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Teaching Consent: Raising Confident Girls And Respectful Boys

Written by Kate MacLean


The #MeToo revelations came as a surprise to everybody in the country, but women. Men have been left bewildered, guilty, ignorant, sad, unaware, and undiscovered. Women remain rightfully angry, grateful to have the smallest bit of room to tell their story, and still scared to walk alone into a parking garage at night. Amidst the national reckoning, there has come to light a great disparity (generally seen along gender lines) on the definition of consent.

The consent disconnect isn’t anything new, and just two years ago, Planned Parenthood conducted a survey across the country to determine the intricacies of the disparity. Their findings were focused on the understanding of consent for adults and the education (or lack thereof) on consent in high school and middle school. Generally, according to their findings, women have a much more nuanced understanding of consent that includes consent needed for kissing, foreplay, and sex, whereas men have a much more linear understanding (if at all) that consent is strictly related to sexual intercourse. Most men, thankfully, are taught young to not rape. But, that education is woefully incomplete. When sex ed leaves their students at rape, STDs, and birth control, they aren’t giving these future adults enough nuance. Though rape is still a huge problem in this country (American women have a 1 in 5 chance of being raped at least once in their lives), the great majority of the #MeToo stories we hear are of other forms of sexual assault and harassment.

Mostly everyone could do well to watch the tutorial on making someone a cup of tea. The very humanity of understanding consent is lost on so many that the ludicrous notion of shoving tea into a sleeping person’s mouth here is so poignant. Here at Mother, we have a habit of viewing national problems through the lens of raising children and how we, as parents, can influence these children’s lives for good. Because of the crisis of sexual misconduct in our country, we believe it is never too early to start teaching kids—in age appropriate ways—about consent. It is important for mothers and fathers of girls and boys alike to think about their daily demands of physical affection. The perception of consent children have from a young age can shape their interactions decades later. Teaching kids about consent is also teaching them about respect and confidence. To this end, we have put together a few thoughtful suggestions for parents of young children to practice.

  1. Never force a hug or kiss. Do not require your child to hug or kiss a relative/stranger/friend/child goodbye. While parents are always training their children with good manners and kindness, there are a myriad of ways to say goodbye that don’t involve physical contact. You can suggest a hug if you think it’s appropriate or–and more importantly—wanted, but you could very easily suggest a high-five, shake of hands, or simple wave. Make sure that if they want to give another child a hug, that they ask that child for permission first.
  2. When you ask your child for a hug or a kiss, respect their answer. If they say no (the author of this article’s daughter always says no when asked for a kiss) don’t sulk, pout, or make them feel any sort of guilt for their answer.
  3. Bath time. It’s never too early for children to learn how to wash themselves. Give them the confidence and power of knowledge; teach them the correct names for their body parts. If they are too young to wash themselves, ask for their permission, and tell them what you are doing.
  4. Answer your children’s questions about the human body honestly. You don’t have to get graphic to tell children the truth, but you also don’t have to lie. If they’re holding a tampon they found on your dresser, explain to them what a period is. Answer questions without embarrassment and as frankly as you are able. It’s important to not make them feel ashamed of their questions.

These are just four simple ways to start introducing the concept of consent to your young children. There exist a great many more ways to do this, and there are many great resources for parents to raise confident and respectful boys and girls. Peggy Orenstein’s Girls and Sex was reviewed here, and remains one of the most thoughtful books on teenage girls’ sexuality. The Good Men Project is an online magazine on men, fatherhood, boyhood, etc. and has some very thoughtful articles on raising boys (and girls) including this pertinent one. We are eager to hear what practices you use in your own home. Share with us, below. This is a new way of thinking for many parents and is one in which we need to use our online parent brain hive to unpack and conquer.

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