On a recent Saturday, we were relaxing as a family at a local coffee shop when one of the baristas came up to say “hello” to our three-year-old son, Finn. She asked him for a high-five, and he said no. Her response? “I’m going to tickle you until you give me a high-five!”
My child instantly burst into wails of distress. She stepped back, horrified, and Finn ran into my arms.
The barista walked away quickly, saying how sorry she was, as he continued to sob. “I didn’t want her to tickle me!” Finn said through gasping breaths. We reassured him that he had done the right thing, that what she had done was NOT OK, and that he could ALWAYS say “no” to any kind of physical contact at any time and expect for his wishes to be respected. My husband and I were furious, but I bet you’ve heard a well-meaning adult make similar statements to a child before.
It is never, ever too early to teach your child about consent.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and one of the best ways to prevent sexual assault and abuse is to educate your children about consent, bodily autonomy, and healthy relationships as early and as often as possible.
I was just four years old when I was sexually abused by a peer in my neighborhood. It was nearly thirty years before I talked about it and finally sought help.
We started talking to our son about consent and bodily autonomy when he was two years old. Now, at almost four, he knows all of the medically accurate names for male and female body parts. He knows the definition of consent. He knows that his body is his and his alone. He knows that he always has the right to say “no.” We never, ever force (or even encourage) him to offer anyone affection when he doesn’t want to.
No matter what your child’s age, from toddlerhood to the end of the teen years, talking about consent should be an ongoing dialogue between you and your kids.
The South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (SCCADVASA) has provided some great resources for families this year in hopes of improving the dialogue between parents and their children. The REALationships101 campaign was designed to speak honestly and frankly with young people online and via social media to educate them about healthy relationships, consent, and mutual respect.
“We know that about 10 percent of high school girls have already experienced physical violence and about nine [percent] have experienced sexual violence from an intimate,” said Sara Barber, Executive Director of SCCADVASA. “The data shows that around 42-percent women have experienced one of those crimes during their lifetime.” The REALationships101 campaign is working to prevent sexual violence before it ever starts, by educating and empowering young people as early as possible.
“The REALationships101 campaign educates teens and young adults about the characteristics of a healthy relationship. The campaign advocates for transformative social change through messages that promote consent, respect, trust and the value of personal space through a lens of inclusivity, empathy, and purposeful social action.” –SCCADVASA
The goal of Sexual Assault Awareness Month is to increase awareness about sexual violence and to educate the public on how to prevent it. This year’s theme is “I Ask” — empowering the public to:
- Recognize consent
- Understand the importance of asking for permission
- Respect boundaries
These are lessons that we can teach our children right now, today, no matter how young they may be.
Here are a few simple ways to get started:
- Pick up the amazing book “C is for Consent” by Eleanor Morrison and read it with your children often. It’s a bedtime favorite in our home!
- Teach your child the medically accurate names for body parts.
- Teach your child that their body is good, amazing, strong, and their’s alone!
- NEVER force or coerce your child to give affection (hugs, kisses, cuddles, etc.) if they don’t want to, even to you!
- Teach your child that they can always say “no” with confidence when it comes to their personal boundaries.
As parents, all we want is for our children to be safe. While we’ll never be able to protect them from everything, we can certainly offer them the best, most empowered foundation possible when it comes to having healthy boundaries and relationships in the future.