Thursday, May 28, 2015

Talking to kids about consent

I don't really want to talk about the Duggar scandal on here, but the fact that it's arisen means that it's probably a good time to talk about how to keep our kids safe.

Of course I've taught my kids not to touch each other's private parts ... when the house is kind of pants-optional, it comes up.  And we don't expose them to age-inappropriate sexual material.  I try to listen to them if they feel uncomfortable or upset about something, so that they know they can tell me anything.

But even before they've reached the age where they know where babies come from, we talk about consent.  Because I think this is one of the most important things for a kid to know, not just related to sex, but related to everything.

It comes up all the time, in simple ways, and we discuss it without making an enormous deal of it.  Stuff like this:

"Do you want to be tickled?  Yes?  Okay!  Oh, you said no, okay, I will stop.  No, I won't tickle you any more unless you ask me to.  Oh you do want more?  Okay!"

"She doesn't look like she wants a hug right now.  See how she is frowning and pushing away from you?  Next time ASK if she wants a hug before giving her one."  (Though more often, my kids are the ones who don't want hugs from random kids on the playground.  So I say this to the kids who are trying to hug them, if their parents aren't intervening.)

"He does not have to play Weeping Angels with you.  It's not good to play a game with someone if they don't want to play with you.  If you really really want to play, you have to find someone who wants to, or play by yourself."

"Grandma would really like a hug from you.  It would make her very happy.  But it is always your choice to hug or not."

"I see that little girl is trying to hug you.  Do you want her to?  If you don't, say 'no thank you.'  Here, I will stand in front of you so that she understands you meant no."  (I want my kids to know that I always will back them up when they say no.)

"Sweetheart, I know you very much want to be on my lap right now.  But I have held you for a long time and I am ready to stop.  You have to respect that because it is my choice to hold you or not."

"Does it look like the baby likes you tickling her toes?  Is she smiling or frowning?  Is she laughing or crying?  If she doesn't like it, you have to stop."

"May I have a kiss?  Okay, if you don't want to, that's fine, I'll just wave."  (I make a point not to try to make them feel bad for not kissing me.)

I think consent is a concept that never stops being important.  It helps kids be socially appropriate (randomly hugging strangers stops being cute at about two years old) and considerate of others.  When I hear the excuses of people who have raped or otherwise taken advantage of someone, I always wonder .... didn't their mother tell them you don't do to people things they might not like and haven't given permission for?  Or have they been living their lives assuming that everyone else's wishes are less important than their own?

I don't think that these conversations are a surefire preventative of abuse, or of my kids growing up to be either rapists or victims.  But they are one thing that I can do, and something that I think I would be remiss as a parent if I did not address.


Heather C. said...

Thank you for this post; I love it and wish more parents and families incorporated these conversations in their day to day lives. I especially appreciate the example about it being their choice whether or not to hug grandma -- I think many of us, regardless of religion, were raised on the idea that we owe it to our elders as a form of respect, and if we don't, it's only acceptable since it's a sub-par hug. Personally, I think the specter of respect gets conflated with notions of obedience and control too often.

Sheila said...

Yes, exactly -- it is seen as "disrespect" if you don't obey, but often you respect the person a great deal and just have confidence in your own reasons for saying no.

Laura said...

Great points! . . . I still feel bad for poking your kid in the belly button w/o his consent. His little tummy was just so cute. But I shouldn't go around doing that. :-/

Sheila said...

:D He didn't seem upset. Just surprised! Perhaps next time he'll remember that there are other people at church and it's not his living room to sprawl around in. ;)

I love all my children, but Michael is far and away the most tempting to randomly tickle. He just has that face.

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