Inside: Teaching consent to kids doesn't have to be hard. For young kids it is about boundaries and keeping safe. For teens it is about understanding sexual consent.
With all the stories about non-consensual sex and rape in the media lately, you aren't alone if you have started to think about how to go about teaching consent to kids.
As a parent, how do you go about keeping your kids safe and teaching them the subtle nuances of sexual consent? Is this something that you start teaching early or do you wait until they are teenagers? And what exactly do you teach them?
Teaching consent to kids is a lesson that needs to start early. It is as relevant in the playground as it is at the unchaperoned Friday night party.
You’ll find more information about sex education in my Sex Education 101 page.
First of all, what is consent? Simply, it is the act of giving permission.
For younger kids, from the age of 2-3, we are talking about general consent about bodies. ‘Do you want to kiss Grandma‘ when she comes to visit instead of forcing them to kiss Grandma. Is it okay to hug your friends without their permission? It is about learning that ‘no means no‘ in regards to themselves and other people. We don’t talk about sexual consent until it is relevant.
The cup of tea consent video provides a simplified description of what consent means for young children. For young kids,it is about learning how to keep their bodies safe now, waaaay before they even start thinking about being sexually active. It is all about learning the concepts of consent.
If we are talking about teenagers, we are talking about sexual consent. Sexual consent is not just a simple yes or no. Consent can be given and then removed. Partial consent may be given for one thing but not another. Is consent valid if it is given whilst under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Consent may have been given last week but not today.
The original cup of tea video provides a simplified description of sexual consent for teenagers. This video has been doing the social media rounds for a while, and uses the analogy of a cup of tea.
Amaze also has a playlist of their Consent videos on Youtube.
So, why do we need to be teaching consent to kids? Simply, because we want to keep them safe.
We want our kids to grow up knowing that they are the boss of their own body. That they have the right to say what does and doesn’t happen to their body. And to respect that in others too.
This is something that is useful in the playground, in the schoolyard, in the workforce, and in everyday life.
Teaching our kids about consent is not just one conversation. It is a lifelong discussion that starts when your child is young and it continues throughout their childhood and well into young adulthood.
How many times do you need to tell your child to pick up their towel off the bathroom floor? Or to unpack their lunchbox?Or to…
Kids sometimes take a while to learn new things. Plus they have a lot of stuff to learn! So the sooner you start teaching them the foundations of what consent is, the sooner they will understand and remember the message. Which means that they will have a really good understanding of what consent is by the time they need to navigate it sexually!
So the sooner that you start talking, the sooner your child will ‘get it’!
So, what do you need to start talking about, when it comes to teaching consent to kids?
I have also outlined the main talking points of consent in this video.
With younger children, it is about:
All of these messages will need to be repeated many times before they sink in. But when they do finally sink in, your child will remember them.
This is the age when you start talking consent in more detail, because for the first time, your child is now starting to navigate sex for the first time. So we need to start talking about consent in the sexual setting.
The last thing that any parent wants to see, is their child up on rape charges or being the victim of rape! You might have a pretty good teen but throw them into a group of peers, and they are likely to do stuff that they would never normally do. Which is why we need to make sure that they have a really good understanding of consent.
Don’t forget that when teaching consent to kids, that their teen brain is still developing, which means that they still don’t see things in a 100% adult way. Plus they don’t have the added advantage of personal experience to draw on. Do you remember that saying? Once bitten – twice shy?’ Teens can’t always reflect back on what has already happened to them (or their friends), and learn by their mistakes. They just don’t have the life experiences that we have. Plus, we don’t really want them to be learning by their sexual mistakes, as the consequences can be pretty serious ie sexual assault, pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
So when it comes to teaching consent to kids, it is important that tweens and teens understand:
As a parent, it is important that your teen has a good understanding of consent and that they understand that consent is more than just saying yes. Their partner may consent to sex but is that consent valid if they are under the influence of alcohol? Consent is more than just a simple yes or no. And in the world today, it is more important than ever before that tweens and teens understand this.
So, what do you need to start talking about, when it comes to teaching consent to tweens and teens?
With these older kids, you can:
There are some fantastic children’s books out that, that help with teaching consent to kids.
My mission is to create resources that will help you to naturally talk to your kids about sex, all while respecting your personal values.
Which means that inside this website, you'll find lots of resources to help you with talking to your child about love, sex, relationships and growing up.
My Sex Education 101 page includes all of the information on sex education. You'll find lots of different blogposts to help with getting started, on a wide range of different topics.
You'll find videos about sex ed in my Sex Education Videos resource page that you can watch with your child or to learn more about sex education yourself.
You’ll also find an extensive range of sex education books for children, for kids of all ages. There's even some books in there for parents!
If you're looking for some ideas on how to talk to your child about bodies, How to Talk to Kids About Bodies, will help you to start naming the private body parts and to have shame-free conversations with them about bodies. It is filled with lots of different ideas on how to have natural converasations with your child about their body.
You'll also find some child friendly anatomically-correct cartoon illustrations of the genitals and internal reproductive organs that are appropriate for children from the age of 3 and up. Let's Look at Different Body Parts is a printable that will help take the awkward out of talking to your child about their body, so they grow up feeling educated, confident, and comfortable in their own skin.
If you need some help with explaining sexual intercourse to your child, then How to Talk to Kids About Sex, will help you explain sex to your child in a way they will understand. It breaks it down into simple steps that take the stress out of explaining!
If you're unsure about how to answer your child's questions about sex, then I have a number of different resources that will give you word-for-word answers that are age specific.
If you want a printed book to hold in your hands, then the The Sex Education Answer Book will give you age-specific answers to the most common questions kid's ask parents about sex. Which means you don't need to worry about finding a child-friendly explanation that your child understands.
If you want the answers to questions about a lot more than just sex, then Sex Ed Quickies is your best option. It has answers to 300+ questions that kids commonly ask parents, including how babies are made, sexual intercourse, body parts, puberty, relationships, pregnancy, birth, masturbation, sexual diversity, gender, pornography, STIs, contraception and much more.
I'm Cath, a sex educator living in Australia with my husband and 2 kids. I help parents to talk about sex (with less cringe and more confidence) and empower their child to make smart sexual decisions. To find a better way to talk about sex, you can join my community of parents and visit my shop for helpful resources.