Having a daughter was always something I was prepared for, and in many ways. I knew how difficult it would be to teach her about body positivity, feminism, being true to herself, and all the other challenges that go along with being female in today's society. Raising a son, though? It's hard in completely different ways. Sure, every good parent teaches their son about respect but, well, there's more to it than that. Teaching your son about consent, without ever mentioning sex, is where it really all begins. In the end, consent means so much more than just having, or not having, sex.
We're all born with a certain moral compass (I'd like to believe) but there are hundreds of years' worth of cultural messages that distorts the meaning of consent, or erases it entirely and refuses to acknowledge that it exists and is necessary. We, as parents, need to teach our sons to ignore what culture has come to define (or fail to define) consent as, in order to avoid having more Brock Turners released into the world. If we are going to raise a generation that destroys rape culture and believes in complete body autonomy, it starts with us our sons (and daughters) and, yes, it starts young.
So, for me, the conversation has already begun with my 2-year-old son, and it will continue well into his teenage years. Naturally, there's no mention of sex at this point, but eventually there will be, when he's old enough to talk about it. I think it's one of the most important concepts I'll ever teach him. So, having said that, here are eight ways to teach your son about consent without ever mentioning sex:
This is a tough concept for small children to grasp, so I've found that it requires you to teach it again and again and again. In fact, both of my kids (my son and my daughter) hear this on a daily basis. Boundaries are blurry when you're little, so every opportunity to teach them how important the word "no" is, I take advantage of it.
There was a time when my son would see my daughter get undressed, and immediately go to touch her bum or vagina. Clearly, this is not OK (I mean, they're only two and four, but it's something they need to learn), and so I've been talking to my son about how our bodies are our own, and no one else's.
There are times when everyone gets wrapped up in the moment and, maybe subconsciously, you fail to listen to what those around you are saying because it means an end to the fun. Listening is of paramount importance, when it comes to the issue of consent, because not everyone says a loud and clear, "NO."
When you're teaching your son to listen when others say no, the least you can do is respect when he says it, too. That means stopping the tickle attack when he asks, even if he asks you to start again immediately. That's just him experimenting with control, which is important.
Do you see where I'm going, here? All facets of the word "no" need to be explored with your son, so that he responds without faltering, when someone says that word.
This isn't just about another person's consent, of course. We need to teach our sons that it's OK for them to say no to situations which may come with societal expectations of children, as well. Hugging family members may make your son uncomfortable, and he should understand that he doesn't have to go through with it, just to please his aunt, cousin, or grandparent.
If your son is, in fact, the cuddly type, it's important to make him understand that not everyone is. There was a boy in my daughter's kindergarten class who used to tackle other kids with hugs. Super cute, right? I mean, he's just being loving. Except when some of those kids really didn't want a hug.
Boy, that seems like a pretty basic concept, right? Except, how often do you hear kids asking other kids if it's OK to do something like hug, like I said before, or use a toy? This is such an important part of the equation, because the longer kids are allowed to take and do what they want without asking first, the harder it is to eradicate that tendency, I think.