In the efforts to prevent sexual assault, it is essential to prioritize consent education, as it is crucial for youngsters to receive the knowledge and skills necessary to handle consent in a respectful manner. The approach to teaching consent should be varied and age-appropriate, especially when dealing with children. For very young children, the focus need not be on sexual consent particularly – instead, they can be educated about healthy relationships, effective communication, trust, mutual respect, and seeking permission. Furthermore, it can include teaching them about the proper names for body parts, understanding personal boundaries, and respecting their own bodies. 1
Introducing the idea of consent to children can help establish the groundwork for understanding the importance of defining personal boundaries, making choices regarding their bodies, seeking permission, and responding respectfully when faced with rejection. Apart from this, consent education also encourages the belief for children that they have the right to establish and enforce boundaries, determining when and how their bodies are touched and by whom. 2
In the book Creating Cultures of Consent: A Guide for Parents and Educators, sexual violence prevention and inclusion subject matter expert Laura McGuire offers her insights on how to introduce the conversation of consent to children. She suggests tools for adults to challenge and unlearn harmful beliefs surrounding consent, boundaries, and relationships, which is essential for ensuring that children acquire a healthy idea of consent too. According to McGuire, it is through parents and educators’ desire to help children empathize with others, learn to honor other people’s requests and needs, while also honoring their own sense of self and boundaries, that a deep appreciation for consent arises. She writes: “If consent means anything, it must begin and end with respect for another’s dignity, humanity, and personal autonomy.” 3
A similar idea is also offered by the team of the MindShift podcast in their episode Uncovering Healthy Relationships With Consent Education, where they discuss how teaching students about consent in schools gives them the confidence to set their own boundaries and openly share their emotions. By understanding the importance of consent, students become better equipped to form healthy relationships, set boundaries, and build meaningful connections. Essentially, by applying consent education practices, schools are able to cultivate a lasting culture of empathy and inclusion that can benefit the society as a whole.
- Hughes, L. (2021) “Why Teaching Consent in Schools Matters.” SchoolGovernance. https://www.schoolgovernance.net.au/news/why-teaching-consent-in-schools-matters
- “Teaching Consent.” Safe Secure Kids. https://www.safesecurekids.org/teaching-consent
- McGuire, L. (2021) Creating Cultures of Consent: A Guide for Parents and Educators. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.