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Does your child understand consent ?

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PHOTO CREDIT: Fatuma’s voice

Consent means giving someone a choice about touch or actions and respecting their answer. When teaching a child the concept of consent, it is basically asking for permission. Children should know that it is important to seek permission from others before proceeding to take an action.

For very young children, encourage them to ask for permission before showing physical affection, even if it’s a hug. They should also not be forced to receive affection from someone, even if it’s a family member if they don’t want it. A child should be taught to respect the power of the word, ‘No’. When someone tells them to stop doing something, they need to immediately cease their behaviour. Encourage them to say no, as well, and continue saying it, loud and clear. If their friend doesn’t honour their decision, tell them that it’s okay to not want to spend time with that person anymore.

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Children should understand the importance of ‘gut feelings and respecting their instinct. Let your child know that sometimes, we can feel weird inside and when we sense that a person or situation doesn’t feel right, even if we can’t really say why. It is absolutely good to always listen to that inner voice because as human beings, our brains are wired that way in order to protect us from danger. Hence, relying on your instinct is a better way of staying safe.

As your child gets older, especially from age three, you can get more specific about their sexuality and consent. Teach them that consent means asking for and waiting to hear a ‘yes, this does not mean continuing to touch someone sexually until they hear the word ‘No’. They might roll their eyes at you or say they already know it all, but remember, by continuing to talk about it, you are normalising the discussion of consent, which will help them actually have that discussion in a potentially critical moment.

For children older in middle and high school, you can use examples from movies and television programmes to discuss what healthy sexuality really is, and how consent is often inaccurately portrayed. There should be detailed discussions about how to identify and respect a person’s non-verbal communication. At every opportunity, reemphasize and reinforce what you have taught about respecting a person’s ‘no.’

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With the Internet at the fingertips in this digital age, all the parental controls in the world won’t keep our children from seeking out the answers to any questions they might have about their bodies and sex. It’s natural for them to be curious, but if you start an open conversation with them at a young age, if they know you won’t scold them or tell them that they are too young to think about ‘adult’ kinds of things, they will be more likely to come to you for information rather than their peers or other erroneous, sources.
 
Telling children that sexual assault is wrong is not enough. If it was, sexual and gender-based violence won’t be making the news everyone and then. There is a need to make the issue of consent a more detailed and integral part of sex education. We need to arm our children with proper knowledge and fully informed, innate tools they can use to navigate the complex nature of sexually charged situations.
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