Teaching consent is not difficult

Today I was in the middle of responding to a text message from my husband when my son started climbing all over me and horsing around. He was happy, laughing and having a grand old time. I asked him to stop but he was in his own world thinking it was just a game. I quickly thought about how often this very thing happens to us throughout our lives, people violate our boundaries and have no regard for what we want (or don’t want) in the name of playing around. My son is two and a half years old but his age is no reason to put off starting a lifelong conversation about consent.

I gently told him that mommy didn’t like what he was doing and that I had asked him to stop but he hadn’t. “No means no,” I said to him. He looked at me and apologized then went on to play something else. It was such a quick moment but I have no doubt that it was an important one. I don’t believe that we should wait to start speaking to our children about consent. Consent encompasses a lot more than just sexual situations. It means that we regard everyone as fully human and respect their likes and dislikes. It’s about taking feelings and preferences into consideration. Consent means that my son is never under any obligation to show affection to anybody. Even to me.

Sometimes I ask him for a hug and he says no. I don’t try to guilt him into giving me a hug. I simply shrug it off like it’s not a big deal, because it’s not. My son comes up to me and gives me hugs and tells me he loves me all on his own. There is no need for me to feign hurt simply because he decided in that moment that he didn’t feel like hugging me. If we manipulate our children into showing affection they will think that it is okay to manipulate others into showing them affection as well. Affection should be freely given, not coerced. Naturally, I don’t encourage him to kiss and hug family members unless he wants to. Saying hello is enough.

I remember growing up and being made to make physical contact with people who made my skin crawl. It was considered impolite not to. The social anxiety that this caused made me dread seeing family. I just didn’t want to hug and kiss people. I wish back then I could articulate this and furthermore I wish that I believed my parents would even care. Now I’m of the mind that when it comes to MY feelings you can fuck your feelings. We are almost universally socialized to take other people’s feelings into account over our own. In some cases it is down right dangerous to offend someone or piss them off. Women have been killed by men whose advances they rejected.

So here is where I am at with consent. I will respect my son’s boundaries (although he’s not getting out of baths and naps!) and expect him to respect others’. This education has to start at home and it can’t wait. Children are never too young to start learning to respect and be considerate of others. Empathy, especially in boys, is important to nurture. No toxic masculinity here,  that is trash.

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2 comments

  1. Great post about teaching consent to kids and you might want to write a picture book abut it so more people will read it. Teaching might not be difficult but I wonder if your very young son really understood the message. Maybe he understood that he did something bad because the tone of your voice, but didn’t realize that it was about consent and boundaries. That’s why writing a picture book about it, trying to articulate the message with words and picture might be useful and also quite innovative for a picture book. Your personal story of being forced to touch adult family members and feeling dreadful about meeting them could be incorrporated in your story set in PR.
    As an adult you know that women are being abused around the world, but your son was just playing. It’s good to focus for the moment only about you and the son and parnting/education him and not jump forward.
    So how do you really teach you very young son what is consent? Not just physical consent, but also verbal constent. Verbal constent is not allowing others to say hurtful things to us without our consent. I don’t know because I’m not an ducator or psychologist for 2-3 years kids and have no idea how they think and what they do and don’t comprehend. But I like the idea of trying to teaching consent in a picture book via the exmaples of you and your sons. If you do it well, many parents will thnak you.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I am not insinuating that my son has any sort of grasp or understanding of consent. I was merely sharing my thoughts on starting the conversation early.

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