• VPEC

C is For Consent -- Helping Children Develop a Sense of Autonomy


“If we can teach children to set and respect boundaries, understand the concept of consent, and know that they have the power to protect themselves and their loved ones, we can raise adults who will command respect by treating the world around them with value and with love.”

“If we can teach children to set and respect boundaries, understand the concept of consent, and know that they have the power to protect themselves and their loved ones, we can raise adults who will command respect by treating the world around them with value and with love.”


~ Yehudit Zicklin-Sidikman, Founder of ESD Global Inc.


April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (#SAAM).


While being aware of statistics, understanding the many ways sexual assault impacts every aspect of our society, and supporting survivors are all extremely important, we're spending the month focusing on building awareness of prevention strategies.



A vital part of preventing sexual assault is providing education that fosters an understanding of and an appreciation for consent and a respect for boundaries accessible to everyone.

And we believe that that education needs to start from a very young age.


That might sound a bit off-putting and maybe even a little scary.


But the idea isn’t to scare children or teach them about topics that aren’t age appropriate.


In fact, we’d argue that for children, building confidence, discovering their strength, and learning that they have autonomy over their own bodies is the opposite of scary (the same holds true for adults).


From asking children before we give them hugs to having serious conversations, opportunities to teach children about consent are all around us.



And with the topic of children and consent is gaining more time in the spotlight (even the Girl Scouts have made the news for talking about it), those opportunities are increasing every day.


We just have to look for them.


Consent


“Consent occurs when someone gives permission for something to happen or agrees to do something.”

“Consent occurs when someone gives permission for something to happen or agrees to do something.”


~ The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)


We believe that the earlier children grasp the concept of consent, the better.


We'd also argue that the concept of consent comes naturally to children.


Toddlers know what they like and don’t like. They want to make their own decisions. The proof? Look at how they hold their hands up when they don’t like or want something. and they definitely don't have any qualms about saying "NO!!!"


The trick is to encourage, not extinguish these instincts and feelings and use them as a vehicle for teaching.


As Sarah Gordon-Lavine, a senior instructor at El HaLev, said at VPEC 2020, “We are changing the culture from the bottom up where we have the most influence… We have an opportunity to help children learn how to set boundaries, and for us to respect those boundaries.”



“We are changing the culture from the bottom up where we have the most influence… We have an opportunity to help children learn how to set boundaries, and for us to respect those boundaries.”

This chart from Liz Kleinrock, a third grade teacher in California, is the perfect example of creating that change:



Why do you think changing the culture from "the bottom up" is so valuable and important?


Everyday Consent


“Everyday consent means we communicate our boundaries and ask others for their perspective before taking actions that impact them.”

“Everyday consent means we communicate our boundaries and ask others for their perspective before taking actions that impact them.”


~ NSVRC


When it comes to helping children learn about everyday consent, there are times to be explicit, as we are in child safety classes.


And there are times when we can teach by example, like this teacher who gives her students a choice about how they want to be greeted:



There are also plenty of examples from the media and pop culture.


In this clip from Frozen, there's no discussion of consent, but consent in modeled beautifully:


What are some everyday opportunities you've come across to teach children about consent?


Digital Consent


“Digital consent is a way to refer to sexual consent that happens through screens. Just like in real-life sexual encounters, consent should be an on-going conversation when communicating digitally. Although you aren’t talking face-to-face, you should always consider how your actions might make another person feel and ask questions if you don’t know.”

“Digital consent is a way to refer to sexual consent that happens through screens.


Just like in real-life sexual encounters, consent should be an on-going conversation when communicating digitally.


Although you aren’t talking face-to-face, you should always consider how your actions might make another person feel and ask questions if you don’t know.”


~ NSVRC


The theme of this year's Sexual Assault Awareness Month is "We Can Build Safe Online Spaces."


Of course that includes safe spaces for children, and teaching children to be safe online, which with so many kids suddenly leading virtual social and academic lives, is more important than it's ever been.


Teaching children about digital citizenship and navigating the Internet safely is about so much more than limiting screen time, monitoring online activity, and giving warnings about danger, though there are plenty of resources for those things (like this great web license activity from PBS Kids).


The more children learn about consent and autonomy in their everyday lives, they'll have more tools to transfer to their online lives.


The more tools they have, the safer they'll be.


According to Professor Yair Amichai-Hamburger, Director of The Research Center for Internet Psychology of IDC Herzliya:


“It’s important when having a conversation online [for children] to recognize when somebody is crossing their boundaries.”


“It’s important when having a conversation online [for children] to recognize when somebody is crossing their boundaries.”

In his VPEC 2020 keynote speech on providing children with tools to equip them with the resilience needed to counter violence online, he spoke about the importance of autonomy.



The next step, of course, is teaching children to respect the autonomy and rights of others in their online worlds.



That's the magic combination.


What connections do you see between autonomy and preventing online abuse and harassment?


But aren’t there things kids have to do for their own good?


“Eat your vegetables.” “Sit down.” “Do your homework.” “Take your medicine.” “Clean your room.”


Kids get used to the idea of having to do what grown-ups tell them to do.


Of course, kids need boundaries. Of course, kids need to be taught the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior.


The important thing is to remind kids that in many cases, they do have autonomy.

And yes, this gets complicated. Kids may have to take baths, but they can make choices about whether they wash their hair or their body first. They may have to eat healthy food, but they can make choices about which green vegetable they want to eat. They may have to go to the doctor, but the doctor, to the extent that it's possible, should allow them to make their own choices and treat them with the respect they deserve.


The point is to reinforce the message that in many cases, kids do have autonomy.



There are times kids have a right to say “NO!!!” There are times they have a right to say “Go Away!!!”


As adults, it is up to us to help reinforce these rights, and to provide children with a variety to tools that will allow them to make choices when responding to different situations.


Does that make raising children easier? Probably not. It’s much easier to train kids to be compliant.


That education will stay with them the rest of their lives. The situations a four year old faces may look very different than situations a fourteen or forty year old might face. But the skills to respond aren't necessarily that different.


So isn’t the extra effort worth it?


Imagine… And then join us.


Imagine what the world would look like if all children had a collection of boundary-setting phrases at their fingertips, ready to choose from and wield when needed?

Imagine what the world would look like if all children had a collection of boundary-setting phrases at their fingertips, ready to choose from and wield when needed?


Imagine what the world would look like if all children grew into adults who knew how to not only use those phrases, but respect them when said by others?



Imagine! And when you are done imagining, join us!


Stay with us between now and VPEC 2021 (and beyond) to continue the conversation about children and consent.


Please tell us about your strategies for teaching children about consent.

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