I remember picking up my youngest during his 1st year of kindergarten. I overheard kids arguing. One kid said if she does that, just hit her. This was kindergarten. I was floored. I thought, first these are babies, and second this is where it starts — the land of legos and pokemon.
This was less than a year after my son left a Montessori school. I remember picking him up at the end of the day, after all the other boys had left. He would play dress up in various princess dresses with the other girls — without a care in the world. This was the same time he loved everything rainbow and had his own my little pony — innocence at its best.
I wondered how could he go from such a carefree, gender-neutral environment to a situation where other boys are talking about hitting girls if they did something wrong.
This is the moment it became clear to me that it’s never too early to teach consent. While the teachers did say something eventually, the damage had been done.
Consent and Covid — a Perfect Fit
Fast forward to Covid. What a better time than Covid to teach consent? When else are we literally at arms length from people we know and don’t know? When we absolutely have to communicate with our words.
This has been challenging for my other son, with special needs. His default is to immediately give everyone he meets a hug and tells them he loves them. This is really sweet, but as he becomes a tween this year, it can also be a problem. How and when does he do this? How does it affect others around him?
Now Covid has given us a chance to teach him about consent. It’s also been a time to teach him about asking before he touches or gives someone a hug. The best part we can teach this without any negative associations because it’s what everybody’s doing.
Instead of running up to someone to give them a hug he now knows to stop and think first. He now asks, “Can I have a hug?” and “Are you in my pod?”
He recently said, “I love this person but I know I can’t tell them I love them because they aren’t family and it might make them uncomfortable.”
While in many ways this is hard for him, and for me to quell his love, it will do nothing but good as he gets older and has to hear “No” from others. And now, he will understand how to handle that response.
Having two boys I don’t exactly have the insights for your daughters, but it seems to be a perfect time to talk to your girls about how to say no and communicate their needs as well. Because at the end of the day there’s no benefit from giving in and doing something that you don’t want to do.
Hoping for a New Generation of Men
As a recently single father I cringe at the stories I hear, and pray that my kids don’t become these men.
The guy that put his hands between a women’s legs the first date and tells her “That’s what fat girls like.”
Having a first date after being the only guy not to proposition her for sex after the first message on an online dating app.
The friend who let in a guy who “needed to use the restroom” and who proceeded to try to physically force her.
I’m sure there are thousands more examples out there and feel free to add them to the comments if you are comfortable. People need to keep seeing this to understand how common it is. And men need to be uncomfortable.
Tips for Teaching Consent to All Ages
A great article by Grace Tatter at Harvard School of Education gives tips for teaching consent at every age from preschool to high school. She also gives a great reading list for consent. Here are a few:
- At younger ages it’s teaching kids that it’s okay to say, “This is my body. I don’t want you to touch me.”
- Another strategy is to model what consent looks like and to empower students with these skills. Making sure kids are firm and lay down boundaries is important.
- Reading body language even when someone seems to give verbal consent. When they say “Ummm OK.” but really mean “No”, how can we read body language to know what they really feel?
Another great resource out there is by Talk With Your Kids put together by a number of parents and experts. It also includes how to teach kids from toddler to drinking age about consent. (And drinking age is a big one to talk about since we all lose our minds and inhibitions a bit when we drink.) Similar to Grace’s suggestions, for young kids, which I think is where the sweet spot is for good results, top tips include:
- Teach children to ask permission before touching or embracing a playmate.
- Help create empathy within your child.
- Teach kids to help others who may be in trouble.
- Teach your kids that “no” and “stop” are important words
- Never force a child to hug, touch or kiss anybody — this is a hard one for people with big families. Oh Janie go give your cousin Joe a hug.
At the end of the day it’s about teaching your kid to be a good person. To think about how others feel when they do something and to respect boundaries — something all of us trying to be adults would benefit from.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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