Ending Rape Culture Starts with Teaching Kids Consent
After #MeToo ends, we need to #TeachThem more
The social media surge of #MeToo and sexual harassment and assault claims that are saturating the media has brought the lack of consent education to the forefront of the public conscious. Every day, a new story comes out about someone’s boundaries being crossed – celebrities, law makers and average people. It seems nothing is more American than sexual harassment.
Even though we live in a highly sexualized society, we don’t talk about sex. Everything from billboards to magazines to TV and film are plastered with images of buxom, chiseled, and hyper-sexualized models – and children are taking all of this in too.
Young people learn very early on what is and isn’t ok to talk about, often based on things that adults are silent about. And just because we don’t talk openly about sex, sexuality, and sexual assault, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a constant reality for almost all of us. Rape culture is rampant.
The end of rape culture starts with teaching kids about consent.
Talking to kids, tweens and teens about consent and sexual assault looks different. You must talk to them in words and examples they can understand. Laying the foundation of age-appropriate consent for kids ages 2 to 10 looks like discussing "safe touch”, learning about body autonomy, and showing them how to speak up with simple phrases when they see sexual harassment happen.
I have two boys - 4 and 7 - who have been learning and practicing the principles of consent for half their lives. We use a very simple phrase in our home - "You're the boss of your body."
Adults often take away the agency of children to make decisions for themselves about physical touch. When we force kids to hug a family member or hold hands with a playmate when they have said "No," we are telling them that they we aren’t listening to how they are asking for their boundaries to be respected.
I teach my kids to always ask before touching anyone - no matter who the person is or how they responded yesterday - and to wait for a loud and clear "YES" before giving a hug or engaging in any other physical contact. I emphasize that "YES" is both a word and an action, teaching them how to read body language and look for what the person’s face is saying, not just listening to their words.
Adults can also model this behavior for kids by expressing when we need our own space. Telling kids with the same language that we are the "boss of our body," and suggesting alternatives to touch.
"Right now, I don’t want to be hugged but a high-five would be great." This shows kids that we can also calmly assert our boundaries. These skills will help them later in life with asserting their own boundaries around their bodies to others.
(Image: Ask First Campaign)
Strategies for creating consent culture with 11 to 17 year olds includes describing what affirmative consent looks, sounds and feels like in sexual situations, giving them tools to develop healthy relationships, and modeling how consent is the key to positive sexuality. I teach tweens and teens the 4 C’s of Consent.
Say what you mean and mean what you say. No means no, maybe means no, “I don’t know” means no, “whatever” means no, silence means no.
Consent happens over and over and over. Not once, right before you unbutton your pants. If you aren’tcomfortable talking about consent, you shouldn’t be engaging sexual activity.
If someone is asleep, passed out, or unable to make their own choices, they can’t give consent. Here is a great video relating making tea to getting consent that made its rounds on the internet two years ago.
This is the most important part of consent. When I talk to teens about sexual assault, they are always floored to learn about what coercion is.
- Your partner pressuring you to go further than you want is coercion.
- Your friend telling you how much cooler you will be once you do X is coercion.
- Your sibling telling you they won’t talk to you/play with you/ get you in trouble if you don’t do X is coercion.
Listening to your gut instinct is what can stop an assault from happening.
We need to focus on building the strengths that kids innately have for recognizing and practicing consent, instead of focusing on the deficits that have created rape culture. When children and adolescents learn how to exercise agency over their bodies and boundaries, this can have a great influence on their personal and sexual well-being and happiness in adulthood.
The end of rape culture starts with teaching kids about consent. We can talk to our kids - boys, girls and gender expansive - about consent and what sexual harassment means and looks like. And we need to do it as soon as possible.
Kenna Cook is a sex educator and sex-positive parent focusing on teaching consent and safer sex to all. Reach out at panpolyprincess.com