Let’s Talk About Consent…
So, I suppose we were always going to get to this post eventually, because consent is a major part of being part of a home, classroom, or community. It’s something really basic to being a person who interacts with other people.
This post is happening today, though, because the topic has become so utterly and painfully immediate that it clearly needs to be addressed; from the #MeToo movement, to accusations against numerous respected figures, to the Kavanaugh hearings… our own President has even mocked assaults against women. Our children and students hear these things on the radio and online, see them on TV, and know we’re talking about the issue. If we are, so are they, and that makes this an incredibly important time to have this conversation with them.
[RESOURCES FOR DISCUSSING CONSENT ARE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PAGE!]
So, What Can I Do?
This is obviously a really serious and delicate issue, and we understand that it can be nerve wracking to think about bringing this stuff up, but evidence shows that beginning discussions about consent at a young age keeps kids safer, and eases the more mature conversations later on. Besides, there are lots of great tools that can help – the conversation is important, but it doesn’t have to be intimidating!
Before I start, let me explain that we at Collage Colorado are not therapists, and that these suggestions come from our combined years of experience teaching and parenting. You are welcome to disagree about anything we say here, and we welcome discussion! That only helps everybody keep everyone safer, and more respected.
REMEMBER! If you feel you or someone you know is being bullied or their consent is not being respected, tell a trusted adult.
First off, remember to talk to your kids at their level. This might seem obvious, but it’s worth remembering, because many educators’ and parents’ first fear in talking about consent is the belief that they’ll have to talk about “mature subjects”. You don’t! Not unless your students are ready, and if they are they’ll let you know (by asking questions, and because you likely already have a gauge on their maturity level to begin with). Start small… You can always add more detail later, as they need it.
Next, let your kids lead the conversation. Kids get consent at a basic level already. We all do; we all know when something doesn’t make us feel right, or makes us feel like our trust, our space, or our bodies, haven’t been respected. Once you’ve given kids a few prompts (ex. “How does it feel when somebody touches your hair when you don’t want it?”, “How do you feel when you don’t want a hug, and someone gives you one anyway?”), they will likely take off with it, which leads us to…
Now, on to making some agreements! Whether at school or at home, one very good way to reinforce the ideas that you and your kids or students have discussed is to write them down. Get a piece of paper or a board, and record 3-5 agreements about bodies, boundaries, and consent. Make sure your kids or students guide this step, too. Then have everyone (including you) sign the agreement.
After that, let kids ask questions. Really, this is true always, but for tough conversations like this, it’s especially important to check in one last time before the conversation is over. This makes sure there aren’t any hanging problems, misunderstandings, or uncertainties (at least as much as we can manage).
Finally, check in again later. Explicitly talking about consent should be a regular practice… when appropriate. It’s important to check in periodically to make sure that our kids still get it. It can take many times repeating a concept for kids to fully integrate it, and that goes for this concept, too. Making consent a regular check in also makes the conversation infinitely easier than having to have it as a reaction to something later. How often you check in is up to you, but whether parent, educator -whoever – make this conversation a habit.
Talking About The News
Talking about consent is a fantastic time to talk about what’s going on in the news, too, and vice versa, and all the same “rules” apply here, too. Talk about the Supreme Court hearings or #MeToo at your children’s level. And don’t worry about the details; ultimately, they matter far less that the overall concept, that all people have a right to determine what happens with their own bodies, and furthermore a right to stop others from violating or impeding that in any way.
Of course there’s so much more to consent than all of this, and the discussions each of us has will look different every time, depending on our kids, depending on what’s going on in the world, and so on. It’s important to know that for children of color, immigrants, and refugees here in the US, consent is an even more tenuous and potentially triggering topic; people’s race and religion can further change the impact of both the consequences and conversations around consent, and it’s our responsibility to be aware of this.
At the end of the day the most important thing is to keep talking. Destigmatizing conversations about consent make the world a safer and happier place for everybody.
Although no resource is perfect, there are a few good tools that can help you to discuss consent with your kids or students (or colleagues!), including some fantastic videos.
- “Consent for Kids” – This video talks about consent at the most basic level, and we believe it is appropriate for children starting around 6 years old.
- “Consent: It’s as Simple as Tea” – This is consent for adults (and possibly teens). This video contains “bad” language, however it remains one of the best – and most concise – explanations of the importance of consent that you’re going to find. Our own Maníge Giles uses this video and the video above for her OWL classes; both are fantastic introductions to the idea.
- “The Day You Begin”, by Jacqueline Woodson – This book is not actually about consent, but it is about racism and feeling othered, which is a major issue in addition to consent.
There are lots more resources out there, and you can be sure that as we find them, we’ll share them here on the blog, but in the meantime, if there are other good resources that you’ve found helpful, let us know in the comments!