I have to be honest. When I read Stephanie Auteri’s article on the debate surrounding teaching consent to young children, I had a visceral reaction to some of the people and groups mentioned, specifically, Miriam Grossman and Family Watch International.
First, full disclosure: Grossman and I have history—we had a very ugly screaming match on Hannity a few years ago. (In case you were wondering, none of what she yelled at me was factually correct.) And if you haven’t heard of Family Watch International, it is a group known for supporting a bigoted, homophobic, anti-choice, anti-sexuality agenda. So much for family—they only like one type of family. But I digress.
For the life of me, I cannot understand why on earth telling our children that they have to ability to give or withhold permission could ever be an issue. This is exactly what caregivers are supposed to do; we are supposed to tell our children that they have the right to have a voice and control over their bodies.
And here’s my take: If you don’t believe that having a voice is essential for young people then you have no business being a parent, a caregiver, an educator, or any other person who molds and shapes young people’s lives.
Yeah, I said it. You shouldn’t be raising children.
Now that certainly does not mean that I am a perfect parent. I am far from it. But I do believe that I do pretty well in the encouraging-personal-agency-and-voice department. And my children have known the word “consent” since the moment that they could speak.
That’s not a lie nor an exaggeration.
If you want to teach people to respect a “yes” and respect a “no,” it is far better to instill it early on. And you don’t ever need to talk explicitly about sex. (But of course, you can.)
“May I use your toy?” No.
“Can I borrow your jacket?” Yes.
“Can I squeeze your tush?” Possibly.
Our children have the right to ownership of their body and the right to speak up about everything they do, from kissing to holding hands to (Instagram-happy parents beware!) whether or not someone posts a picture of them on the internet.
It is far easier to practice the language of consent when it isn’t explicitly sexual than to expect that it will be easy to do later on in the context of a sexual encounter.
When our daughter was 3, she was walking around our apartment, and my husband squeezed her tush. In an instant, she whipped around and said, “Daddy, I didn’t give you consent to squeeze my tush.”
He looked at her and said, “Memphis, you’re right. I am sorry. I should have asked you. May I squeeze your tush?”
She replied, “Yes,” and laughed.
That story makes me smile for so many reasons. Our daughter knew how to use the term in a way that was empowered, and she wasn’t afraid to challenge her father.
And I was so proud that my partner was able to own up to the innocent squeeze and give our daughter back the power that she deserved. An added bonus was that Memphis not only learned that sometimes adults make mistakes, but also that adults (parents even!) can admit to those mistakes.
Even if the research wasn’t on the side of consent-based sexuality education (and it is), personal anecdotes speak volumes. When you know the script for giving consent (or denying it) and have years of practicing it, there is a great emotional and sexual benefit in the future.
This post originally appeared on Fatherly.