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5 everyday ways to teach your kids about consent.

Sexual consent can be tough to explain to young kids. But this psychotherapist has some advice.

5 everyday ways to teach your kids about consent.

My daughter and I are waiting in the exam room for the pediatrician. We are here for her annual wellness checkup.

And from the moment our pediatrician walks through the door, she is all about focusing on my daughter. She looks my daughter in the eyes and kindly greets her. She shakes her hand. She addresses my daughter with her questions. She explains what we’ll be doing today.


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And the pediatrician asks for consent. She asks, "May I listen to your heartbeat now?"

As a psychotherapist, I’m tuned into the ways in which our pediatrician is communicating this message to our daughter: "I regard you as a human being," "You matter," and "Your body is to be regarded."

This is very different from a routine doctor’s visit at a different office I had many years ago with my son, though.

During that visit, the pediatrician rushed through the exam. He didn’t look at my son or address him. The nurse came in with the immunizations and said, "Hold him down. It’s better if we do this fast without him knowing what’s coming. He won’t remember this."

As a mom, I knew my son. As a body-centered psychotherapist, I knew that his nervous system would remember this experience. And I knew that conditions like that can cause an experience to be traumatic for a young person. "No," I said. "I know what my son needs. I need to talk to him first and explain what we are doing."

That day, we didn’t rush, we didn’t surprise him, we didn’t hold him down, and we didn’t give him a treat for "not crying." I showed my son regard by honoring what I knew he needed.

Parents: Teaching sexual consent to our children begins with us.

Every parent I know wants their child to grow up to be confident, be resilient, feel good about who they are, and show compassion toward others. As parents, we want to communicate: "You matter. Your body matters. Your consent and boundaries matter."

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This is regard, and it begins the moment our children are born. We communicate messages that help our children form their self-concept and sense of self-worth. And they learn how to interact with themselves and others through our regard for their bodies, emotions, opinions, and personhood.

With regard as your foundation, here are five everyday ways you can teach your children about sexual consent:

1. Ask for their consent often.

Last night, my son and I were walking home from the park. I went to reach for his hand, but then I stopped myself and asked him, "Can I hold your hand?" He smiled at me and reached out.

Asking for your child’s permission to touch them or come into their personal space can be this simple. You can ask such questions as: "May I brush your hair?" "Can I have a hug?" and "Is it OK if I hold your hand?"

Does this mean you have to ask for their consent every time? As parents, we want to be intentional about what we are doing and why we are doing it.

Imagine your children as teenagers going out with friends with hundreds — if not thousands — of experiences at home where you modeled consent day after day. They will be more likely to respond to any situation with regard for their bodies, and they will be more likely to regard others’ bodies and ask for consent, too.

2. Teach them that their "no" matters.

A client came to me because she was feeling distant from her 12-year-old daughter. And in working together, we eventually realized that her daughter wanted more regard for her personal space, time, and boundaries.

So she started to look for ways she could ask, rather than demand, that her daughter engage with her. Instead of saying, "Give me a hug goodbye," she would ask her daughter, "Can I have a hug goodbye?" And on the days her daughter said "no" or her body language indicated "no," she would say, "That’s cool. If you ever want a hug, I’m here. I love you. Have a great day."

If you ask to brush your daughter’s hair, and she says "no," it's so important to regard her "no." If you ask to hug your son, and he says "no," regard his "no," too. You could reply with, "OK, I respect that. Let me know if you change your mind."

Image via iStock.

It's also OK if your child doesn’t want to hug anyone at all. They can still respectfully greet others with a sincere acknowledgment of "hello."

When you or anyone else begs or tries to convince a child to change their answer now, they learn to override their inner barometer of what feels comfortable and what doesn’t feel comfortable just to give in to someone who they perceive has more power. Over time, you respecting their "no" teaches your children that their "no" matters.

3. Model to your child that "yes" can become "no" at any time.

Let’s say you are gently wrestling with your young child, and she says, "Stop!" What do you do? You stop. Even if she is joking, you stop and check in with her.

Let’s say you have a group of elementary-school-aged boys over your house, and they are running around with swords and roughhousing. Teach them to pause the game every so often and check in with each other to see if the game is going OK for everyone.

And if you have a tween or teenager? Have "the conversation." As you share about sexual intimacy based on your family’s values, include communicating to them that the absence of "no" is not "yes." Teach them that a "yes" can turn into a "no" at any time.

When you model to your child that "yes" can become "no" at any time in everyday experiences, you are sending the message "at any point when you feel uncomfortable or have had enough in any situation, you are to listen to that inner voice. And at any point another person feels uncomfortable and has had enough, you are to respect them and stop what you are doing."

4. Seek to understand.

This past spring, my daughter announced, "I don’t want to take gymnastics anymore!" I was confused. I thought she loved gymnastics. I had put a lot of thought and effort into finding the right place for her. But instead of saying to her: "Yes, you do! I know you do!" I said, "Tell me about it."

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This opened the door for my daughter to feel comfortable to share what she was feeling and for me to listen to her. I came to understand that actually she loved gymnastics, but what she really loved was doing gymnastics on her own at home and making up routines rather than being in a structured class.

When you seek to understand your child, you communicate the message: "Your opinion matters. Your voice matters. Your feelings matter. And I’m here to listen and be alongside you." Even if you think your child is playing around or sharing an opinion out of frustration, when you seek to understand, you are connecting to your child with regard.

5. Keep "regard" at the forefront of your mind.

Our children have their own bodies, minds, feelings, opinions, and dreams. Just like adults, our children want to be regarded, listened to, and respected. So ask for your child’s opinion. Speak your child’s name in a way that is regarding. Look at your child when he or she is talking. These are everyday ways that you can communicate the message "You matter."

We are our children’s first teachers.

The recent Stanford sexual assault case reminded me, yet again, that we have work to do as a culture when it comes to teaching our children about sexual consent.

As parents, it can feel scary to broach loaded and triggering topics like sexual consent. However, these simple, everyday actions can empower us to show regard to our children in our daily lives. And as our children experience our regard in everyday ways, they are more likely to regard themselves and other people’s bodies and integrity, too.

No matter the age of your child, you can support your child being a confident, resilient, compassionate (to self and others) person by choosing to look at, talk to, and be with your child. You can support your child’s future by the regard you show them today.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Researchers at Harvard University have studied the connection between spanking and kids' brain development for the first time, and their findings echo what studies have indicated for years: Spanking isn't good for children.

Comments on this article will no doubt be filled with people who a) say they were spanked and "turned out fine" or b) say that the reason kids are [fill in the blank with some societal ill] these days are because they aren't spanked. However, a growing body of research points to spanking creating more problems than it solves.

"We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don't think about spanking as a form of violence," said Katie A. McLaughlin, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. "In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing."

You can read the entire study here, but the gist is that kids' brain activity was measured using an MRI machine as they reacted to photos of actors displaying "fearful" and "neutral" faces. What researchers found was that kids who had been spanked had similar brain neural responses to fearful faces as kids who had been abused.

"There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked," the authors wrote in a statement.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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