Here Are 4 Ways We’re Accidentally Teaching Kids That Consent Doesn't Matter

Of course I think elderly people should be respected and kids should be taught manners, etc. But we need to teach them in a way to let kids know that they also deserve respect, boundaries, and choices. You'll find four specific ways to do this at 1:00, 2:30, 4:05, and 6:35.

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Paige: We all want our kids to learn about consent. We want them to know that no means no, and only an enthusiastic yes means yes, as they grow older and get into sexual relationships but I think one of the thing we might be missing is that we've been undermining the idea of consent since they were very young. And so, even when we get to the point of explicitly teaching them about it, it's really not that strong of a teaching because all of our other reactions with them have possibly undermine the idea of consent. So I'd like to talk about four ways that parents sometimes teach kids that consent does not matter.

Number one is tickling and other types of rough house play. Now, I think that tickling and being silly and pretending to eat my kid's feet is one of the greatest parenting skills out there. So, I definitely don't think that tickling is bad or rough housing is bad. I think the important thing is that the minute your kid says no, you stop. Even if you know they're kidding, teach them that 'no' means that the other person will stop. They'll learn both that their no matters and they'll learn that if someone says no to them that they should immediately listen. Now, with my kids, I know if they say no and I stop, they'll come and put their foot back in my mouth cause they didn't really mean no, they want me to keep chewing. It was just a game where they pull their shirt up again to ask me to tickle, and that's fine so we end up keep going on but I do immediately listen to the word no.

The other thing about tickling is that sometimes kids don't say no, they think that you know, you're having a lot of fun out it and they're suppose to like it. If you're tickling a child and then you stopped so that they can catch their breath, first of all, let them catch their breath, and if they really still wanna do the tickle they will indicate that though, lift their shirts back up so you can get their belly or, you know, they'll nudge you or you know, my daughter will say "Mommy, do it again." So I think it's important to make sure that rough and tumble play or tickling and those type of physical games that it's really important that we make it very consensual and teach them that no means no.

OK, the second way that we sometimes teach kids that consent doesn't matter, is by contradicting their feelings. And I think this is a huge problem because it just comes on naturally, and I talked about this before where a kid says, "I'm cold," and we say, "No, it's no... No, you're not. It's hot in here." Or "I'm hungry," "No, you're not. You just ate." "I'm tired..." "No, you weren't, you just got up from your nap." I think that we, you know, in our minds as parents we know 'What? Why are they saying this? They, she can't be hungry, she just ate." But by saying so we teach them not to trust their own instincts and their own feelings. And then, these are feelings that we want them to trust, you know, when they're in their 20s and in a situation that they're not feeling comfortable with. We want them to trust their gut reaction.

So, instead of contradicting kids, we can just ask them an open ended question in a neutral way. So when you child says, "It's cold in here," you can say, "It isn't, I'm kinda hot in here." Here's another big one, "I hate grandma," that's a type of thing that really triggers us to be like, "No, you don't. Don't say that, that's my mother. You love grandma and grandma loves you." You know, you can immediately start spilling out all of these denials of their feelings because we don't want them to hate grandma and we probably know that they don't hate grandma but the thing is that contradiction of their feelings isn't helping the long term goal of having them trust their feelings. So, once again, I just ask an open ended question like, "You do? I think grandma really loves you, " or, "Last week you had a lot of fun with grandma, are you sure?" you know.

The third way that we sometimes teach kids that consent isn't important is through forced hugs and kisses and this is all in the [guides] of teaching politeness. We want them to give Uncle Joe a hug and kiss when you see him because he's their elder, and it's important to respect him in that way, and because he wants a hug and a kiss, regardless of how your child is feeling. And the idea of being that if they don't go give Uncle Joe a hug and a kiss it reflects poorly on you, that your kids are rude or, you know, standoff-ish or whatever. And we worry about that as parents and so then we end up, you know, whether it's by force or coercion getting our kids to hug and kiss someone that they don't want to.

