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Talking to Your Children about Consent

When parents have a newborn baby or infant, there’s often an expectation that friends and loved ones will want to hold it, and even strangers might pat the little one’s head or squeeze a shoulder.  However, as children grow, they don’t want to be touched by anyone unless they grant permission. This is known as consent.

Consent is the approval of a specific action—usually physical touching such as hugging, kissing, or tickling. Children need to feel empowered by their parents and other adults to make choices regarding their bodies and comfort.

“Consent has to be given,” says Amanda McGeshick, Teen Pregnancy Prevention program manager at Centerstone. “It needs to be an enthusiastic yes.”

When consent is violated, it means a boundary has been crossed either by force, coercion, or other factors (such as alcohol and drug use). A major concern with violating a child’s consent is the risk of child sexual abuse.

“Child sexual abuse is touching or using children’s private parts to gain power and control,” says Tari Allan, Trauma Services manager at Centerstone. “Some examples of child sexual abuse are child pornography, using children for sexual acts, making a child witness sexual acts and grooming. Any of these actions may result in legal action being taken and may cause severe trauma and distrust from the child.”

According to the anti-sexual violence organization Rainn, in reported cases of child sexual abuse, 93% involve a perpetrator known to the victim (family members or acquaintances). Children are easily manipulated because they rely on adults for care and survival.

“Perpetrators know that children are trusting and loving,” says Allan, “They know what they are doing and how to motivate children who are more vulnerable and cognitively at a disadvantage.”

To increase awareness of child sexual abuse issues, there must be efforts to educate children, family, friends, educators, and community members. Here are several ways to practice consent in your home:

  • Teach boundaries. As a parent, it is your responsibility to clean diapers, give baths and even dress your child; take that opportunity to establish a boundary that no one is to touch their private parts. Explain while they are young the medical terminology for their private parts and set boundaries that even parents need to ask permission before helping to clean, bathe, and dress them.
  • Give them a voice. In order to empower your children and their right to make choices and set boundaries, try to give them options by frequently asking choice-based questions (this or that). For example, let them choose what to wear and when they want to dress themselves as they start to get older.

“Teach your children the importance of privacy from an early age,” says McGeshick, “Try to teach them phrases like privacy please when they want to be alone or dress themselves as they begin to get older.”

  • Education. Teach your friends, family, and community members that learning consent begins at home—everyone needs to ask permission before touching anyone, whether it is a child or not.

Children need to be heard. Teach them to set boundaries and make choices regarding their own body from an early age.

If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, Centerstone can help. Call 1-877-HOPE123 (1-877-467-3123) for more information.

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