When a young girl comes home and tells her mom that a male classmate won’t stop pulling her hair and distracting her during class, even when she tells him to stop, she is told he probably just has a crush on her. When a child visits a member of their extended family and is asked to give them a hug, it’s often forced regardless of whether the child wants to or not. If one toddler attempts to kiss or hug another while they push them away and scream “no!” they are often met by a chorus of laughter and, “come on, just let them give you a kiss!” from the adults around them.
Consent is a crucial part of maintaining healthy relationships and respecting those around us, and while we may think that consent is learned as children grow, the examples above, the presence of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements and the alarming rate of sexual assault and harassment in the world show that there certainly isn’t enough being done. Because consent is something that needs to be taught as soon as we begin teaching ‚please’ and ‚thank you,’ we must encourage parents and teachers to take part in ensuring that children are learning this crucial lesson.
So what can schools do?
For children, consent needs to begin being taught at home, but schools play a crucial part in the continuation of this lesson – from kindergarten to high school. Many find the notion of consent being taught to young children in schools to be inappropriate, but the teaching of consent doesn’t strictly mean sexual consent. The definition of consent according to Oxford Dictionary is “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” Based on this, we need to start by teaching children how to respect the boundaries of their peer, and whether to not it’s okay to do something – such as touching another child in any way, or using something that doesn’t belong to them.
“Just putting a condom on a banana and calling it a day isn’t enough anymore.”
As children get older, we can begin introducing them to safe and healthy sexuality. Contrary to what many seem to believe, shying away from the topic of sexuality is more of a hindrance to the health of our society than it is a help. While many say we live in an over-sexualized society, the reality is that the topic is still taboo when it truly matters, like in schools and in our own homes. According to Advocates For Youth, in the United States, 46 percent of all high school age students, and 62 percent of high school seniors have engaged in sexual activity, so simply turning your head and saying that teens just shouldn’t have sex isn’t a realistic option.
Giving teenagers and preteens a well-rounded sexual education curriculum doesn’t encourage them to have sex or increase the chances of them doing so. Rather, it decreases the chance of unwanted pregnancy, STIs, and if done properly, should decrease the chance of rape and sexual assault. In addition to the typical information of where things go and methods of contraception, teens need to also be taught how to respect their partners, healthy communication in sexual relationships, and when something is okay and when it’s not. Just putting a condom on a banana and calling it a day isn’t enough anymore.
What can you do?
Teach your children the importance of consent. Teach your brothers and sisters how crucial it is to take no as a full answer, with no explanation needed. Remind the children you’re babysitting, or your nieces and nephews, how important it is to respect the boundaries of those around them.
Contact those in charge of the curriculum in your area and push for them to incorporate consent into their sex ed curriculum. To start on a small scale, you can request to meet with local teachers and discuss what their lesson plan is regarding sexual education. While the teachers don’t necessarily decide what is taught, they do decide how. Be prepared to have a thorough, well planned approach, with constructive and realistic suggestions on how they can teach consent effectively. Don’t simply march into the meeting with the sole purpose of telling them to change, with no real solutions.
If the teaching of consent is not an official part of the curriculum, go to whoever makes the decision of what must be taught. This can be your school district, local government, or state/provincial government. Do some research into who is deciding curriculum, and find out how you can contact them, and if there are any meetings planned that are designated to hear feedback from teachers, students and parents in regards to what is being taught. Again, be prepared with realistic solutions and possible resources that can be used to effectively teach consent to students.
Consent is seemingly one of the simplest notions in the world, but the apparent lack of understanding around it shows how crucial it is for it to be actively taught. We must continue to teach those around us and push for school’s to do the same, because if it can prevent just one sexual assault from happening, it’s worthwhile.