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Why Teaching Children Consent Is Important

a black chalkboard with the word 'consent' written in white chalk

Consent is important. We all know that. Well, at least I hope most of us do. And if you're unsure of why consent is important, then please, keep reading. And even if you already know why consent is important, please still keep reading because everything in this post applies to you too.

Whenever you hear the word 'consent', let's be honest, your mind instantly went to sex, didn't it? But consent doesn't just link to sex. Consent can be consenting to a bunch of agreements when you sign up for a new app. Consent can be consenting to have your data used if you're taking part in an experiment. Consent can be consenting to have a picture of you used in the local paper. Consent can mean many things. This is why you can use these methods of consent as a way of teaching children they have the right to consent to something, but also in teaching them they need to ensure others consent too because it's one of the most important things you can ever teach a child; or anyone, for that matter.

But what is the most appropriate way to teach children, especially those of a young age, about the right to consent?

From a young age, it's important children know that they own their bodies and that no one else has the right to their body other than them. You can teach them this, for example, from hugging. Even though you may want to hug your child, they may not want to hug you, so it's important you teach them that. This can be done by instead of immediately hugging them, you ask them if you can hug them and encouraging them to only say yes if they really want to hug you. If they say no, don't make them feel bad for saying no. Let them know that's okay. Not only does this teach them that they have the right to their body, but this also teaches them that we all have the right to our own bodies. Because in you asking them if you can have a hug if you want a hug, it also teaches them that they should ask someone for a hug when they want a hug.

It's also important that you don't ever force them to hug someone else. For example, I know it's common practice if two children have a fight or fall out to get them to give each other a hug, but I don't think this is the best thing to do. Children shouldn't have to be forced into hugging one another and it's giving them the wrong impression. I can get getting each other to say they're sorry (although, I'm a big believer in not saying you're sorry unless you really mean it, but that's another post for another day), but you should never force them to 'kiss and make up', so to speak.

I would also say one of the best things you can do when it comes to teaching children about consent is to sit them down and talk to them about it. Again, this doesn't need to be in relation to sex but can be used in any other way, such as hugging. You could sit your child down and explain to them why they need to ask someone if hugging them is okay before they go ahead and do it. Also, encourage them to look for body signals. For example, you could say that if someone is holding their arms out to hug them, this shows that they want a hug (but obviously explain that they should only do this if they also want to hug them).

Getting children into these practices from an early age is good because it should hopefully prevent them from either forcing themselves on someone when they're older, just because they want it or believing they have to do something they don't want to do. I'm sure we've all been there when we were younger of being told we had to hug/kiss family members goodbye when we were leaving, even though the majority of the time we didn't want to. This teaches children that it doesn't matter what they want, but that they have to do something regardless of how they feel. You can help your child by telling them that if a family member wants a hug/kiss goodbye but your child doesn't want to, tell them to say no and ensure that family member respects what your child says.

Teaching them stuff like this from a young age and progressing it as they get older means your child should be fully equipped to know all about consensual sex by the time they come of age. I'm ashamed to say it but I didn't know anything about consenting to sex until I was quite a lot older. I don't fully remember the age I was when I learnt about consenting to sex, but I was definitely past the age of sixteen and more likely around the age of eighteen when I first realised what it was and even now I'm still learning about it. This is one of the things I wish I had learnt in school and whilst my parents never forced me to hug anyone if I really didn't want to, I still wish these discussions had been had or something similar had happened. I genuinely thought for years that if someone was in a relationship they should always want to have sex or engage in sexual activity when their partner wants to, but now I know that's just not the case.

I don't have children of my own, but if/when I do, I will ensure I teach them about consent from a young age. If you don't feel comfortable doing this, there are a number of different books you can give them. A quick Google search should bring these up, but just in case, I have tagged some of them below:

C is for Consent ~ Eleanor Morrison

Let's talk about body boundaries, Consent and Respect ~ Jayneen Sanders

Don't Hug Doug (he doesn't like it) ~ Carrie Finison

Will Ladybug Hug? ~ Hilary Leung

ABC of Body Safety and Consent ~ Jayneen Sanders

If you want to learn more on how to teach your kids about consent, you can click on this link and this will take you to a website that is full of information on how you as a parent can teach your kids about consent.

Finally, if there is anything else you would like to talk to me about, whether that is in regards to talking to kids about consent or absolutely anything else, please feel free to either leave a comment below, send me an email or send me a DM on Twitter or Instagram. All of my contacts details are at the top of the page.

Have you spoken to your kids about consent? If so, how did you do it? And do you have any advice for any parents wanting to speak to their children about consent?

Love Beth xx

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