How To Teach Respect And Consent To The Next Generation

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Let’s be real: consent can be a tricky and uncomfortable topic to talk about with young people. It can be awkward and overwhelming, especially if you don’t know where to start or what language to use. 

But, fostering a culture of respect and gender equality starts by laying the groundwork of consent from an early age. By equipping children with the right tools and skills to navigate boundaries, relationships and everyday interactions with others, we can empower them to build and foster respectful and meaningful mutual relationships throughout their lives. 

So, if you’re looking for ways to broach the topic of consent with your little ones, then you’re in the right place. We’ve got some practical tips and tricks to help you teach the next generation all about consent, boundaries and respect by removing some of the awkwardness and taboo thinking behind the topic. 

What is consent? 

Consent is all about understanding and respecting someone’s agency and autonomy.

At the core of consent is giving people the freedom to make decisions about themselves and their bodies while also respecting other people’s choices about their bodies, boundaries and choices. 

Consent also involves a clear and open line of communication, with a shared understanding that permission is needed before taking action (whether that’s initiating physical touch, sharing personal information or interacting in intimate relationships).

It’s important to remember that consent isn’t a one-time lock-in contract where you open the lock and throw away the key. It’s an ongoing process, where you’re given the freedom and respect to change your mind at any time. 

Why it’s important to teach consent from a young age

Whether you’re starting to talk about consent to kids or teenagers, laying the groundwork from an early age creates a space for open and transparent conversations. Plus, having early conversations about consent and respect builds their understanding of positive relationships, boundaries and autonomy which also trickles down into various facets of life. 

Teaching consent from a young age ensures the next generation isn’t only respecting other people’s boundaries and choices but they can develop the skills to set their own boundaries. 

Despite children learning their behaviours from the world around them, research tells us that only 44% of parents, carers and grandparents have had conversations with their young ones about consent. 

While parents can’t control every part of their children’s learned behaviours, they can control how they choose to teach children about consent. It’s also important to recognise that behaviours are often learned and modelled to children by the closest people in their lives. 

In fact, the social learning theory conceptualises the cycle of violence of disrespectful attitudes and behaviours towards women as starting in the family, where children model behaviours they’ve been exposed to in childhood either directly or indirectly. 

But, by teaching children from a young age through observational learning, we can model what respectful behaviour and consent look like in those key developmental stages. 

Practical tips and tricks for teaching consent to the next generation

Let’s be honest, having ‘the talk’ with your kids can be daunting. It can be awkward, it can feel taboo and you might not have the right tools in place or know the right language to use to communicate your point. 

But having an open conversation about consent and boundaries with children is key to creating a culture of respect, supporting healthy relationships and encouraging a future of gender equality. 

So, where do you start? Here are some practical tips and tricks about sitting down with the next generation of young ones and teaching them about all things consent. 

Tip 1. Teach your kids empowering language 

Children need the right language in their toolbox and they should feel empowered to use it in everyday situations. You can teach young children to vocally express their discomfort with language like saying no and that it’s perfectly normal to say no to hugs from people if they are uncomfortable with it. 

Plus, it’s important to teach children about their body parts and what it means to have autonomy over them. Explain to your children that consent means we need to ask permission before touching someone’s body and someone needs to ask you for permission before they touch yours. 

And, by teaching children it’s ok to say no to smaller things they encounter in everyday life (like a hug), they will learn the right tools and build enough confidence to say no to larger things in the future and respect when other people tell them no. 

Tip 2. Teach different forms of consent

Consent doesn’t just involve bodily autonomy but it relates to various parts of life. Kids need to understand and learn that they can set boundaries on both physical touch and also in other aspects of life like sharing personal information, playing games and borrowing other people’s belongings. 

If children understand that they have to ask for permission before borrowing someone’s belongings or playing a game with them from a young age, they’ll be more equipped to understand they also have to ask for permission as it relates to bodily autonomy in the future. 

Tip 3. Use role-playing scenarios

When children are young, it can be difficult for them to understand consent in the way adults do. But, that doesn’t mean they can’t still learn mutual consent and how it relates to the things that are important in their life.

You can teach consent and boundaries by role-playing scenarios to help them practise asking for consent and saying no themselves. For example, you can practise a few scenarios relating to toys or sharing food with others by teaching them phrases like “Can I sit next to you at school today”, “Do you want to play a handball at lunch” and “Can I share your snack,” to encourage them to ask for permission in everyday situations. 

Tip 4. Model the right behaviour

While children might not have the right vocabulary, they pick up on interactions with the closest people in their lives. 

Just as you encourage them to ask for permission from others, you should also do the same. Ask your children for consent before hugging, touching, kissing or even sharing food with them and respect their responses. 

Children will not only observe your behaviour but they’ll subconsciously pick up on yours too, which will influence how they interact with others throughout their life.  

Remember, consent isn’t just a one-off conversation but an ongoing conversation. As kids get older, there will be more opportunities to dive deeper into the topic of consent and use more appropriate language to teach them. 

By laying the groundwork from an early age and reinforcing it throughout life with plenty of opportunities to discuss the topic, consent and respect will become like muscle memory that they subconsciously recognise and understand.

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