Consent starts early

Last night, I wrote a Facebook post about a shocking situation I was in in my personal life and it has been shared many times. The issue of consent (ONLY YES MEANS YES) is one that I’ve been reading and thinking about a lot lately, and I’m glad it’s on everyone’s mind. This is a heavy topic for a doula blog, I know. But it’s one that needs to be discussed.

When should we start teaching kids about consent? The “Don’t Get Raped” seminar at freshman college orientation is the first time I remember hearing about it. Of course, I knew to scream “I DON’T KNOW YOU!” if someone tried to carry me off in the mall (as opposed to “NO” which would just make people think sympathetically that I was having a tantrum), but that was about the extent of what was taught to my generation as kids.

What if kids were taught right from the start that their bodies are entirely THEIRS to make decisions about, and that they don’t get to do things to other people’s bodies without their consent? It would be as ingrained as “Don’t Litter” or “Don’t take candy from strangers”.

Little kids LOVE me. I’ve always had a natural affinity with them and enjoyment of their company. I used to play a game where I would tickle a child, and they would gleefully scream “NO!” and I’d continue to tickle them while they laughed and laughed. Harmless, right? But what if I had shown that child that his NO would be respected, that I wouldn’t touch his body without his very clear invitation? What seeds would be planted in his mind? Now, I plant those seeds. The tickling game has become “You say no, I stop. You say yes, I tickle”. I also don’t force kids to hug or kiss me. Often with a client or friend, they’ll encourage their older child to give me a hug goodbye, even when the child doesn’t know me very well (the person who arrives after you go to bed and leaves as you wake up in the morning isn’t often on your radar, even if her presence does mean Mommy is a lot happier that day). I get their very good intentions, and I absolutely believe in encouraging politeness. But it stops at being touched in ANY WAY that you are not ok with*. If the child shies away from the request, I gently tell the parents “She doesn’t have to if she doesn’t want to.” Again, nothing but positive intent AND YET a HUGE teaching opportunity.

Let’s start RIGHT NOW. No matter how old your child is. Teach them, tell them, SHOW THEM that it’s not ok to EVER touch another person who has said no. Full stop, the first time. Let’s raise a generation of humans who respect each other’s bodies and autonomy a lot better than my date did the other night.

*Of course, there are exceptions, like doctors’ exams or needing to physically handle a child for safety or pulling a tantruming kiddo out of Chuck E Cheese, particularly parents. But there are many, MANY other cases where this behavior could be modeled.