In recent times, there have been a lot of conversations surrounding gender-based violence and how we can prevent it. Conversations surrounding sexual assault and rape are now commonplace, with more people being enlightened about these topics. Concerning sexual violence, one of the things we often talk about is consent. We talk about how every individual has the right to say “No” and how such a “No” should be respected.
One of the things we don’t talk about often in our discussions about consent is how it relates to children and how the teaching of consent to children is a big factor in preventing sexual violence against children. When we do talk about it, we’re hypocritical about it, in the sense that we are one of the biggest violators of the consent and boundaries of children, both intentionally and unintentionally. We teach kids not to let anyone touch them inappropriately or force them to do things they’re not comfortable with and then we go ahead and do the exact same things.
Where am I going with this? Children are one of the most vulnerable groups of individuals that exist in society and this makes them very vulnerable to sexual violence. Children are very dependent on the adults around them and they look up to them, so the growth and values of a child take root from those of the adults around him/her. In a bid to protect children, we often impose our wills on children and do not respect their boundaries; while this isn’t a bad thing considering how little children know and how it’s the responsibility of adults around them to teach them, we have to be careful in doing so, as we can unintentionally violate their boundaries and strip them of authority over their own bodies.
Seeing as sexual predators act by violating boundaries and acting without consent, it’s important to teach kids about boundaries and consent. Teaching children early that they have a say about what happens to their bodies goes a long way in teaching consent. It helps to avoid raising both the future perpetrators and victims of sexual violence.
Picture this, it’s Christmas and you take your child to see Santa and get gifts. It’s your child’s turn to take pictures with Santa. The other kids have been sitting on Santa’s thigh to take pictures but when it’s your kid’s turn, they refuse to sit. We as adults tend to abuse our position as guardians and a guardian in that situation might impose their will on the child, forcing the child to sit on Santa’s lap for pictures. Respecting your child’s decision in that situation gives them a semblance of control over their own bodies. It teaches them that their bodies are their own and that their feelings are valid. It makes them feel heard and seen.
The respect of children’s boundaries by their caretaker teaches consent without using many words. It teaches children to learn to say no when they’re uncomfortable and also to respect others when they say “no.” It helps them to learn that they are in charge of their bodies and do not necessarily have to oblige certain things when it’s uncomfortable for them. When guardians/parents also respect children’s boundaries, it breeds trust between children and their caretakers, thereby ensuring that cases of sexual violence and breach of boundaries are reported quickly. It enforces that they should never be taken advantage of, even by adults.
So, when you combine the lessons of “I respect your body and your boundaries” with “do not let anyone touch your private body area and if they do, report them to me immediately,” then your child is less likely to keep quiet in a situation where they’ve been sexually abused. Your child is also less likely to impose their will on someone else’s body. It’s our job to take care of children and protect them but sometimes to do that, we have to relinquish our control and respect them for who they are — humans.