Talking to Your Kids About Body Safety and Consent

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Some of the most important conversations we can have with our kids are about body safety and consent. These are ongoing talks we should be having with them starting at a very young age. With toddlers and preschool to kinder-aged kids, it should start with teaching them the correct names for body parts, reinforcing the fact that no one can touch their body unless they say it’s OK, and making sure they understand the difference between good touch and bad touch. From the time they’re young, we should be teaching our kids that talking about their feelings is good, and giving them a safe space to communicate. We should be emphasizing asking permission, and not forcing our kids to hug and kiss or play with someone they don’t want to hug and kiss or play with. “NO” and “STOP” are words they need to know.

But as kids get older, the conversations around body safety and consent will shift. Tweens and teens go through immense changes that affect them physically, mentally, and emotionally. They’re exploring their own bodies, their boundaries, and yes, their sexuality. When we talk to tweens and teens about consent and body safety, we’re entering into a whole new ballgame. But making sure our young people know the rules of consent and how they apply to themselves and other people is so important. And making sure they understand how to protect themselves is absolutely crucial.

Body safety and consent should be part of your sex talk with your older kids (yay for sex-positive parenting!). But it should also be a separate and ongoing conversation.

As we’ve seen recently, it’s no longer enough to teach our sons and daughters that no means no. There are so many different aspects of consent and body safety that we need to cover as our kids grow into young adults, as well as all of the emotional and peer issue they’ll face. These are tough years, parents! But if you’re prepared going into it, you’ll be doing your kids a huge service by educating them on these topics.

By the time your child reaches 12 – 13 years old, they should know the ins and outs about the birds and the bees. But now it’s time to talk about the other stuff.

Think less mechanics and biology, and more feelings and emotions. This is when we really need to start talking about stuff like knowing when your partner wants to hold your hand or kiss you, or how to determine if someone LIKES likes you. In addition to teaching our kids how to gauge their peers and partners, now is when we start teaching them about enthusiastic consent. Like I mentioned above, it isn’t about “no means no” anymore. YES MEANS YES. Don’t teach your kids to wait until they hear NO to stop. Teach them to wait until they hear YES to even start.

A good touch is one they welcome and consent to; a bad touch is anything else.

We all grew up hearing the “boys will be boys” bullshit, right? When a kid in class snapped your bra strap or touched your butt, and everyone laughed it off because “girls like that” and that’s just how boys are! How about … no. That kind of shit does not fly anymore. Teach your kids that they and they alone can consent to someone touching their body, and that EVEN AFTER THEY CONSENT, they can say no if they are not comfortable or they’re scared or they’re in pain.

Help your kids learn empathy by asking them how they would feel if someone touched them in a way they did not like or enjoy, or touched them without permission. Force your kids to walk in their peers’ shoes so they understand that no one deserves or welcomes this kind of behavior. And above all else, this is a good time to start teaching some self-defense, in case they need to protect their bodies from unwanted touch. Karate classes, self-defense classes taught by law enforcement, or krav maga are all great options. Empower your kids to stick up for themselves and others in danger.

Build your tweens’ and teens’ confidence, everyday, constantly.

One study says that by age 17, a staggering 78% of girls hate their bodies. That is a heartbreaking statistic. We’ve all heard from young girls and women who say they never felt good enough, or worthy enough, of being treated with respect and kindness and love. Girls who struggle with their self-esteem are vulnerable to dating violence and domestic violence. Abusers and manipulators often seek out partners with low to no self-esteem, knowing they may be easier to control.  Make sure your kids know how fucking amazing they are, every single day of their lives. Don’t focus on their physical attributes; instead, tell them over and over again that they are smart, strong, remarkable people. Support their endeavors, and encourage them to move forward even if they fail.

Teach them that their peers are more than just their bodies.

Boys and young men don’t need to have mothers or sisters to be taught that “locker room talk” is degrading, disrespectful, and humiliating. It’s absolutely normal to talk amongst their friends about girls or boys they like or find attractive. But objectifying them and reducing them to their body parts or physical attractiveness is demeaning. And while that kind of “banter” might get some laughs from their friends, it can be incredibly damaging if/when it gets back to the object of their attention.

Once more because it’s so important: ENTHUSIASTIC CONSENT.

Stop when you hear NO, but also, don’t start until you hear YES. If someone is unconscious, THAT MEANS NO. When someone is impaired, THAT MEANS NO. If they are unsure, THAT MEANS NO. If their partner is crying, THAT MEANS NO. Partner said yes then said no? THAT MEANS NO. Partner said yes then changed their mind during a sexual encounter? THAT MEANS NO AND STOP WHAT YOU ARE DOING. Anything other than a resounding YES and enthusiastic participation throughout a sexual encounter should always, always be taken as a NO. This is one area where you do not want there to be any gray, only black and white.

Also, teach your kids to watch for signs that someone else is in distress, and make sure they know what to do if they see it. Tell them that it’s always OK to call you for help, whether it’s for them or someone else.

Body safety and consent are something we all need to be well-versed in, and it starts young. We can’t protect them forever, but we can teach them to protect themselves.

(Image: iStock/VanReeel)