Consent is a buzzword. We expect young adults to understand what it looks like and how to communicate it. In order to do that, we need to teach it at a younger age, but telling kids simply to ask permission or to stop if a person says stop isn’t enough.
That is Consent 101, but it doesn’t prepare kids to think critically when they are in a unique situation. These 4 rules are a simple way to teach consent for kids and how to respect boundaries. Most importantly, it will help protect them from abuse.
Touch should be safe, the choice of each person, allowed by the adults in charge, and not a secret. Let’s run some scenarios through each of these rules.
Playing tag on the playground is a perfectly healthy activity. Everyone playing is a willing participant, running around out in the open, no secrets. But if a game of tag turns into an opportunity to shove someone to the ground or trip kids while they’re running, it violates rule #1 and is not consensual touch.
2. The Choice of Each Person
This is a tough one, but when you visit Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving and everyone wants a hug and kiss from your child as you pack up to leave, your child has the right to say no. A hug from Aunt Patty is safe. As the mom, you’re OK with it. And, it’s not a secret. But forcing children to show affection tells them that in certain circumstances, what they want doesn’t matter. Kids have the right to say no and they also have the right to change their minds if they initially said yes.
Forcing children to show affection tells them that in certain circumstances, what they want doesn’t matter.
3. Allowed by the Adults in Charge
Anyone else have kids who cut each other’s hair? Both siblings were willing participants (with a little coaxing). No one got hurt, other than your kid’s ego, every time she looks back on that year’s class photo. Why does it always happen near picture day? And you’d better believe it wasn’t a secret—in fact, the stylist is always excited to show off her skills. But if the adult in charge wouldn’t say yes, then that touch is not allowed.
4. Not a Secret
The next-door neighbor kid comes over and asks your son if he wants to play a game, but tells him not to tell you about it. The game isn’t unsafe. Your son wants to play. You allow fun games in your house. On the surface, it seems fine, but asking for something to be kept a secret is a red flag our kids should know to look for.
It’s worth mentioning that when it comes to physical touch, we have to have awkward conversations with our children. This will give them a voice. We need to use the anatomically correct terms for their body parts for two main reasons. First, using the correct terms breaks down stigma and helps your child not to feel embarrassed to talk about their bodies with you. Second, using the correct words equips children to report abuse to their parents, their doctors, or other adults, like teachers.
What rules do you have about touch and consent for kids in your family?