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Talking With Your Child About Consent

By Michelle Hirschy, school counselor
LJCDS's school counselor discusses how and why to have important discussions about consent with your children.

In this new era of consent, bodily autonomy and #metoo, school counselor Michelle Hirschy explains how, when and why you should be talking to your child. 

What age should we be talking to our children about consent?
It is never too young to talk about consent in an age-appropriate way. The idea of bodily autonomy is something children as young as 3-4 can begin to grasp. 

Wait… I know what consent means but what is bodily autonomy?
Bodily autonomy is defined as the right to self-governance over one’s own body without external influence or coercion. This essentially means that at a young age, we can teach our children that they are not obligated to show physical forms of affection when they feel uncomfortable. It is also important to talk about why we should ask before we show someone else that same kind of physical touch. 

How can I teach this concept to my younger children?
As a parent, you can lead by example by saying something like, “It’s time to leave; let’s ask your friends if they would like a hug goodbye.” We also need to equip them with how to respond when the answer is no. Teaching children to respect the power of the word “no” is an important step in the process. An example response for the parent might be “[Insert name] doesn’t want a hug today; let’s wave goodbye and blow them a kiss instead.” 

The idea of consent and bodily autonomy can get particularly difficult to navigate when the person trying to provide a physical greeting or comfort is a family member. It is important to never force a child to hug, touch or kiss anybody, for any reason. If someone is demanding a kiss, and your child is resistant, you can offer other options, “Would you rather give them a high-five?”

What conversations should I be having with my teen about consent?
When you think consent, think F.R.I.E.S. Consent is freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic and specific. Having conversations with your child about what those words mean and how they matter is critically important. 

According to a report from NYU, while 42% of parents say they’ve talked to their teens “many times” about how to say no to sex, only 27% of teens agree. In fact, 34 percent of teens say they’ve “never” or “only once” talked with their parents or guardians about how to delay sex. 

If you don’t talk to your teen about it, someone else will. Unfortunately, we cannot expect the messages that they receive from society or their peers to be inclusive of the most crucial information, so it is important to decide what information you want to share and follow through on this important conversation.  

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