There’s never a bad time to talk about consent. In fact, since it's at the root of so many societal problems, you’d think we’d be talking about it every day. Still, most of us didn't grow up talking about consent. I know I didn’t hear the word until I was in my 20s. That's why, as parents, we need to be actively discussing consent with our kids. Thankfully, facilitating conversations about consent on Valentine’s Day isn't as difficult as one might assume. In fact, there are more than a few age-appropriate ways to discuss the subject, and in a way your child can understand.
I think the best way to go about discussing a topic that's, sadly, still being debated by grown-ass adults, is by sprinkling it into a variety of conversations. Yes, I could have one serious talk with my child, going over what consent is, giving examples, explaining how to give it and get it and what to do when a situation goes south. But, in my opinion, that’s not enough. These discussions need to be as commonplace as commenting on the weather, or asking your partner what's for dinner. That is how we end systemic sexual violence and make sure everyone has safe, healthy relationships going forward.
Plus, younger children just won’t understand the nuances of interpersonal relationships and how consent plays a vital role. I mean, they can barely sit still through an entire episode of Super Why, so what do us parents expect? That's why I’ve put together a list of conversations that low-key deal with consent that are kid appropriate. See if some of these help you start these important conversations with your own little ones on Valentine’s Day.
Talk About What Love Is & How We Express That Love
When kids are very young, they won’t have a deep understanding about what love is. In many cases, I think kids assume it’s just how they feel about parents or siblings or friends. Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to explain to your child what love is, and how we should treat those we love (and vice versa). This sets a positive foundation for loving, consensual relationships.
Explain To Your Kid That You Love Them & Are Always Available To Listen
The only way children will learn and understand consent is if they hear about it, experience it, and have consistent examples of it. That means a child needs a safe person to come to and ask questions about what they're hearing, experiencing, and seeing, too.
If someone is doing something to your child they don’t like, it’s your job as a parent to make sure your child is comfortable enough to discuss it with you. Remind them, on this and every day, how much you love them. Explain that because of your love, you will never judge them, you will always listen to them, and you'll never impose your feelings on them. This will help establish trust, not just in your relationship but in any future relationships they might enter into.
Ask Your Child What They Love & How They Show Their Love
This is pretty easy and straightforward. It’s Valentine’s Day, so ask your kid who or what they’d want to give a V-Day gift to, and why. Then talk about how we show others love, and what is consensual versus what is not. Remind them that they need to be empathetic and ask how the other person feels about their displays of affection. Remind them that it’s OK for someone to say no to them, and that they need to respect that.
Ask How They Handle Unwanted Hugs & Other Affection
Ask your little one if any kids at school, or friends in general, have tried to hug them, kiss them, or shown any other forms of unwanted affection. What did they do about it? Ask them if anyone ever touches them in any way that makes them uncomfortable, and give them the tools to know how to react (teaching them to say no, to get away from the person, to tell a trusted adult).
Bring Up Examples Of Love In Movies, Books, & Television
Valentine’s Day is a great time to highlight examples of love in popular culture. Ask your child for examples of couples they’ve seen or read about. Try to discuss whether these relationships are positive or negative, whether there is true consent present, or how they might actually be problematic. (PS. I love Ryan Gosling as much as the next gal, but in The Notebook dude was totally being a creep and coercive as hell. Yeah, not OK.)
Have Discussions About Intimacy & Sex
Sure, it can be awkward or uncomfortable, but if you are candid about sex early on with your child, these conversations don't have to feel like the end of the world. Your teenager might be getting ready to have sex for the first time, or with a new partner. Don’t be afraid to inquire what’s going on in their relationship. Remind them they can come to you with questions and concerns, including any needs to visit a doctor’s office for testing or birth control. Let them know that it’s OK to express physical love once you reach a certain age, but that they should always be respectful of their partner’s needs and that their partners should always be respectful of their wishes, too. You can even bring up the #MeToo movement, since most teens follow enough of the news to know what's currently going on and how it's changing our culture. And, as always, remind your children that you're here to listen.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.