The radio is on when you’re in the car with the kids, and the news presenter talks about an allegation of rape. Do you press the mute button, or hope they don’t pay attention? How do you feel about answering any questions your kids might ask?
Your response will depend on your children’s age and developmental level, and your own life experiences. But it’s worth considering that moments like these can be opportunities for consent conversations.
Consent is relevant to everyone, including young children, and parents and caregivers can contribute to building a safer culture around sex and boundaries by having age-appropriate consent conversations with children.
Chanel Contos is a young woman who has been gathering people’s testimonies of sexual assault and calling for a more comprehensive sex education curriculum in Australia (https://www.teachusconsent.com/ ). As she told SBS: “Being told at 16 what consent is when you’re legally able to be sexually active is like learning how to drive after having a driver’s licence. It’s too late.” For more information check out the full story at: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/sex-slut-shaming-and-sydney-schools-why-chanel-contos-is-calling-for-education-reform-across-australia
Learning about consent can start with a child learning that they can say no to touch that they don’t want, even if it is a well-meaning relative’s request for a hug.
For young children aged 3 to 8, the picture book Everyone’s Got a Bottom is a positive story about each person’s right to body autonomy and how to stay safe. https://www.readings.com.au/products/4358645/everyones-got-a-bottom
As children grow, it’s good to have open lines of communication so that they know that they can come to their trusted adults with any questions or concerns they have about bodies, sexuality, or consent. Generally, if children are curious enough to ask you, they are ready for an honest, age-appropriate answer.
There is a wealth of information online about supportive ways of answering these questions. Some helpful resources are available here: https://www.true.org.au/Resources/shop#!/Parents-&-carers/c/18053019 .
Two out of three people have had sex by the time they turn 18, so it’s important that young people are supported to properly understand consent in a sexual context well before that. Sexual consent is freely given, reversible, informed, enthusiastic, and specific – memorable with the acronym FRIES . You can read more about this at: https://www.true.org.au/ArticleDocuments/323/CSAS%20FRIES%20Toilet%20Door%20Poster%20A4%20V1-1.pdf.aspx?Embed=Y
Counsellors, psychologists and other mental health professionals can help you and your child navigate conversations about bodies, sexuality and consent, so reach out.
If you, your child, or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, sexual abuse, or other harmful violations of consent, help is available. Supportive phone counselling is available 24/7 on 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) https://www.1800respect.org.au/ . In an emergency, call 000.