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One of the Best Ways to Teach Young Children About Consent

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

As a child I had a great uncle on my maternal grandmother’s side of the family. I was often told to sit on his lap. My uncle smoked cigars and far as I was concerned, he smelled bad, and I wanted nothing to do with him. He would call all the kids over to his lap to sit for a spell. My instincts told me it was not safe, and I knew clearly that I did not want to sit on his lap. My parents would pressure me to sit on his lap. He would promise a dollar if I would comply. I did not have a choice. I sat on his lap against my will every time. At least I got a dollar out of it.

Later I overheard adults in the family talking about whether he liked kids in that unhealthy way. That still did not stop them from making kids sit on his lap.

I am Black. I know many cultures push children to push past their boundaries. In my culture it is seen as a major flaw in your parenting if you do not raise children to greet all adults (strangers or not) with a hug and possibly a kiss. As I was raised it is disrespectful to not comply and you do not want to disrespect an adult.

Children instinctually know what is safe for them and what is not. They know when they feel comfortable with someone and when they do not. It does not mean they think everyone is an abuser it just means they do not feel comfortable and do not want to be touched. This instinct should always be respected.

The long-term consequences of having children push past their natural instincts are grave. What happens is that child grows up thinking that they do not have body autonomy. That they should not listen to their natural instincts and keep good boundaries.

Keeping all of this in mind, when I am greeted by a family with children and the parent tells them to hug or kiss me, I tell the child that they do not have to and only if they want to. Some children still hug me, but not all. That makes me feel good that I give them a choice. It also tells the parents that this should be the child’s choice. Parents typically do not give me push back.

When I was raising my daughter, I was clear I did not want to raise her the way I was raised. I did not tell her to hug people (family or not). Some adults initiate the contact: “Come here and hug grandma,” I said to my daughter, “only if you want to.”

I know it is hard as a parent to change social norms in a family. You know grandma is going to absolutely be mad if she does not get a hug and will blame you and your parenting. Grandma will talk about you to your face and behind your back that you should teach your children to be respectful and to have some manners.

I encourage you to not give into this pressure. We need to work very hard to make sure our sons and daughters can set boundaries and follow their instincts when it comes to their bodies and safety. Talk with your family early on that your child will not be forced to hug them or make any other physical contact since you want to trust that your child knows their comfort level. Let them know this is not a critique on them but something that you value as a parent.

Your child will be better able to navigate the world with healthy boundaries and their natural instinct intact. They will see that you protect them when they are apprehensive and unsure how to respond to overtures of touching.

As someone who worked the date rape survivors, they say they knew something was wrong with the person they were asked to go on a date with, but they pushed past their instinct of saying no to instead be kind and appeasing. We must stop this cycle.

Our children deserve safety first and foremost and parents are the ideal people to respect that for their children. You have the power to change social and cultural norms in your family and support others in theirs. Do this now. This will protect your children.

You can do this Mighty parents!

Getty image by Ridofranz

Originally published: June 23, 2022
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