Guest post from Lady Jane
Conversations about consent are all the rage these days, as well they should be.
In a culture where assault, boundary breaking, and unwanted physical contact are prominent, what better place to start combating this issue than with beginning the conversation with our children. It’s true, giving kids too much information about rape and assault is overwhelming and inappropriate, but that doesn’t mean we should leave this topic in the dark. There are appropriate ways to teach kids about “grown-up” topics in totally non-grown-up, age appropriate ways, such as in everyday situations they are faced with at school or at camp.
Furthermore, starting this conversation early will make it easier to have future conversations as kids grow older, enter puberty, and run into harder social situations. To best prepare them for life, and for situations that they are inevitably going to face, I propose starting these conversations as soon as it is relevant.
Teaching kids as early as possible about personal space can only put them on a path toward more personal awareness and therefore, increased awareness for the other people that they interact with. Approach topics in a nonsexual context so that it will be applicable to the developmental stage of the children you are talking to.
For example, I work with 6 and 7 years olds and I also wear a tail to work. Kids are naturally curious and don’t often see adults wearing costumes daily so they gravitate towards wanting to touch my tail. This is a perfect opportunity to talk to kids about personal boundaries and getting permission before touching another person. Plus, the tail is functional because I wear it so that my students can find me in a crowd.
Not surprisingly, as soon as kids see their teacher wearing a rainbow tail, their first instinct is to reach up and grab it. I turn it away from them and say, “Yes, you may touch my tail, but only if I give you permission.” Sometimes kids don’t know how to handle this response, or they simply walk away, looking like they have done something wrong. Most kids, however, patiently ask, “may I please touch your tail?”
It’s an easy place to mention personal boundaries, personal spaces, and getting consent before touching another person. We’ve all heard teachers, counselors, and parents remind kids to keep their hands to themselves, often, for safety reasons. This is another great opportunity to teach kids that they can’t just grab other people whenever they want to, they must first ask the other person if it is okay. It also teaches children about rejection and how to handle being told “no” without taking it personally – a very useful lesson that can be applied to intimate situations later in life.
This is a kid’s way of getting consent, just as adults need to do so in more adult contexts.
Can we as a society reduce the amount of assault, rape, and unwanted physical contact just by teaching kids at an earlier age to get consent? I’m not sure, but getting kids to think about their own personal spaces and their own boundaries is a step in the right direction.
I see many children where I work giving hugs to other children when other children may not want to be hugged. Kids need to know that they can say “no” to hugs, high-fives, and that it’s not okay to just hug or sit on everyone whenever they feel like it. This is an often-missed opportunity to teach kids to get consent from their peers before they touch.
And this conversation doesn’t have to be long, uncomfortable, a big deal, or weird. I only need to tell my students once that they need to ask before touching my tail and they understand. As for results, now that they get permission for the tail, I also see them getting consent in other facets within the group. I hear kids asking other kids if they can see the cool stick they found, share the same book, or sit next to them on the bus, instead of old-fashioned grabbing, stealing, or invasion of personal spaces.
So let’s keep the trend going with the conversations about consent and gently introduce this concept to youngsters in a language they understand. The more self aware, fluffy tail wearing, humans in the world, the better.
Below are some examples of communication to use and model with children: