According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 14 boys will experience sexual abuse in their childhood. The CDC further adds, based on their age and developmental capabilities, children are unable to fully understand or are prepared to give informed consent to a sexual act. By educating children on the concepts of consent, caregivers can teach children what to do if someone touches them inappropriately. Furthermore, teaching children the concepts of consent empowers them to not only make decisions about their own bodies, but teaches them to respect other people’s bodies and helps build healthy relationships. Teaching consent is an on-going process that can start with simple concepts and can be taught a variety of ways.
One of the first places to start is to teach young children the correct vocabulary for the parts of their body. Using correct vocabulary sends a clear message to children that they should not be ashamed of their bodies. Teaching consent is also letting children know they can decline affection or request to shake hands or fist bump instead of a hug. In addition to teaching children about body autonomy, it is important for caregivers to also set boundaries ahead of time with family members. That means Grandma should know to ask permission to give the child a hug and to also support the child’s decision to decline that hug.
As children go to school and are away from primary caregivers, teaching children to speak up for themselves is crucial. Children need to learn that they can assert themselves and set boundaries. Caregivers can role play with children how to say “No,” and “Stop,” assertively and explore the situations that could occur involving consent and boundary violations. Caregivers should also stress to children the importance of reporting such violations to a trusted adult. Another crucial lesson is to teach children the importance of asking for consent themselves and respecting other people’s body autonomy and boundaries.
By having these conversations, we are building the foundation for empowering children to set boundaries, assert their boundaries, develop body autonomy, seek consent from others, and show respect when someone says “No,” to them. In addition, maintaining an open line of communication with children will teach them what to do if their boundaries are violated and to report those violations to a trusted adult.