Why I Taught My Kids About Consent From Day One

If we teach our kids about consent as a general idea, will they be better able to understand the idea as adults?

Say what you want about what went down in the court room during the Jian Gomeshi trial, and what the three complainants went through on the stand, but if nothing else, the sexual assault trial against the radio show host has opened up a candid conversation in homes across Canada and beyond about consent. And that is a good thing.

People tend to talk about consent in terms of sexual touching but in our house, discussions surrounding consent have always been about touching of any kind.

I often think back to a blog that says we should never force our kids to hug or kiss people, even relatives. If a child doesn’t want someone touching them, even ‘good’ touching, we as parents shouldn’t push it if a child has clearly said they don’t want to. As a general rule, it’s good practice to let children decide when, by whom and how they want to be touched.

My children are very physical beings. They love cuddles and hugs and they like physical play—jumping and tackling and tickling each other. This is ground zero for lessons regarding consent in our house.

When the new sex ed curriculum was announced, parents everywhere freaked out that young children were going to be taught consent, like it was a bad thing. But consent doesn’t have to have anything to do with sex. In fact, it shouldn’t have anything to do with sex. Consent should be about touching, any touching, and your right to say you don’t like it.

My children know that if someone doesn’t want to cuddle, then they don’t get to cuddle at that particular time. They know that if they are tickling and are asked to stop, the tickling should stop immediately. Most importantly perhaps, they know that when they’re rough housing, when someone says stop, the play ends right then and there, no questions asked; even if the person who said stop was laughing while they said it; even if the person was the one who started the rough play in the first place; even if the person who said stop was having fun and was the rougher of the two. Stop means stop, no matter what preceded the request.

Parents who are loathe to discuss consent with their kids because they think they are too young to hear that they have the right to say no to sexual advances are entirely missing the point.

It’s not even that we as parents tend to underestimate what our children are capable of understanding. Children need to be given credit for their ability to internalize lessons about the value of their body and their right to have full control over how it is touched.

It’s not that there is an age at which discussions about sexual touching are particularly appropriate or necessary.

It’s that, if we teach our kids from day one that they can say no to hugs, to kisses, to cuddling, to tickling and to horseplay, if we explain to them that it’s okay to ask for unwanted touching to stop, if we teach our kids that if someone is laughing one second but saying stop the next, you must immediately stop what you are doing regardless, then there will never be a time where you have to include breasts and bums and penises and vaginas in the conversation.

It will never become necessary to discuss unwelcome sexual touching if we raise our kids to know they can stay stop at any time and are expected to stop at any time they are asked to, no matter what kind of touching it is. The same no that stops sexual touching should also stop roughhousing, because no should always mean no. 

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