This concept of consent is something that I have had a lot of folks from older generations balk at. This saddens me for many reasons but mostly it makes me want to stress how important it is that you listen to your child. If Grandpa decides to molest your child, your mother (Grandma) may be more likely to sweep it under the rug than you think. I have actually seen this scenario play out several times in the last few years in circles I am familiar with, and it is heartbreaking.
You are your child’s advocate, possibly their only one in the whole world, so it is your duty to act accordingly. Teaching them about consent is a huge step in advocating for their autonomy and advancing the development of healthy sexual boundaries.
I’ve already begun teaching my two and a half-year-old about consent and his anatomy. I think the general population would be surprised how often sexual assault and molestation happens to infants and toddlers. Because they cannot communicate as easily as older children, it is important to teach them non-verbal consent cues that they can use until their vocabulary develops.
For my son, we reduce the risk of assault by never allowing him to be alone with anyone besides my husband and I at this age. Not friends, not family, not even the babysitter I love and trust. No one changed his diaper except my husband and I. We won’t be this strict forever, but in this stage of less verbal communication, we’d rather never have to wonder if anything ever happened.
Despite this setup, I’ve still taught him to come get me if someone says any word that could pertain to his male anatomy or if he is uncomfortable.
He knows that I will not be angry if he does not want to hug or kiss a relative or friend. I have stressed with him that he is under no obligation to have any physical contact and it doesn’t matter what the reason is for declining it. This has made him very secure in the knowledge that I will back up his decision. It has also made him more confident in initiating goodbye hugs when we are leaving friends or family because he knows they are because he wants to, not because he has to. No one has complained to us because a side effect of this is that his hugs are genuine affection as a result and that’s way better than obligatory affection.
Teaching him that the doctor can touch him has been difficult for me because of my experience with purity culture, but I am determined to not allow those issues get in the way of him having a good doctor-patient relationship. We’ve avoided the discomfort altogether by choosing an amazing male pediatrician that he adores and I trust. My son still knows that he can speak up if he is uncomfortable and it has put him more at ease than in any of the pediatrician offices we’ve visited prior because those doctors did not care about his discomfort, but this one does.
The building blocks for what I have taught my son are these:
- Trust your own instincts
- Know that I, as your parent, support your decision and will back you up
- Don’t settle for obligatory affection, aim for genuine affection
My conversation on consent with my son is an ongoing one that will mature and develop as he gets older. I am happy to already be able to see the fruits of what I have taught him in our life. I hope that, through this, he can develop a healthy relationship based on trust and respect rather than coercion and manipulation.