Talking to Your Kids About Consent Keeps Them, and Others, Safe.
The conversation about sexual assault, harassment, and general misconduct has been increasing in both intensity and nuance with the #metoo and #timesup movements. At the center of this conversation is a much needed emphasis on how we go about understanding, engaging with, and teaching consent.
We have had our own waves of this in Lebanon, with the #notyourashta campaign a couple of years ago, and the fairly recent circulation of the consensual sex campaign video by the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (you’ll find the video further down in our discussion).
The dialogue around this is a particularly poignant and touchy subject for parents. We want our kids to be safe. We also don’t want our kids to grow up to be the perpetrators of any kind of sexual abuse. The truth is what makes this an even more complex topic to tackle is that much of the sexual behaviour that has been damaging is not as overt as rape, not as clear cut as abuse. It’s located in an area where we are unable or unwilling to read one another, unable to vocalize discomfort, unable or unwilling to recognize the signals that indicate it.
We are our children’s first teachers. Understanding consent and teaching it, modeling it, providing lots of opportunities for it to be practiced, is crucial. And it’s empowering.
And before the chiming in happens about “but they are too young for this conversation”: They’re not. Because talking about consent doesn’t have to mean talking about sex. Let me show you how, why, and where to start.
Begin with Empathy
This comes before everything else, and like we’ve talked about in ‘The Importance of Raising an Empathetic Child‘, it’s the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others, to be compassionate and connected to their experience. Central to this is the ability to talk about and recognize one’s own feelings (to be able to pick up on them in others).
Empathy is taught, and it starts at home. Unfortunately, it’s still necessary to underline that empathy is not a feminine trait. One of the reasons we are dealing with such toxic masculinity is that very often, this is not a trait emphasized when raising our boys. It also is particularly hard to maintain during the self-centered period of adolescence, which makes it even more crucial when hormones are running rampant.
Focus on Boundaries
This is fundamental to consent. At the core of boundaries is learning respectful behavior, both to oneself and others (hence the important link to empathy). So what does that actually look like?
This can be especially hard to tease out with parenting. Parents struggle the most with modeling boundaries because there is a sense of entitlement that they have with their kids bodies. They might trust themselves in reading and responding to their children, but unfortunately, we are not all that attuned. That’s not a criticism. It’s about taking responsibility for that and learning better.
Not respecting or acknowledging your kids boundaries, both physical and emotional, unintentionally teaches them is that their bodies and feelings are not as important as the wants of those around them.
This consensual sex campaign by the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality we mentioned gives you an idea:
ايمتى كان لازم توقّف الضيافة؟ When should she have stopped off…
أي متى كان لازم توقف الضيافة؟ When should she have stopped offering food?CREDITS:Director: Amanda Abou AbdallahExecutive producer: Liliane HanbaliCinematographer: Muriel AboulroussArt Director: Farah F. NaboulsiSound Recordist: Sarah KaskasCamera Assistant: Rachelle NojaProduction assistant: Ghenwa AboufayadProduction & Post production house: WAHM productionsColorist: Khalil Abourrousse / LilapostCo-writer: Cynthia El KhourySpecial thanks to Carol Abi Ghanem and Jehan Bseiso
Posted by Arab Foundation For Freedoms and Equality on Monday, November 27, 2017
With young kids, modeling boundaries can be both simple and somewhat complex at the same time. If your child doesn’t want to be kissed, hugged, tickled, wrestled with, and so on, then don’t do it. You show them that you are verbally and non-verbally attuned to them, and they learn to be verbally and non-verbally attuned to others.
Here are 9 easy bullets for this attunement:
1- Encourage them to ask for permission before showing physical affection to friends e.g. Ask Hiba if she wants a hug.
2- Never force them to receive affection, from anyone. This includes family members.
3- Show them that their voice matters. Support the use of the word “no”. That when someone tells them to stop doing something, they should stop. That when they ask someone to stop doing something, they should expect them to stop also. That their opinion matters, and that you will try to understand it, and if you can’t understand it, then at least try to respect it. Again, I know this cannot be enacted constantly–because, boundaries of parenting itself as far as discipline and rules go–but it should be enacted as often as it can be.
4- Ask for their consent as often as possible. They will recognize it, and they will mirror it: May I brush your hair? Can I have a hug? Instead of ‘give me a hug’, etc. If they say no, let them know you still love them, and you’re there for a hug when they feel like it. This video is a great illustration.
5- Teach them to trust their gut feelings and emotions. Do this by encouraging them to express how they feel about something, and show them that how they feel matters and has impact.
6- With teenagers, discussing ‘verbal consent’ can look more specific: In intimate situations, they should ask others, or expect others to ask them: Are you comfortable? Are you okay with this? Are you still okay with this?. Yes and No answers matter above all else. Teach them their “no” matters as often as possible.
7- Teach them that their ‘yes’ can become a ‘no’ at any time (hence, are you ‘still’ ok with this). With younger kids, this can be shown by encouraging a ‘check-in’ when kids are playing a bit rough. To stop and ask intermittently: Is everyone still good?.
8- With young children, they can also learn that just because someone is nice to them, it doesn’t mean they have to change their mind about saying yes to something. This stops them feeling pressured by ‘kindness’. This quote from the Upworthy article ‘5 Everyday Ways to Teach Your Kids About Consent’ really brings home the significance of this:
“When you or anyone else begs or tries to convince a child to change their answer now, they learn to override their inner barometer of what feels comfortable and what doesn’t feel comfortable just to give in to someone who they perceive has more power”
9- Getting to know nonverbal consent. Recognizing boundaries (one’s own and those of others) and having empathy is key to this. Teaching your child to pay attention to body language (if someone seems relaxed, tense, upset, uncomfortable, etc) is so powerful. You show them this by paying attention to theirs, and telling them, for example, ‘I can see you are uncomfortable, let’s stop doing this right now’.
Teaching them this allows them to be in tune with their own physical responses to things and know that they matter. It allows them when they become adults, to check in with themselves, the same way you checked in with them: “Is this something I want? Do I feel safe? Respected?”. It allows them to check in with others: “Do they feel safe?”, “Do they feel respected”? Here’s another little video to drive the point home:
If you feel like there is more you can do to help your kids understand consent, you can start now. If you don’t have kids, this is where you can start with yourself, with your friends, with your family. This is how we start doing the healing work of shifting the toxic relational dynamics that have fractured so many people. At the deepest center of consent, is understanding how we can love ourselves and each other much, much, better. At home is the place to start.
“Every parent I know wants their child to grow up to be confident, be resilient, feel good about who they are, and show compassion toward others. As parents, we want to communicate: “You matter. Your body matters. Your consent and boundaries matter.” Upworthy