Dear My Little Yoni: How do I explain Consent?
“Dear My Little Yoni,
My son got in trouble for being overly affectionate to the girls in his class. My husband wants to brush it off as him being a loving little boy, but as victim of sexual assault, I can’t. How do I explain boundaries and consent to my son so that he understands and respects people’s space?” -Jocelyn
Hi Jocelyn, I commend you for wanting to raise your son to be respectful and self-responsible. Explaining sexual consent to him starting young and ongoingly will help ensure that he’s a good and aware man. I want to thank you for sharing your experience as a mother and as a survivor. Raising kids to respect boundaries sets them up for success in the future. On the most basic level, consent means permission for something to happen or an agreement to do something. Sexual consent means actively agreeing to be sexual with someone. Even though your child is not engaging in sexual activity, consent is important because it lets someone know that physical contact is wanted and welcome.
Start by defining Sexual Consent for your son.
Consent requires all people involved agree to participate in an activity together. Tell him consent is clear and communicated with words. Before touching anyone, he needs to learn to ask permission and if someone says no or is silent then it is not okay to touch them. This also means that he should speak up if someone touches him without permission. Give him examples of what consent looks like. Try saying, “You know when I ask you for a kiss? That’s me asking for your consent!” Reinforce that consent is a choice people make without coercion, manipulation, or impairment. You can explain this to your son by saying, “If you told me, ‘no mommy I don’t want a kiss’, and I keep asking and asking until you give in, that’s NOT consent! YOU have to make the choice by yourself.” Explaining consent in a way that’s easy for him to understand will help solidify these concepts. Also remember this isn’t a one-time conversation, but a conversation you will continue to have and reinforce over the coming weeks, months and years.
Be sure to tell your child consent can be given and taken away at any time. Again, put this into an example your child can understand. You can say, “Sometimes you think you want carrots, but when you try them, you realize you don’t like it and would rather not eat them. Should I still force you to eat those carrots? NO! That’s what it’s like with consent, you can change your mind at any time.” Discussing this important part of consent helps your child avoid confusion later on in life. Even adults have trouble grasping this concept. So, teaching your child early on lays a strong foundation.
Tell your son that you’re teaching him about consent to not only teach him to ask for permission, but to empower him to say no when he wants to. Teaching your child about these things gives them the power both to ask for and give consent. Your child will better know how to handle a sexual situation and assert his voice and boundaries all from learning about consent at a young age. With this knowledge, your son will become a better man for it and be able to share what he’s learned with his friends. You can also encourage him to speak up if he sees a situation where consent isn’t being honored and to bring that to you or another trusted adult.
When it comes to your son's interactions with classmates you can explain to him: ‘You wouldn’t want a random person coming up and kissing you. In fact, you might not even want an acquaintance or good friend kissing you without permission. That’s why consent matters and you can’t touch classmates without asking permission.’ It’s important to explain to your son what he did wrong when he got in trouble at school. Discuss why he needs to ask for consent from everyone, even friends who might have given him permission to hug them in the past.
Help your son by practicing consent in daily activities. If you don’t already ask him for consent when giving hugs and kisses, start now! This shows him that the adults in his life respect his boundaries and gives him an example of how to ask for consent. Ask your family members and friends to respect your child’s boundaries. That means he doesn’t HAVE TO give grandma a hug and kiss even if he doesn't want to.
Once again, Jocelyn, I commend you for teaching your son about a crucial topic. It would be easy to write this off as your son being a loving boy. I’m sure your affectionate child means no harm, but even so, respecting people’s boundaries are important. If you still have questions about consent, check out our Yoni Magic Book, All About Consent. Reading this book together opens up a natural path for discussion, that way your son can ask any questions he has. Thanks for being a supermom Jocelyn and helping us create a world free of sexual violence.