This is a huge red flag. You know, we don't want our teen daughters or our teen sons to be in a sexual situation where they're feeling like they don't really wanna continue, but they feel like they can't say anything because they've come this far and it would be rude to stop or that type of thing. That is exactly the problems that we get in young adults with not asking for consent but also not being bale to give it because you don't feel that you have that place to say no, I'm not comfortable with this, we need to stop right now. So it's very important not to make your kids hug and kiss, or you know, shake hands or anything like that, you know. "You know Uncle Joe, you saw him last year," and if Uncle Joe asks for a hug or kiss, you can say, "Do you want to give him a hug or a kiss or just wave hi?" And then have a wave hi or, you know, blow a kiss or whatever is comfortable in your family for some type of non touching related greeting.

And also, you don't have to force your kid to greet someone that they don't want. We often are forcing our kids to hug relatives that to them they don't even remember, very distant relatives, and we wonder why sexual abuse is so frequently a family member and why the kids didn't tell mom and dad when they've been taught their whole lives that they should respect their elders, that they should be giving physical affection to family members, so it becomes very hard for them to say 'I was touched in in an inappropriate way.' So this one has a very big implication right now for child sexual abuse. You really want your kids to know that they could say no and they never have to be touched in a way that they don't wanna be touched, and also for when they're older so that they feel like whenever they get that feeling in their stomach that 'I don't wanna do this next thing. I don't wanna be touched in this way" that they know that they can say no.

Alright. And the fourth way that we sometimes teach kids that consent doesn't matter, kind of plays like the last one, and that's just generally respecting your elders. Right now on Pinterest, a very popular article is getting pinned a lot about the interrupt rule. And this is a rule that kids instead of interrupting you when you're on the phone or you're talking to another adult in person that you teach them to put their had on your shoulder, so that you know they need them, and you can put your hand back acknowledging that 'I acknowledge that you need me, I'll be just a second'. And then it teaches kids not to interrupt.

Now, I don't particularly have anything wrong with that rule, interrupting can be rude and it's very polite to interrupt in a non verbal way if you can, and it's also important to teach kids the difference between an emergency, that they would need just to burst in and start screaming about, and, you know, 'I want a juice box' which maybe you want them to wait a second, because you're in an important phone call. So I don't have a problem with the idea of teaching your kids the etiquette of interruption.

However, the article talks about never interrupting adults because you need to respect your elders, and that terminology really rubbed me the wrong way. The idea that because someone is older than you, that what you think matters less is nothing but a power play. It's teaching them that the person who is older, bigger, stronger is more important than what they want and then we wonder why we sometimes have adults that are in abusive relationships when really we've modeled for them that size equals power, age equals power, you know whatever characteristic there might be equals power, and that means that your ideas are less than that person who has the power.

The other thing being for me is that respect is something that's earned, it's not automatically given and I don't mean that you should be completely rude to someone until they've proven that they're worthy of your respect, I'm also teaching kindness towards everyone, but this idea that someone just because of their age automatically should be deferred to without, you know, without trusting your own thoughts and feelings about that person, and it's just false. So, once again, I'm not against the interrupt rule and teaching etiquette about interrupting, but I am against using the reason that respect your elders. It's kind of like using 'because I'm your mom and I said so,' it's not teaching them anything. If anything, it's teaching them that power is the most important thing in the world and if you have power you can force it on other people, and that's really not what we wanna teach. So, I think, respect your elders is just a kind of a lazy shorthand that doesn't do what we're hoping that it will do so...

Those are four ways that we sometimes teach our kids that consent is not important, that you might not be thinking of. So in addition to explicitly talking about consent as it applies to sexual relationships as your kids enter the teen years, think too about how you're treating you're one and two year olds and how you might be undermining the concept of consent even at that age. And I think you'll have a kid that's much better prepared to hold their own and trust their instincts, sensing no when they mean no when they're teenagers. Alright, I'm Paige. This has been Gentle Parenting Answers. If you have your own question that you'd like to submit, my email will be at the end of the video as well as our website. We have two new parenting classes starting in September, if you're interested so give it a look. Talk to you later, bye.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

Thanks to parent educator and author Paige Lucas-Stannard for her insightful video. Thumbnail image by Andy Carter, used under Creative Commons license.

Jul 07, 2014

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