by Priyanka Raha ~ Oct 05, 2018
Sometime last year I went to the ‘Western Washington Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators’ event to support a friend. I fell in love with this book titled Cuddles (well of course can’t beat that title) but this is the page that caught my eye.
And no cuddles at all please. Not right now.
In the light of the recent events, I have thought about these words a lot. These words are a representation of one and one thing only – consent.
Last few days have made us angry, disgusted and ashamed. It started about an year ago with the unfolding of the Weinstein story. We have seethed in rage and anguish as one story after another has been laid bare before us and so has been laid bare the ugly nature of the patriarchy.
Time is now to take the opportunity to tear this down. It is not going to happen in a day or in a year. It will take years but it has to start today. There is no better place than our home to start the mentoring. It starts with preaching and practicing consent with our kids.
I will admit it is not easy. I was brought up in a culture where talking about anything related to sexual assault is (yes, is and not was, because it still is that way) taboo. But sweeping things under the rug, burying it and being quiet about it is not the answer. As a mother of two boys I want them to grow up knowing that their bodies are their own, their words are powerful and they should always respect the boundaries of the body.
We have to be conscientious about it, we have to own it, and so we need an action plan.
Action Plan 1
No and Stop.
The first and the foremost lesson to teach our kids is to be able to say ‘no’ and ‘stop’, to identify when to say no and to respect when someone else uses these words. Understanding the concept of consent can be difficult. And don’t forget the absence of a ‘yes’ means no.
It is never too early to start this conversation.
This can start in our very own homes, with simple things like giving a hug. Use words like, ‘Can I give you a hug?’ And in return respect his wishes if your kid says ‘no’. Don’t just preach it, practice it as adults.
Action Plan 2
For boys and girls
It is often forgotten that these lessons are important for growing boys as much as they are for growing girls. As the events have unfolded in the past week, I have witnessed women talking with disrespect, indifference and hurtful words. Our enemy here is patriarchy, not men.
So, mothers of boys, please take note here – I feel we have been provided with this opportunity and this added responsibility to contribute, to mend and to help build gender equity. We need ALL hands on deck. And so we need to educate our boys and girls equally.
Action Plan 3
Keep it age appropriate
These conversations are meant for children of every age. They don’t need to know every sordid detail but the key is to keep it age appropriate but more importantly keep the conversation going. For a young child it can be something like this, “A very powerful man made some very bad choices that made many women feel uncomfortable, powerless and terrible inside. He exposed his private body to them without their permission. For others, he touched their private bodies without their permission. He bullied them in a way that made them feel that they couldn’t tell anyone about it. It hurt them very much.”
These short videos which are cataloged by age-appropriateness can be a great resource to keep the conversation going on consent. Do remember to watch along side the child and be prepared to answer any question.
Action Plan 4
Be an ‘up-stander’
It is important to not just have a conversation about consent, but to be an up-stander. A ‘no’ is a no, there is no grey area. And that includes a child’s willingness to participate in hugs to aunts, uncles and other close relatives.
Do not let anyone make your child feel guilty of not wanting to give him or her a hug even if they gave a cool present. Subtle messages go a long way in cementing the idea of consent. When it comes to something as innocent as hugging or tickling, if the child does not want it then he or she is not obliged to participate in it. It is important for him or her to know that a child’s personal space is far more important than an adult’s feelings.
Action Plan 5
Teach your kids that authority figures can be bad.
Remember Larry Nasser, the former gymnastics coach who abused more than 160 women and girls and it went on for years. He is now sentenced to 175 years in prison but this brought forward stories of how he was surrounded by enablers. As a man whose office walls were plastered with olympics memorabilia he held a position of respect.
I am sorry about dragging his sorry name here. But if we are talking about actions we can take as parents to educate our children on consent this is a story we, as parents, should be aware of. Don’t let the seeds of self-doubt about consent grow in their little heads. Provide them ample room to question people of authority. Let them practice saying ‘no’.
Today, we have the ability to make a change, get involved and conduct ourselves in a more helpful manner. We can do just that as parents – and teach our children to do the same. We can bring the patriarchy down – one conversation at a time.
Priyanka is the Founder and CEO of PopSmartKids, a company created to foster social-emotional learning in children by effective use of technology. A graduate from Purdue University she left her career as a tech exec in 2018 to start a movement of redefining screentime from a monitored time to a powerful tool for mentoring our future generation. She is a mom to two clever boys and a big advocate of digital citizenship for children.