As someone who actively speaks up about sexual assault and misconduct, what really hurts my heart is that body autonomy and consent are not taught sooner. Many parents are making it more difficult for their young children to understand these things, and are therefore leaving them unprotected.
Body Autonomy is the understanding that your body is yours, and that you have control over it, but no one else does.
Consent, put simply, is permission. More specifically, it is permission that has to be given before someone can touch someone else.
These definitions are very simple and easy to explain to young children. However, there are not nearly enough of these conversations taking place with young children.
Here is why you should stop being afraid to teach your children about body autonomy and consent
1. It will help them learn how to set boundaries
Boundaries are important, but you would be surprised that many people do not know how to set healthy boundaries. In college, I learned that many people do not know how to set boundaries at all.
There is one moment that I will never forget which occurred in undergrad. There was a girl who was outside of my dorm and when she saw she walked over and gave me a hug She started crying and said “I don’t want to be drunk. I didn’t want to drink.”
I assume that she did not know how to set boundaries for herself and was easily sucked into the peer pressure of drinking and who knows what else.
She is not the only case. There were plenty of young women who confided in me that they have had sex when they really did not want to because they did not know how to set boundaries and say no.
This inability to set boundaries is something that you do not want for your children as they grow up. The great thing is young children can start learning how to set boundaries RIGHT NOW! You have to teach them that their bodies are there and they do not have to use it any way they do not want to.
2. It will train them to recognize sexual misconduct
Teaching body autonomy and consent to young children could also help them recognize sexual misconduct.
If we teach children that people need permission to touch their bodies and that they can withdraw consent, they will be able to recognize when someone is violating them. They will be able to say, “This person touched me without my permission.”
That conversation will be just as normal and as comfortable as the child saying “This person took my toy without my permission”
This brings me to the next topic….
3. It will provide them with the language to speak up if anything were to happen to them
Let’s remember that if you cannot describe what is happening, and cannot put it into words, it will be hard to report that information.
Have you ever tried to explain something that was simple to you, but you didn’t have the language to explain it so you just didn’t try?
I will give you an example, I once tried to explain what colors are to my friend who is blind. Can you imagine trying to explain the color orange? It’s difficult because we don’t have the language to explain it to someone who has never seen color before.
That could essentially be how your child feels trying to explain inappropriate conduct if they do not have the language. Or if they do not realize that someone has done something wrong
I will give you another more specific example. I read an article where a preschool student was being abused and it went unreported because she told the teacher that her uncle, “licked her cookie” and the teacher simply told her, “next time just ask if you could you have another cookie”
This could be avoided if we teach kids about consent and their body parts. This child could have had the language to say “My uncle licked my vagina, and I told him no”
This would have been reported immediately. Whether or not this story actually happened, we have to admit that it is something that COULD happen, and we should all want to prevent it.
How to Teach Your Child About Consent & Body Autonomy
1. Teach Correct Terminology for Body Parts
You may wonder why teaching proper terminology is important. It goes back to giving your child the proper language to talk about their body and consent.
2. Demonstrate Consent by ASKING
Ask your children BEFORE you touch them. For example, say things like, “Can Mommy have a Hug?” instead of saying “Come give Mommy a huh?
This teaches them that they have a choice whether or not they will touch someone or let them touch them, even people who have authority over them.
If you make a mistake, apologize, and say “I’m sorry, I did not ask could I hug you”
3. Do NOT Get Upset If Not Given Consent
This is important! Make sure that you do not get upset with your child if they do not give consent.
If you ask for a hug, or a kiss, and they say no, you should respect that.
If you get upset and guilt them into giving you a hug or a kiss, they may think that it is okay for others to guilt them into doing things that they do not want to do.
4. Allow Your Child to Withdraw Consent
This may be the most important part! Many vague cases of sexual assault happen because there is a misunderstanding about the withdrawal of consent.
By demonstrating to your child that they can withdraw consent at any time, they will hold others to the same standard.
When the time comes to be sexually intimate, they will make sure that they respect when others withdraw consent, and they will expect others to respect their boundaries.
Things to Remember
The above ways are ways that we can demonstrate consent and body autonomy to children. However, as they get over, you can always start having more in-depth conversations and using the actual vocabulary about consent.
You do not have to be afraid to talk to your kids. Remember if you do not talk to them, then other children will, and they will likely get the wrong ideas and information.
If you want your child to know the truth, know how to set boundaries, and know how to enforce their boundaries you want to teach them, and demonstrate these things for them
This is an important topic. and also a means of protection for your child. Please consider talking to your child about Body Autonomy!