Out of all the blog posts I have written thus far…this is the one I feel will ruffle the most feathers. When I think about how often this topic offends other parents I am genuinely baffled. Who would NOT want their children to feel empowered and in control of their own bodies? Why is teaching and practicing consent such a controversial subject among modern parenting? Let’s break it down and dive into it!
There are some things about parenting I never even imagined I would be focused on. You think of all the basics before you have children. You know you want to keep them safe, nourish their bodies and raise them to be generally good, well rounded people. Allowing developing children to understand and use bodily consent was not top on my list of important parenting goals.
It has quickly become one of the more important as I have learned how lacking our culture is in knowledge on the topic.
Consent is defined by Merriam-Webster as: “Compliance in or approval of what is done or proposed by another; specifically : the voluntary agreement or acquiescence by a person of age or with requisite mental capacity who is not under duress or coercion and usually who has knowledge or understanding.”
Now, consent used to be something I only thought of in terms of signing official documents and adult, sexual relationships. It is so much more than just that.
Consent exists from the very beginning of life. This means teaching consent starts at the very beginning of life.
I feel it is so important to emphasize when consent begins because we as a society start to ignore our child’s right to consent from the very start. I experienced this first hand when I decided to keep my son whole instead of having him circumcised. Among the copious amounts of medical and psychological reasons for keeping my son intact (which you can read more about here and here) I feel that permanently altering another person unnecessarily without their full, informed consent is ethically wrong. We don’t pierce our non consenting children’s ears, we don’t cut their hair without their permission and we don’t force them to show affection to someone if they don’t want to. These choices help to foster self awareness and a strong sense of bodily autonomy.
Now you may be asking…”Why should I teach my kids about consent?”
“You don’t want to extinguish the affection that children show, but you do want to set appropriate limits. Everyone is responsible for their own body, has a right to say no and not have behavior forced on them.”
-Eric Lindsey, professor of applied psychology at Pennsylvania State University
There are a myriad of benefits to teaching your children about consent and body autonomy. Some of the most notable benefits include:
Learning respect for themselves and others
Teaches compassion and empathy
Foster self awareness and independence
Helps prevent future sexual abuse or harassment
Allows children to set healthy boundaries
Increases the child’s self worth
Don’t be overwhelmed! It is a lot of subject matter to take in! Consent can be brought into your parenting goals little by little. Do you have an older kid? There is no better time to teach consent than the present! Don’t have kids yet but plan to one day? Read as much on the topic as you can now.
Here are some quick links with tips on the how of teaching consent:
- What Consent Means and How To Teach It
- How To Talk About Consent
- Consent At Every Age
- 5 Ways to Honor Your Child’s Body Autonomy
(Below you will find an extremely helpful acronym for remembering the basics of consent!)
Remember that teaching body autonomy and consent does not mean you practice permissive parenting.
The point of consent as a life lesson is not just about letting your child do whatever they want without experiencing natural consequences.
Start teaching your little ones consent in simple, every day situations. A good example of this is: “What do YOU feel like wearing today?”
The bigger area of teaching consent I can think of to tackle is that of forced affection.
Encourage your child to decide if they want to give hugs or kisses to grandma. Let them know that they are allowed to say no to someone requesting a hug because they have a say in what others do to their body. These small things can add up over time.
Actively respecting your child’s right to consent will allow your child to grow into an independent, empowered and well rounded future adult.
By sharing the basics of consent with your kids you are reinforcing their own bodily autonomy.
Make it a daily conversation.
Model to your child frequently what consent is.
Let them know you are there for any discussions and questions.
Be honest and upfront.
*More on teaching children consent here!