. This will help them develop emotional intelligence and sense when someone is upset, being left out, lying, and more.
Allow children to talk about their body in any way they want, without shame. Teach the correct words for their genitals, and do your best to be open and honest about bodies and sex.
A great way to bring up these topics is to read a book together. Here are a few to check out.
You can also find some great videos on YouTube or Vimeo that you can watch together. Here is one you may like.
Conversations around consent with teens need to be more comprehensive. You can discuss consent in general terms but you'll want to give specific examples of when consent deals with sexual behaviors. Sexual consent is not just a simple yes or no. Consent can be given and then revoked or a person can change their mind. Partial consent may be given for one thing but not another or given last week but not today. Consent is not valid when given under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There is definitely more to discuss as kids get older.
What is Consent?
What Consent is NOT
Before your teen begins to date have conversations often about healthy relationships. Instill values such as everyone has the right to decide what they are comfortable with sexually, communication keeps relationships healthy, and that asking for consent shows respect for yourself and your partner. Talk about the role of coercion and how sometimes power is used to force or gain someone's compliance. Give examples. The news has plenty right now.
Continue to model and practice how to give consent and ask for it from others. When you see it on a TV show or movie point it out as a good or bad example of how to ask permission to make advances sexually.
Talk about Red Flags in relationships, for example:
Below you'll find some common terms and consequences when someone's "no" is not listened to or respected. All of these behaviors are illegal and the perpetrator can be charged, prosecuted and if convicted, fined or imprisoned. Teens should know what each of these terms means.
Sexual exploitation or misconduct
Talk openly and honestly with your teen about partying. Make it clear that you don’t want them drinking or using drugs, but you know parties often have drugs and alcohol at them.
It's not a bad idea to establish a code word as a family in case of a bad or tricky situation. Establish some ground rules and be especially clear with your teen that there may be times they may feel scared to tell you what is going on for fear of getting in trouble, but that their health and safety are ALWAYS your #1 priority.
Practice common scenarios and ask your teen questions about how they are going to keep themselves and others safe when they’re at parties.
Consent can be revoked
Finally, here is a fun video you could watch together that compares consent to a cup of tea. If you have any further tips, questions, or comments please share them below.
Please provide your name and email so we can stay in touch!