Understanding Consent: How We Should Be Educating Our Sons and Daughters
In a world where personal boundaries are often breached, understanding and respecting consent should be a top priority. While the conversation around consent often focuses on sexual situations, it is crucial to remember that consent applies to various aspects of life, from sharing personal items to entering personal space.
What Does Consent Mean?
Consent is an explicit agreement between individuals about what they are mutually willing to participate in. It is not a one-time transaction, but an ongoing process, requiring regular check-ins to ensure both parties are comfortable. Consent can be revoked at any time. Simply put, consent means respecting another individual’s autonomy to make choices regarding their body, emotions and personal space.
Educating Our Sons
Boys can often grow up in environments that inadvertently perpetuate toxic masculinity, teaching them to be aggressive or entitled. Parents must challenge these societal norms and set an example by treating everyone, regardless of gender, with respect and dignity.
Open dialogue is the best way to tackle any topic. Discuss with your sons that consent is not merely about asking for permission but understanding and respecting the answer, even if it is a ‘no.’ Explain that silence or lack of resistance doesn’t equal consent. Teach them to be sensitive to non-verbal cues as well and to check in with their partner during any activity.
Educating Our Daughters
Girls often grow up with the idea that they should be accommodating and not hurt others’ feelings. We need to empower our daughters to say ‘no’ when they are uncomfortable. Lead by example and show them how to set boundaries effectively.
Teach your daughters that their bodies are their own and they have the right to set boundaries. Teach them also to recognise when someone is respecting or disregarding their autonomy. An empowered girl is better equipped to handle situations where her consent is required.
How to Communicate Consent to Our Children
Age-Appropriate Discussions: Use language and examples that your children can understand, depending on their age.
Storytelling: Utilise stories or scenarios to explain the concept. For younger children, there are even picture books available on the subject of consent.
Role-Playing: Act out scenarios with your children, so they understand how to ask for and give consent in various situations.
Continuous Learning: This is not a ‘one-and-done’ conversation. Make discussions about consent a regular part of your parenting.
Encourage Open Dialogue: Make it clear that your children can always talk to you about their feelings and concerns, without fear of judgment or punishment.
Cultivating a Trusting and Open Space for Crucial Conversations
As our children transition into their teenage years, maintaining open lines of communication becomes increasingly important, especially when it comes to topics like sexual consent.
Drawing from research and the collective wisdom of experts like Melissa Kang from the University of Sydney, it’s clear that while most teens might not engage in intercourse until their late teens, many begin exploring other forms of intimacy, such as holding hands or kissing, much earlier.
Having spent considerable time in school counselling and advocacy, I’ve noted that consent stands out as a pressing issue. Disturbingly, young women between the ages of 15 and 19 are most susceptible to sexual assault, with young men of the same age range often being the perpetrators. It’s both alarming and heartbreaking.
To address this issue, resources such as the upcoming book “Welcome to Consent,” co-authored by Kang, are crucial. It’s designed to guide pre-teens and their parents on this topic.
A common challenge many parents face is transitioning from conversations about unwanted touch to those about consensual relationships. Since it’s uncharted territory for both parties, a useful approach is discussing hypothetical situations or referencing third-party experiences.
It’s worth noting that for many youngsters, the term ‘consent’ might first be associated with school permissions. Thus, it’s crucial to begin these discussions by clarifying what ‘consent’ means in the context of relationships. At its core, it’s about mutual permission and understanding boundaries.
Modern views on consent have evolved from the simplistic “No Means No” to a more affirmative stance where both parties actively and openly communicate their agreement for any intimate act, whether it’s a simple hug or a more profound commitment. Mutual respect and understanding are paramount.
Five Good Q&A
Q: How early should I start teaching my child about consent?
A: It’s never too early. Even toddlers can understand the basics of asking for permission and respecting others’ choices.
Q: Is it sufficient to teach my son to just ask for permission?
A: No, asking is just one part of it. He should also learn to respect the answer and be attuned to non-verbal cues.
Q: How can I empower my daughter to be more vocal about her comfort level?
A: Through continuous conversation and leading by example. Show her that her feelings and comfort are important and should be vocalised.
Q: How do I teach my kids about consent without making them fearful of interactions?
A: Focus on the importance of respect and open communication, not just the negatives or what to avoid.
Q: Can consent be revoked after initially saying ‘yes’?
A: Absolutely, consent is an ongoing process and can be revoked at any time.
Understanding and respecting consent is vital for the emotional and physical well-being of our children. As parents, it is our responsibility to equip them with the tools they need to navigate the complex social landscapes they will face throughout their lives.