Members of Eau Claire Healthy Communities are working to make consent a commonplace topic of conversation between parents and kids no matter what their age.
“Some parents are hesitant to talk about consent, especially with very young children,” says Amanda Schumacher, Healthy Communities member and sexual assault program director at Family Support Center. “They might worry that the subject is too ‘adult’ or scary. But equipping kids with these skills early on can help to keep them safe, and to have great relationships throughout their life.”
Healthy Communities suggests parents take time during April, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, to learn age-appropriate ways of making consent a standard value in their home, at school, and in the community.
Here are some ideas to get started:
Preschool and Elementary Age
Explain that they have the right to decide whether and how they are touched. Do not force them to kiss or hug others, including family members, when they don’t want to. Offer other options for showing affection and affirmation, like a high-five or a thumbs-up.
Teach them to ask “Is it OK if…” before they do something physical with a friend, including activities such as roughhousing or tickling.
Support them in saying no and accepting no as an answer. Work together to suggest ways of enjoying time with friends and loved ones that also respect boundaries.
Middle School Age
Help them identify their boundaries. What things are important to them? What things aren’t comfortable for them? How can they clearly communicate their values to others?
Demonstrate how to show respect for others’ boundaries. Point out that it isn’t OK to keep pressuring someone after they’ve said no. Explain the difference between a lack of response and an enthusiastic response.
Remind them that consent can be given and taken away. Just because consent was given on one occasion does not mean it is valid forever. Consent can be reversed.
High School Age
Let them know that understanding consent is one of the most important skills to have when making decisions about dating and sex. Reinforce previous messages about consent in a straightforward way that specifically mentions sexual health. Talk about the impact of drug and alcohol use on their ability to communicate with their partner and know whether consent has been freely given.
Young people learn from the world around them, so beyond talking about consent, adults really have to model these behaviors as well,” says Healthy Communities member Abby Hinz, a public health nurse.
To strengthen parents’ confidence in tackling these conversations, Healthy Communities has created a Healthy Relationships Toolkit with local and national resources. It can be found at echealthycommunities.org. To learn more about Eau Claire Healthy Communities or to get involved in efforts around healthy relationship promotion, visit echealthycommunities.org.