consent [kuh n-sent] verb (used without object)
1. to permit, approve, or agree; comply or yield (often followed by to or an infinitive): He consented to the proposal. We asked her permission, and she consented.
2. Archaic. to agree in sentiment, opinion, etc.; be in harmony. (Source)
Although it has a wide range of complicated connotations, the definition of consent is actually very simple: to permit, approve, or agree. We consent to things everyday. Or, we disagree with them. As adults, it’s something we have practiced and exercise regularly (although some situations are doubtlessly more difficult or complicated than others). But, of course, broaching the topic with children is anything but simple. As an educator working with children ages 5-14 in 2018, I can’t help but wonder – are we talking to our children about consent? Should we be? What’s the best way to start?
As I watch the parents and teachers in my life speak so carefully and lovingly to their children and students, it seems as though many families are already teaching about childrens’ power to control their own bodies and choices. Whether at home or at school, many of us begin conversations about respect and personal space. We try to teach the difficult boundary between uncomfortable or unsafe. Together, parents, teachers, and role models teach children they have the power to recognize an uncomfortable or unsafe situation, and help them to learn and practice the tools to speak up if they need to say no or ask for help.
Learning the tools to firmly say both yes and no is one important step. But we can’t forget about the second side of the coin – learning how to listen to and respect those cues from other children. Practicing saying no, reacting to no, and disengaging when one person has requested that the game or hug stop. Learning how to solve a problem themselves, and when to ask a trusted adult for help. None of these skills come naturally. They require explanation, modeling, and practice. These conversations can go in many different directions – some families may choose to talk about sex, while others may focus primarily on personal space and respect. Similarly, some families may want this conversation and practice to take place at home, while some might feel that the classroom is the best place. Every family is different. But no matter the location or timing, all children – both boys and girls – need to start somewhere.
Like many of life’s big, open-ended conversations, sometimes it feels like getting started is just opening a big can of worms – why bother? The answer is different for every child and every family. But as an educator, I want to be ready for the conversations that my students both want and need. I’m not an expert, but as a librarian, I know who to turn to for advice. Authors have written many books about the topic of consent for children. Some are written for adults to help us guide the children in our lives. Others are written directly for the kiddos themselves, in language and narrative that they will connect with and understand. Whatever kind of literary help you’re interested in or open to, there’s a book for it. You don’t have to do all of the heavy lifting yourself.
Here are some of the best resources that I have found for educating yourself and talking to your child about the seemingly simple, but surprisingly complicated, topic of consent*:
- I love that TeachConsent.org breaks consent into three steps: Ask, listen, respect. The website has resources for parents and facilitators, with videos, discussion guides, and more. Teach Consent is a project from the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.
- The Child Mind Institute provides building blocks for a difficult conversation in their article, How to Talk to Kids about Sex and Consent. This article takes a look at the more mature, sexual side of the conversation, so it will be particularly helpful for those with tweens or teens at home.
- These printable conversation cards from momentsaday‘s article, Teach Kids about Consent, give adults something concrete to carry and share with kiddos when they run across tricky situations.
- Powerhouse Common Sense Media, which many of the parents in our community trust as a source for guidance, has put together Books to Help Teens Understand the Importance of Consent. I’ve read a few of these, and found them to be difficult, but worthwhile. I highly suggest reading and discussing these along with your reader, especially if these are your family’s first introduction into the discussion.
- A Mighty Girl is a go-to for kid-friendly booklists that tackle tricky topics. Body Smart, Body Safe: Talking with Young Children about their Bodies is one of my favorite lists on this post – broken down by topic (Understanding touch and body privacy, Where do babies come from, etc.), with a thorough write-up on each book. Bonus points for the “I’m not ready for this…” section at the end, which provides additional resources to adults feeling overwhelmed and unsure of where to start. (The featured image from this blog post was also taken from this source.)
- Raising Luminaries has put together an excellent guide of steps towards having an impactful conversation about consent speficially with young boys, called 6 Mistakes We Make Raising Sons – Kids Books To Prevent Sexual Assault. I loved this list because it feels like so many resources are geared toward girls, but boys need and deserve this conversation too. Read with an open mind and you’ll find great book suggestions with each step.
- How My Third Graders and I Address Consent, from Teaching Tolerance. Although the introduction has a political tone, this third grade teacher’s story of talking to her class about consent is not political, and I found it useful. “While teaching my third-grade students about consent, it has never crossed my mind to talk about sex. Instead, we talk about safe physical interactions that occur daily in the classroom and outside at recess, and how to communicate your personal boundaries with those around you.”
- Looking for a video to help move things along? Here’s a collection of videos from different sources, posted on Lifehacker, that you might find useful. I especially loved the first two, for young kiddos – that music video for I’m the Boss of my Body is awesome!
We have many of these books in our library collection, and others are available to be checked out from the Jefferson Madison Regional Library. Do you have any favorites or titles that you can’t wait to try? I hope that these resources help you to feel confident and comfortable in starting this lifelong conversation with the child or children in your life.
*While some of the content from particular websites can be political or satirical, I attempted to find articles that were straightforward and unbiased. If you’re not a fan of these particular websites, you might prefer a different resource. There are lots of great articles and materials out there – this is just a starting point! Find one that’s the right fit for you and your family.