Thursday, 25 April 2013

How I'm Teaching My Sons About Consent

[Content note: rape]

I've been thinking about consent a lot lately, particularly with regards to children. There's a lot wrong with the way our society teaches about consent (e.g. it doesn't), but a big part of the problem is the examples we set, not just parents but anyone who has any kind of interaction with children. How many times have you seen someone tickling a child while the child laughs but also shouts for them to stop? How many times have you heard someone tell a child to give someone a hug when the child has expressed a wish not to? Or seen someone hug a child who is obviously squirming to get away?

All of these issues are matters of consent that we are teaching children about, whether we realise it or not. When you say to a child "Give your granny a kiss or she'll feel sad and think you don't love her any more." you're teaching your child that it's okay for people to emotionally blackmail you into physical contact, or that it's an acceptable thing to do to other people. When you keep tickling a child because you love the sound of their laughter you're teaching them that if you're bigger and stronger then it's okay to restrain someone and do things to them even though they're asking you not to.

As a parent to two young boys I am especially aware of these lessons. Messages about rape prevention are usually phrased as "Don't Get Raped", but I have the opportunity to teach "Don't Rape" instead. Obviously they're a little young for being told about actual rape yet, but there are things that Andy and I do that teach them positive messages about consent.

  • If you're tickling someone and they say stop, you stop immediately.
  • You ask before you hug or kiss someone, or climb on their lap.
  • If someone asks you to hug, kiss, or touch them and you don't want to, you are absolutely allowed to say no, and to enforce that no by pushing them away if you have to. Surprisingly this doesn't mean that they've ended up smacking the crap out of a grandparent for being too pushy with the hugs.
  • When they're in the bath we hand them the sponge and tell them they can ask if they need any help. We never wash any part of them without their permission.
  • If they ask for privacy when using the bathroom we let them have it, and the same goes for getting undressed.
  • We ask their permission before taking photos of them. If they're doing something and we don't want to disturb them we'll take the photo and ask later if they are happy for us to keep it.
  • We never upload photos to social media sites without their permission, and we never upload them to anywhere publicly accessible.

Adam and Jack are only young children at the moment so these rules will obviously change as they get older, but they're a good starting point for teaching them that they have to respect other people's personal space. It might sound like our house is devoid of hugs and physical affection, but I assure you that the opposite is true. Adam and Jack are extraordinarily affectionate, particularly Jack, but they know what the boundaries are, and they don't cross them.

At 4 and 7 years old they already understand the meaning of "No" with regards to physical contact, so why the hell do so many grown men have such a problem with it?

1 comment:

  1. It was such a revelation to me when I first read about how forcing children to give or submit to unwanted hugs and kisses could teach them that they don't deserve/aren't allowed to say no to. We started doing that with our daughter, along with the bathtime stuff you mentioned above. I've added to that letting her dress herself in whatever she wants to wear (age and weather-appropriate) and other forms of personal expression and sovereignty over her body.

    Where I am bad is about posting things about her on Facebook or my blog, and sharing pictures. I try to be more cognizant of the fact that she'll likely read the blog stuff one day, and I already know she'll be pissed about some of the embarassing stories on there. The blog is dying a slow death from neglect these days, and part of that is knowing that I need to keep her information and anecdotes off there. It's her story, her life experience, not mine.

    Kids definitely need to be able to set their own boundaries and respect others' boundaries too. Good post!