Talking about consent to kids has nothing to do with talking about sex
In classrooms, I use two stories when talking to kids about consent.
For example, I have said to kids:
“…can a person change their mind and choose not to continue playing Lego with you even though you invited them over and they said they would?”…
Most kids respond: “…yes they can…”
Some kids say: “…no, that is mean… I would punch them… no they can’t because they promised…”
Then we talk about managing disappointment. (I’ll write another blog on just this).
It is surprisingly simple to explain the complexities of consent to kids so that they learn the fundamental principles of decision making that will inform all of the actions they decide to take in their life during shared experiences.
These fundamental internalised ideals will benefit their decisions as they embark on intimate encounters later in life.
We want children to internalise that:
- Consent is about making fundamental decisions, not just about actions
- Consent is ongoing /continual mutual agreement regarding a shared experience
- Consent is permission and respect and communication
- Consent feels good, is pleasurable, fun, and enjoyable
- Consent is being generous and reciprocal, mutual
- Consent is always enthusiastic – if it’s not, it’s not consent – easy right?!!!
- Consent is part of friendships and playing
- Consent can be verbal and non-verbal
- Consent in a healthy friendship – all people can speak freely, everyone feels positive and safe because they can communicate their expectations and what they want, it’s exciting
- Consent is not awkward, not weird to negotiate or to get, because honestly feels good for everyone
- Consent is trying to understand how the other person might feel
- Consent is a human right – for everyone
- Consent keeps everyone’s body, feelings and thoughts, comfortable and safe
- Consent respects that everyone has their own personal body space, feelings and thoughts
- Consent involves courage – especially withdrawing it
- Consent is the law that’s why it is so important and awesome and positively powerful
- Consent is putting all these words above that are in bold together and when your decisions reflect all of this knowledge, it means you are an awesome human with the best ever friendship experiences
Additional Messages/themes for teachers/parents:
- Consent has nothing to do with ‘sex’ unless we are referring to sexual consent
- Consent is integral to human relationships and connection – yet many people don’t understand it, can actually be simple
- Children who have a good understanding of consent before they become sexually active will more easily be able to adapt their learning and entrenched values into their sexual encounters and decision making as young people/adolescents
- Children’s consent education must include: pleasure, mutuality, enjoyment, fun, reciprocity, generosity, empathy, power(with, not over), personal space, body autonomy, sense of self, gentle and sensitive, all non-sexual for younger children with additional sexual and intimate encounters education/context for older children/teens
- Consent should be taught as early as possible
- Teach independent critical thinking skills – how would you know they enjoy Lego – get to keno them first?
- Consent and respect are non-negotiable even when our feelings and emotions are at play
- Consent is fun and awesome (sexy for older teens) – negotiating it and communicating about it is not awkward or will not ruin the playdate (mood) – honesty is pleasurable and intimate and powerful
- Consent – is fun and pleasurable when the person can freely say their boundaries or limits
- Consent is free of coercion and fear
- Consent is informed, specific
- Importance of naming body parts: to enable communication, gives vocabulary to report abuse, or talk to an adult about a problem, then a vocab for negotiating mutually enjoyable sexual/intimate encounters and shows prior education and assumed self-determination about their body
- Importance of body autonomy: Body ownership – their own and respecting that of others they decide who touches it and when
- Knowing protective safety rules: some people break the consent rules and we should speak up when this happens – it is not their fault
- Importance of whole community approach: All adults in a child’s life should be a part of their learning about consent
- Analogies for much older teens:
- Would you force someone to play lego just because they promised?
- Would you force someone to let you tie their shoelaces because you want to?
- So why would you force your penis into someone’s mouth?
- Your sexual encounter (orgasm/ejaculation experience), will be heaps more intense and pleasurable if you ‘share’ the same with a partner. Consent is sexy.
One last thing to consider:
There are limitations with ‘no means no’ and even ‘yes means yes’.
Insisting/seeking one or the other puts the onus on one person to be the ‘gatekeeper’ of the consent for the ‘shared’ encounter.
We should instead instil the idea that the person suggesting or wanting to do something should take equal responsibility for the yes, not the recipient having to take responsibility for the no. So they communicate a mutually negotiated shared and pleasurable experience by getting to know each other’s wants, needs, likes, preferences and so then the suggested activity will likely be in line with their approval and permission will be freely and enthusiastically given.
- The activity initiator should suggest something to do that is ‘shared’ ‘together’ not ‘to’ the other person
- Initiator of the activity should make sure there is likely to be a yes – not be looking out for a no
- If it is something the other person is likely to say no to and will feel pressured to say yes to, don’t even suggest doing it, or even ask to do it in the first place. After all, a pressured/coerced yes is not consent.
- This encourages all participants to be active participants in everything that is happening.
- Having to say no implies responsibility is on one person of the activity – but the shared mutual experience needs to be based on fundamental respectful decision making by both
It’s brave for the person to speak up so respect their courage
- Even if you were looking forward to it or are really enjoying it – don’t be passive-aggressive or sad, or mad, – never ok to make someone feel guilty – no matter how important it was, never more important than being respectful, sensitive to the other person
- Take five seconds to take a breath before you make a decision about how to react
- Ask them what they would prefer to do and keep in mind it might be something that doesn’t involve you
- Don’t keep asking – they have said no remember the mutuality
- Always make sure they know that if they change their mind that is ok too
- No one owes anyone an explanation – respect their wishes and go back to the principles; don’t bribe, plead, trick, threaten
- Be grateful that they were able to be honest with you
- It’s not the end of the world
Practice consent and be an awesome human 🙂