The second week of first grade, my 6-year-old son came home and told me, very seriously, "Mama, I have a girlfriend, and I love her."

I didn't laugh at him or tell him he is too young to have a girlfriend, and I didn't minimize his feelings. We had a very serious conversation about his girlfriend: what he likes about her, what they talk about at lunch, and what games they play on the playground at recess. I asked questions about her; some he knew the answers to, and some he didn't.

Nearly every day after that for some time, we talked about his girlfriend, and in every conversation, in some way, we talked about consent — what it means, what it looks like, and how I expect him to act.


I didn't objectify the little girl by referring to her as "your little girlfriend" as I've heard other adults tease their own children. I didn't make jokes about him being a heartbreaker or tell him that the girls will be falling all over him by high school. I didn't tell him his feelings don't matter — and I definitely didn't tell him her feelings don't matter. I think the seeds of misogyny are planted with words as much as behavior, and I treated his emotions seriously because, for him, being in love for the first time is the most serious thing in the world. He will remember this little girl just as I remember my first boyfriend, and how I handle things now is setting the tone for the future.

I wasn't expecting to have these conversations in the context of a relationship quite so soon.

His older brother is more introverted, with the exception of the occasional fleeting crush. But I have been talking about consent and modeling it since my sons were babies.

The idea that young men need to learn about consent in high school or college goes hand-in-hand with the idea that sex education shouldn't be taught before then, either. Consent is an ongoing conversation in our home, framed to suit the situation. But now that my son has a girlfriend, I'm finding ways to introduce the concept of consent within a relationship on a level that he can understand.

From the time my sons were very little — before they could even talk — I started teaching them about body autonomy and consent.

"Do you want me to tickle you?" "Can I pick you up?" "Do you want me to brush your hair?"

I would ask whenever I could, waiting for their response before proceeding. Yes, of course, there are times when a young child needs to be picked up or hair needs to be brushed whether they want it or not, but there are just as many times when children can be given — and deserve — the right to choose. And so I let them decide whenever I can.

Teaching them that no one can touch them without permission was the first step in teaching them about respecting the boundaries of others.

With my sons at 6 and 7 years old now, I model the respect I expect them to extend to others. It is an ongoing lesson, as the most important lessons always are.

Of course they fight — what siblings don't? But I teach them that, whatever the game or activity, if someone says "Stop!" or "No!" they are to stop what they are doing.

To that end, I try to stay out of their squabbles and give them time to sort them out. If they don't stop, there are consequences. We talk about how it feels to have someone keep chasing, tickling, or bothering you when you've told them to stop. I watch their empathy for others grow as they consider how it feels to be little and have grownups want to touch their faces or hug them without permission. They're learning, and it gives me hope.

But now I'm having daily conversations with my youngest son about girlfriends and what is — and isn't — OK.

He knows he has to ask if she wants a hug before he touches her. He knows that it's rude to refer to her as "my girlfriend" when talking about her and that it's better, and more respectful, to use her name.

He knows that if he gives her a gift, he should give her a chance to respond instead of inundating her with more gifts. "Let's wait and see how she feels about this lovely picture you made her before you draw another one," I tell him, explaining how overwhelming it can be to have someone give you gifts when you're not ready for them or haven't had a chance to return the affection. Of course, I'm thinking about the boy I knew my junior year of high school who would constantly leave me trinkets of his affection at my locker — affection that wasn't reciprocated and made me uncomfortable, especially after I asked him to stop.

I don't know if I'm doing this right, honestly.

There are times when I think to myself, "But he's only 6! Why are we even having this conversation?" And then I remind myself, "If not now, when?"

I know what it means to be a girl in this world, and my sons are starting to hear my #MeToo stories, the ones they're old enough to understand. How do I talk about what's wrong in the world if I'm not willing to talk about the right behaviors, the right way to treat women?

I know my sons have a good role model in their father and in our marriage. I know they watch how my husband interacts with me, and I see it reflected in how they treat me. It's a start, but I know it's not enough in a world that sends mixed messages to boys about girls and how to treat them.

It's been eye-opening, seeing how my children regard consent.

I've seen how those early lessons in teaching them about their own right to say no have gone a long way in teaching them the empathy and respect they show for others now.

I know we're not done; we're only just starting. I know it's only going to get more complicated as they get older.

But at the end of the day, no matter their age, the core lesson is the same: respect people, care about how they are feeling in your interactions with them, and remember that others have a right to feel differently than you do and to set boundaries for what is OK with them. The situations will change, but those words will be repeated again and again.

Teaching consent is not a one-time discussion. It's something I want my sons to think about every single day.

This story originally appeared on Ravishly and is reprinted here with permission. More from Ravishly:

Joy

Meet Eva, the hero dog who risked her life saving her owner from a mountain lion

Wilson had been walking down a path with Eva when a mountain lion suddenly appeared.

Photo by Didssph on Unsplash

A sweet face and fierce loyalty: Belgian Malinois defends owner.

The Belgian Malinois is a special breed of dog. It's highly intelligent, extremely athletic and needs a ton of interaction. While these attributes make the Belgian Malinois the perfect dog for police and military work, they can be a bit of a handful as a typical pet.

As Belgian Malinois owner Erin Wilson jokingly told NPR, they’re basically "a German shepherd on steroids or crack or cocaine.”

It was her Malinois Eva’s natural drive, however, that ended up saving Wilson’s life.

According to a news release from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Wilson had been walking down a path with Eva slightly ahead of her when a mountain lion suddenly appeared and swiped Wilson across the left shoulder. She quickly yelled Eva’s name and the dog’s instincts kicked in immediately. Eva rushed in to defend her owner.

It wasn’t long, though, before the mountain lion won the upper hand, much to Wilson’s horror.

She told TODAY, “They fought for a couple seconds, and then I heard her start crying. That’s when the cat latched on to her skull.”

Keep Reading Show less
Jada Sayles/Twitter

Jada Sayles got both a newborn baby and her college degree.

You know what they say about the best laid plans? Well, it's true. And no one knows that better than Jada Sayles. On May 15, Sayles was all set to graduate from Dillard University, a historically Black university in New Orleans. Around 4:30 a.m., she realized that her plans were about to change in a big way. Instead of getting ready for her graduation, she was in labor and being admitted to the hospital.

"I thought I was gonna walk across the stage to get my degree, instead I got my baby," Sayles tweeted, along with a series of photos. "My sweet face decided to make his way on MY big day (now his). Shoutout to my university for still bringing my graduation and degree to me."

Keep Reading Show less

Sandy Hook school shooting survivors are growing up and telling us what they've experienced.

This story originally appeared on 12.15.21


Imagine being 6 years old, sitting in your classroom in an idyllic small town, when you start hearing gunshots. Your teacher tries to sound calm, but you hear the fear in her voice as she tells you to go hide in your cubby. She says, "be quiet as a mouse," but the sobs of your classmates ring in your ears. In four minutes, you hear more than 150 gunshots.

You're in the first grade. You wholeheartedly believe in Santa Claus and magic. You're excited about losing your front teeth. Your parents still prescreen PG-rated films so they can prepare you for things that might be scary in them.

And yet here you are, living through a horror few can fathom.

Keep Reading Show less