#MeToo isn’t just about adults, it’s also about kids. Here Feather Berkower, founder of Parenting Safe Children tells us why it’s important for parents to know about #MeToo, kids and consent.
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At Parenting Safe Children, we’ve been talking with parents about how to raise boys to seek consent and raise girls to speak up.
Here’s what parents need to know:
- Teach your sons about consent, and that “No” means “No”.
- Teach your daughters about consent, and that they have a voice and the right to use it.
- And to help keep all children – boys and girls – safe from sexual abuse, tell every single substitute caregiver (teacher, coach, nanny, tutor, etc.) that your child has been taught body-safety rules and does not keep secrets. If nothing else, this puts people on notice that your child is off-limits.
Related: Keep Kids Safe: Do Innocent Secrets Make Kids More Vulnerable?
3 Tips for Talking with Kids About Consent
Here are three tips for parents about talking with your child about consent:
#1. Teach your child that no one is allowed to touch their private parts
And they are not allowed to touch anyone else’s private parts unless you’re helping them wash, or it’s the doctor and you, the parent, are present.
For teens: No one has the right to touch the private areas of your body without your permission. No one has the right to force, coerce, threaten, or manipulate you into engaging in any type of sexual activity – and visa-versa.
#2. Teach your children that they get to choose with whom they show affection
This is a hard one for parents, but if nan wants a kiss from your child, Nan has to ask. And if the answer is “No,” then it’s “No.” Of course, you can be kind about it, but if your children and grandchildren don’t get to choose whether they feel like hugging or kissing you, how can you expect them to say “No” to someone else?
#3. Invite all of your children’s caregivers onto your prevention team
This way, you are putting each coach, teacher, doctor, tutor, relative, nanny, and so forth on notice that you’re paying attention and your child has been taught body-safety rules.
Related: Is Someone Grooming Your Child for Sexual Abuse?
Seize Teachable Moments
Just like you would talk with your children and teens about any safety issue (e.g., bicycle helmets, safety in numbers, alcohol use), it’s important to talk with them about consent and what it looks like in different situations. Fortunately, children give us plenty of opportunities or teachable moments for these kinds of conversations.
Consider your toddler in the tub: “I’m washing your vulva now. Your vulva is your private part. There are only three people who are allowed to touch your vulva: You; Me, if I’m helping you clean it, but you can say NO if you want to clean your vulva yourself; and the doctor, but only if I’m there.”
Consider your child on the playground: Your child takes a ball from another child. This is a great teachable moment about consent. You might say, “Oliver, did you ask Ella if you could have her ball? Remember, you have to ask first and she has the right to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No,’ and you have to respect that.”
Consider your tween wrestling with this dad: Mum hears Harry say, “Stop,” but the wrestling continues and Mum also hears Harry laughing a bit. This is a great opportunity for Mum to say, “Hold up guys. I just heard Harry say, ‘Stop,’ but you’re still wrestling. Remember that we’re a family who values consent. Harry do you want to keep wrestling? Is there anything in particular you want your dad to stop doing?”
Here’s what a tween might say at this point, at least one who has consistently been taught about consent: “I want to keep wrestling, but I don’t like it when you tickle me.”
Consider your teen who is starting to date: In addition to direct conversations about consent, you might also throw in some “What If” games. For instance, “So, Amelia, what if your new boyfriend wants to kiss you and you’re not into that. What might you say or do?”
Consider your mum greeting your child: Dad’s mum comes over and asks Poppy for a hug. Dad can say to his mum, “I know you love to hug Poppy, but we’re teaching her that she gets to choose if and when she gives and receive hugs, so she knows that if she’s ever uncomfortable with touch from anyone, she has our permission to refuse.”
If Not You, Then Who?
Parents are the best people to teach children about consent because it is a parent’s responsibility to keep their children safe. And when kids are taught about consent through every developmental stage, then they are more likely to mature into respectful adults who understand and apply consent in relationships.
Consent takes place when someone agrees to and gives permission to an activity by saying, “Yes.” Consent is always freely given and each person must feel like they are able to say “Yes” or “No,” and if they say “Yes,” can still stop the activity at any point. If there is not a deliberate “Yes,” then the answer is by default “No,” which means that if someone cannot find their voice to say anything, then the answer is also “No.”
Related: What to Do If You Think Your Teenager is Having Sex
Feather Berkower, LCSW, is founder of Parenting Safe Children, the PSC Online Workshop and co-author of Off Limits, a parenting book that will change the way you think about keeping kids safe.
Feather has educated over 100,000 schoolchildren, parents, and professionals. She makes a difficult topic less scary, and empowers parents and communities to keep children safe.
Over to you now. How have you handled talking to your child about consent? Share your experience in the comments below.