'We can actually teach our children about consent from birth. When they're still very little and nonverbal, we can tell them what we're doing with their body.'
The era of the #MeToo reckoning forced us to take a closer look at many social norms that contribute to rape culture. One of the main takeaways from the thousands of gut-wrenching sexual assault stories that came out was that our current society has a very skewed understanding of consent. In worldwide discussions on sustainable measures to curb sexual violence in our communities, everyone agreed that comprehensive sexuality education and teaching children about consent from an early age is the key. But parents have been confused about what is the right age for talking to a child about consent. This subject is a tricky one for parents since not many adults grew up learning about consent and educating oneself is necessary before speaking about it to a child.
One Reddit user learned this the hard way—as described in the r/AmItheAsshole post they shared earlier this month—when they were accused of blowing "innocent playground fun" out of proportion for simply broaching the subject with their 9-year-old son. "My husband and I have three kids, 2 girls (teenagers) and a 9-year-old boy. Last week I saw him on the playground putting his arm around a girl from his class and when I asked him about it he said she was his 'girlfriend,'" u/Signal_Guidance_7956 wrote. "My husband laughed and told him 'don't break too many hearts.'"
"I asked my son if he had asked the girl if it was okay before he put his arm around her and he said no. I gently explained to him that he shouldn't ever touch girls like that without getting their consent first. He didn't know what consent meant so I had a mini discussion with him about how it's not nice to touch people without permission and asking first means that you know the other person doesn't mind. My husband was silent during the entire conversation," they continued.
"My son didn't seem to be bothered by our talk (which only lasted a few minutes at most), told me 'okay' and then went to go play his switch. After he left the room my husband went off on me, saying that I'm making my son sound like a predator in the making, that it's just innocent playground fun, and that I'm blowing it way out of proportion," u/Signal_Guidance_7956 continued. "I obviously don't think my 4th grader is a predator, but I felt like it was important to teach him about the idea of consent from a young age." They concluded the post by asking fellow Reddit users whether they were wrong for talking to their young son about consent.
Responses to the post unanimously reassured the parent that they were right to introduce their son to the concept of consent and even pointed out that it should be the norm. According to Jayneen Sanders—the author of Let's Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect and a former elementary school teacher—there's no such thing as "the perfect age" for teaching children consent. "We can actually teach our children about consent from birth," the Melbourne-based author told Bored Panda. "When they're still very little and nonverbal, we can tell them what we're doing with their body: for example, as you're washing them or changing their nappy, you can say, 'This is your leg.' Or, 'I'm just going to lift up your bottom now because I need to put the nappy on.'"
Sanders explains that although children that young can't give affirmative consent since they won't be able to express their thoughts by speaking, you can still subconsciously start setting the foundation. She added that the foundation for the understanding of sexual consent starts with parents teaching their kids firm boundaries. "A good example of that is when your little one takes something without your permission. So, before taking a cookie from the cookie jar, they should first ask you, right?" Sanders said, adding that similar to a person's body, having an understanding of boundaries, or what a person can and can't do is important to be able to read a person's body language well.