At Dawson Place, our goal is to provide safety, justice, and healing to victims of child abuse and educate our community on child abuse prevention. One of the best ways to prevent child abuse is to teach your kids about consent.
We know for parents, these conversations can seem scary, uncomfortable, and difficult. Learn more about how to introduce the concept of consent to your kids, normalize the conversation, and help prevent child abuse.
What consent looks like for toddlers and early elementary:
Normalizing consent and helping your child understand consent starts at a young age. These conversations should help your child understand the foundational concepts of consent. One of the best places to start is by giving your child the correct, scientific vocabulary to describe their body parts, including: vulva, vagina, penis, testicles, and anus.
Teaching the correct labels, will allow your child to be more comfortable with their own bodies, talk about consent as they mature, openly communicate with their partners, and know how to disclose abuse should it happen. Often, when a child uses slang for a body part, adults may misinterpret what they are saying and not realize a child is disclosing abuse or having health related issues.
You should also help instill bodily autonomy and independence for your child. This looks like asking for hugs, not forcing a child to give a hug to someone they don’t feel comfortable hugging, and respecting a child’s wishes when it comes to any sort of physical affections like hugging, kissing, cuddling, or tickling. This instills the idea that everyone has a right to choose what they feel comfortable doing and saying no when they do not feel comfortable. To further instill that consent goes both ways, encourage your child to always ask before giving a hug.
When teaching consent to your child, it is important the friends and family in your life are on the same page. Remind family members that if the child does not want a hug, it should not be forced and that it is not displaying a lack of love, it is simply not wanting a physical contact at the time. Adults should always mirror the behaviors they want to see in a child.
Finally, at this age, you should begin the ongoing conversation of telling a parent or trusted adults when someone violates their bodily autonomy or touches them in a private area. Your child should know that it is never their fault but should always be reported. This conversation should continue all throughout their development, and your child should know they can always come to you for help.
Consent for older kids:
As your child nears the late elementary and middle school years, they should have a foundation for the concept of consent, and you should be able to introduce more complex topics. You can introduce boundaries for both emotional and physical consent and begin discussing how you see consent (or lack thereof) portrayed in films, books, TV, and life helping to develop their critical thinking skills. For some kids, this may be when they begin asking questions about sex.
Remember, in all these conversations with your children, try to remove any element of lecture and keep them open, two-way conversations. This will help your child feel comfortable asking you anything. Allow your child to have space to share their opinions and make sure you respect their voices to allow for continued open dialogue.
At this age, it is important to begin discussing harmful narratives, such as, it is not manly to ask for consent, women should act a certain way for men, everybody should want to have sex etc. A great way to do this is to have open conversations with your child about what they see in TV and movies. Instead of telling them what they see, ask what they see and what they think about it, to help develop their own critical thinking skills. This same concept should apply to observing consent.
Finally, you should know how to respond to questions your child may have about sex. At this age, kids begin to see things in movies, hear things at school, and more. While this time frame is different for each child, always be ready to have the conversation when it arises, to ensure your child will continue coming to you with questions and concerns.
Consent for teens:
As your child reaches teen and young adulthood, the concepts of consent become more complex. It is crucial to continue these conversations as they enter high school, even if you assume they have the knowledge they need. Continued open dialogue about consent is imperative and will allow your child to know you can always come to them to report abuse, ask questions, and get help.
Be sure to have the same conversations with your male teens, as you do your female teens. Often female conversations gear towards preventing sexual assault, while male conversations gear towards making sure they follow the rules. The conversation around consent should remain open, positive, and centered towards the safety and wellbeing of every person.
While discussing sex and consent with your teen can be uncomfortable, it is crucial in helping your child have healthy relationships. Talk to your child about what a healthy relationship looks like and how to identify what may be unhealthy. Discuss what your teen sees online, on TV, and in movies. Is it realistic? What might be left out? Did that interaction have consent? Remember, these should always be two-way conversations, where your teen’s voice can be heard.
There are so many topics your teen may come to you with questions about, and many topics you should introduce to your teen surrounding consent. Most importantly, create a safe space for them to come to ask questions without judgement, listen to their concerns, and validate their feelings and emotions.
Consent is an ongoing conversation to have with your children and even the adults in your life. Child abuse prevention can start with consent education.