What do parents need to know about consent?Mar 13, 2022
Learning about consent is essential for not only children and young people but adults do as well. Many of us won’t have had adequate consent education ourselves and yet we are tasked with teaching the next generation about consent.
Consent needs to be taught both at home and at school. In this two-part blog series, we will cover how parents and teachers can talk about consent with young people.
Teaching consent to children is not teaching about ‘sex’. It’s teaching fundamental and innate decision-making skills that they will carry into, and benefit from, in their later sexual and intimate encounters. Consent education for kids can cover a wide range of topics including body safety, verbal and non-verbal cues, being an ‘upstander’, and empathy.
Here are some tips on how parents can talk to young people about consent and teach children skills that they will carry with them through their life.
Teaching kids consent can start small. At a young age, children should know about body autonomy and boundaries. Showing children that they have control over how people greet them is a great introduction to consent. This can happen at pre-school and at home.
Teaching kids about body safety is not only empowering but it sets up foundational knowledge of what consent is early. This means it is easier to talk about sexual consent later in their lives as well contributes towards the prevention of child abuse.
Talk to children about their body bubble (or body boundary). This is the invisible boundary around them that is their personal space and if someone wants to be close to them or touch them they have to first ask permission. This lets them know that they have agency to say when they don’t have to be touched or hugged. It also helps them to learn to respect other people’s body boundaries. This reinforces that everyone is the boss of their own body. You can even teach them empowering phrases: “It’s my body, what I say goes!”
This means that you too will be learning about respecting boundaries and specifically respecting your child’s choice around touch. I know that sometimes we might be desperate for a cuddle but we need to check in and see if our children want that too. Maybe they are preoccupied playing with their Lego and don’t want to stop playing, or maybe they are a little nervous giving a distant relative a hug hello. Equipping children with the knowledge they can and should say no when they feel uncomfortable or just not in the mood for touch is powerful.
As a parent, you can make consent part of everyday conversations. You don’t always have to frame it as ’the one talk’! That only adds pressure and you can’t possibly cover all of the different elements of consent in the one conversation. If you bring it up at relevant times on a regular basis - ‘teachable moments’, it will normalise the conversation topic for not only you, but for your children. You will become more comfortable discussing consent and can start to cover more complex topics as you gain confidence. Your children will also then know that you are someone they can talk to as they get older and issues on consent become more complex and may head into scenarios when consent potentially was not asked for or listened to.
Here are some examples of how you can incorporate consent into conversations with your kids:
- “I heard on the radio that young people want to be taught consent, what do they teach/cover in your school? “
- It can just be a commentary on things you are watching or things that happen: “It was hard for me to say no to my work colleague today when they asked me to go for a coffee. They were really pressuring me even though they know I had a headache, I had to put my needs first and not worry about them being disappointed. I wish they had have respected my answer in the first place.”
- It can be introducing new language such as starting to ask for hugs and making sure it’s now framed as a question: “Would you like to share a hug?”
Teaching consent develops a strong sense of self and communication skills for young people. These conversations you have with your children will in turn show them how to talk about consent with others, which will be especially important when navigating sexual consent.
We need to ensure that as our young people get older that we discuss sexual consent and pleasure with them. They should not feel shame for exploring their sexuality, but should instead feel confident that they have been taught the skills to navigate it safely. Hearing consent conversations modeled for them from an early age will help them as they become adults and need to have more serious conversations on consent.
They will learn how to negotiate to ensure that they find something/an activity that everyone will enjoy. You can also teach them the importance of both verbal and non-verbal cues in consent and how to pay attention to both.
As consent conversations will have become normal for them as they grew up, they will have a good understanding of how to start these conversations. We need to continue to have these talks with them when they are adolescents, and incorporate more on respectful relationships and gender-based violence so they can understand the complexity of sexual consent.
Staying up to date
Keep up to date with important information such as laws. Are you up to date with Australian age of consent laws? Do you know if your teen knows them?
It is important for all young people to be aware of the age of consent laws in Australia, as well other laws relating to sex and relationships such as image-based abuse, sexting, and sexual harassment. You can find more legal information on sex and dating from Youth Law Australia here.
An example of explaining laws to children:
“Even though the law for sexual intercourse is 16 years old, it doesn't mean that people’s minds and bodies are ready for that activity at that age. It is a very complex and personal experience, so people really need to prepare for it, that’s why we need to talk about relationships so much. It takes years to prepare in order to have awesome experiences…”
Legal information may be overwhelming for teenagers so make sure that you understand the laws too and have conversations explaining the laws to them. They should know that the laws are not the only things they need to know about sexual consent, but actual respect in relationships goes beyond them, but it is important to understand the legalities of consent.
Parents play an important role in shaping their children's understanding of consent. If we start having conversations young, this will greatly impact the skills and mindset young people will have as they become adults. Teaching body boundaries and empathy, having a strong sense of self, is incredibly empowering and can even lead to children becoming upstanders (active bystanders) in their community. Let’s start talking to our kids about consent today and teach them the importance of consent in the world.
Keep your eyes peeled for:
Kit and Arlo Find a Way: Teaching Consent to 8–12 year olds by author–educators Ingrid Laguna and myself. It will be published on June the 1st 2022.
Other Talking The Talk blogs on consent: