How To Talk To Your Kids About Consent

by Jill Di Donato

If you're saddened, outraged, and disgusted by the prevalence of rape culture and sexual assault in society, then you're not alone. As a millennial parent, one of your goals is to raise a generation of kids who don't commit sexual violence. But how to talk to your kids about consent might fill you with trepidation.

You might be nervous because it's such a topical and weighted issue these days. According to The Washington Post, one in five college-age women have been sexually assaulted in their life. But that just makes this conversation all the more important. So it's important to have the consent talk — it might just be the most important talk you have with your kids.

Given that these statistics are part of the world today, it's likely that your own personal relationship to consent might affect how you teach this idea to your kids. There's really no wrong way to teach informed consent, according to The Huffington Post. However, there are a couple of things to touch upon to make sure that consent is part of an ongoing dialogue in your household. The following are ways to make sure that you're hitting all the main points when talking to your kids about consent.


Start Young

Sexual health educator Lyba Spring told The Toronto Star that it's never too early to talk to your kids about consent. "It starts from birth," she explained, adding that even though your baby might not understand your words, he or she understands a gentle touch as opposed to a forceful one. Additionally, your language builds a consciousness around consent that's vital to your child getting it.


Ask For Their Permission

Building on the previous point, you should get in the habit of asking your kid permission. Ask permission to change his or her diaper or to wash private parts in the bath. Ask for permission to have a hug. These are small ways you can talk about consent with your child, while simultaneously showing your kid ownership of his or her body. You should also teach your kid to ask permission to touch another kid's body. The earlier you start, the more natural it will appear.


Explain That "Yes" Can Turn Into "No" At Any Time

Educators Julie Gillis, Jamie Utt, Alyssa Royse and Joanna Schroeder told The Huffington Post in the aforementioned article that kids can grasp the idea of fluidity and that "yes" can turn into "no" at any time. If you think that culture totally gets the idea that "no means no," I suggest you watch the 2015 film The Hunting Ground, a documentary about on-campus rape and what grassroots rape survivor advocates are doing to stop it.


Tell Them Their Opinions Matters

According to UpWorthy, it's important to tell your kids that their opinions matter, whatever those opinions might be. You want your kid to have a healthy understanding of trust, which goes hand-in-hand with consent.


Make Sure They Know You Value Their Feelings

UpWorthy also recommended that you value your kids' feelings. Feelings often get brushed aside and made secondary to opinions or so-called facts. I challenge you to tell that to someone who's suffered trauma. Feelings are real, and can be empowering, if only they weren't overshadowed by male feelings of entitlement.


Use Medical Terms To Refer To Body Parts

NBC Today reported that experts have been saying this for a long time: teach your kids the correct names for body partsall body parts. A nose is a nose; a vulva is a vulva. End of story. Again, you're using language to show your kid that there's no shame in having a body.


Teach Your Child Empathy

In the aforementioned article from The Huffington Post, the authors explained that empathy is critical for children to learn consent. From an early age, rather than just telling your kid to share because it's nice, ask your child how he or she would feel if someone didn't share with them? Empathy: learn it, live it.


Teach Your Child How To Read Facial Expressions And Body Language

When it comes to consent, nonverbal cues are signals of feelings and thoughts, according to Dartmouth College's policy on how to make sure you are engaging in intimate activity with a person who is clearly articulating affirmative consent.

Now, as this document outlined, nonverbal consent is not enough to signal a "go-ahead," but, it's useful for your kid to understand that consent has nuances. It's also important for your kid to learn to pay attention to how the body moves, feels, and reacts, in any given situation.


Allow Kids To Talk About Their Bodies Without Shame

Everyday Feminism reported that parents might be unintentionally teaching kids to be ashamed of their bodies. This is problematic for many reasons. If you feel ashamed about your body, you might not do all you can do to protect it later in life.


Emphasize The Importance Of Taking Breaks In Play

As a mom, you're probably used to giving your kid a time out when he or she is misbehaving. That's perfectly normal and OK. However, what if you taught your kids to give themselves their own time outs? According to a paper published by Project Support of Vanderbilt University, when children learn skills to self-monitor, they are learning to be accountable for their own behavior.

If you talk about the importance of taking a break when you feel, say, over-excited or "hyper" you're teaching your kid a valuable lesson about consent. Being able to self-monitor will is not only associated with success, it's a feeling of empowerment.


Discourage Teasing And Bullying

Name calling, shaming others, teasing, and bullying are habits no parent wants to teach their kids. But what does this have to do with consent? Well, all of the above behaviors are unsavory because they are intended to make the recipient feel like they are "less than" or belittled. Alternatively, the bully has a sense of entitlement, which is oppressive.

Words have powerful implications, especially when it comes to consent. So, as you continue the dialogue with your kid about this topic, be sure not to gloss over this point.


Impart The Value Of Compassion

When you talk to your kids about consent, you're talking to them about so much more. That's right, consent doesn't have to be about sex, but it does revolve around respect and compassion for others. By talking to kids about consent in a non-sexual way, but rather as a set of behaviors that value caring for another person, and just a normal part of everyday life.


Have The Sex Talk, And Be Frank About What Sexual Consent Is And Is Not

Executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, Mary Cathryn Ricker wrote an article outlining the importance talking openly about sex education and consent to children for Ms. She argued the importance of incorporating consent into sex education, even as early as middle school, so that kids learn consent explicitly. In her words, this is one way parents and educators can topple rape culture.