More

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.


Image via iStock.

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."

Image via iStock.

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."

Image via iStock.

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.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
True

In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

This article originally appeared on 11.21.16


Photographer Katie Joy Crawford had been battling anxiety for 10 years when she decided to face it straight on by turning the camera lens on herself.

In 2015, Upworthy shared Crawford's self-portraits and our readers responded with tons of empathy. One person said, "What a wonderful way to express what words cannot." Another reader added, "I think she hit the nail right on the head. It's like a constant battle with yourself. I often feel my emotions battling each other."

So we wanted to go back and talk to the photographer directly about this soul-baring project.

Keep Reading Show less
True

When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."