By Olamide Olowoniyi
I Ask: Sexual Education
‘If a boy touches you in school, you will get pregnant’, my mum said to me, very firmly. Twas the night before I resumed boarding house for junior secondary school. This statement was my mother’s idea of ‘the talk’ on consent and sex. So, I spent most of the first term avoiding the boys in my class. Of course, I couldn’t avoid the boys forever and one P.E. class later, me kicking, pulling and crying, refusing to pair up with another boy, arguing with our instructor who later took me to the principal’s office. I was so sure by then I was pregnant. Several counselling sessions later, I finally realised it took more than Tosin pulling my arm to get me pregnant. I never had this discussion with my mum again.
In this age of information overload, children are exposed to all sorts of messages and some of these impacts their notions on consent, sex and relationships. The onus is now on parents to create an environment where conversations about these delicate issues can be held. I was lucky that a counsellor was available to answer my many questions, others weren’t as fortunate and have had to seek information from friends that do not know any better; providing an even more dangerous narrative. Having these conversations with your children will create a safe atmosphere for important and honest interactions as they grow into their own persons and explore other relationships outside of themselves. It has become necessary that parents remove the cloak of secrecy around sexual topics and while our cultures are predominantly conservative, many of these conversations need to go beyond abstinence and should accommodate sexual health and responsibility for both male and female children. The conversation around consent also needs to be broadened to allow kids to understand the importance of personal space and bodily autonomy from a very early age.
From childhood to adolescence, the language and focus of consent may be different through the different stages. For example, the conversation for a teenager may involve sexuality while for younger children, the conversation may be centred on simpler things like getting permission before hugging their friends. Teaching the younger kids about consent is necessary as it not only prepares them for understanding how sex and relationships work in the future, it also helps keep them safe from child molesters as they become aware, confident, know what to look out for and are quick to report because of the safe space that has been created for them around such conversations.
For younger children, the conversations on consent do not have to be about sex as consent is largely about creating and respecting boundaries. Here are a few points to note when discussing consent with younger children.
- Use simple words: The Harvard graduate school of education shared that for children in early education, consent can be taught by using simple words like body, space and touch. Children can be taught to use these words to express how they feel about their bodies at any time (https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/18/12/consent-every-age).
- Asking for permission: Christine Derr, a blogger shared on her blog the importance of teaching children to ask for permission. She believes that teaching consent can be started by teaching children to ask for permission for something they want or before they play with their toys (https://knoxville.citymomsblog.com/teaching-consent-early/).
- Model Consent: This is the practice what you preach approach. Children learn more from what you do, try asking for their consent before giving them a kiss or a hug and respecting them when they say no. Remember to also draw this boundary with other family members, let your kids decide whether they want to be kissed by other family members.
- Emphasise consent every time: Teach them that consent is not a one-time thing and they need to ask every time. Help them understand how consent can change and can be removed. For example, ‘you need to ask every time you want to play with your friend’s toys even if you used it yesterday and they can change their mind and not let you play with it at any time, you need to respect their choice and give it back’.
- Teach Boundaries: Teach them how consent also translates to respecting the boundaries of other people. Help them to understand that everybody should be able to choose what is comfortable for them. For example, ‘it seems your friend doesn’t want to dance with you, that’s okay, sometimes people don’t want to dance with you, and you have to respect their choices’.
For the sexual assault awareness month, the theme being,’I Ask’ is centred around consent and pushing consent as a normal part of our daily interactions. There are many more ways to teach children consent and we must strive to create a healthy and wholesome environment for these conversations. For the Sexual Assault Awareness Month, We at STER ask that you teach consent early.