As parents and caring adults*, we play an important role in the lives of children. Have you ever seen a kid imitate someone? Children are great imitators, and this reflects a profound truth about how they learn – by seeing what you do and how you act. The formative years of childhood provide an opportunity to model positive behaviors and attitudes, which can help create a world free of sexual violence for future generations.
So how can we embrace our voice as caring adults and work to create safe communities? Here are a few suggestions:
keep your foot on the gas + keep learning
Parenting is a lifelong learning journey – we know children don’t come with an instructional manual! Along with celebrating milestones like birthdays and school graduations, consider learning about milestones in healthy childhood sexuality development. By understanding what is developmentally appropriate, we are better equipped to support healthy attitudes and behaviors.
You can share information on prevention with kids without ever bringing up sex. Teaching children to ask permission to touch someone or giving them opportunity to say “yes” or “no” in everyday choices (“What do you want to wear?” “Do you want to keep playing this game or stop?”) can help them understand consent and their right to have their own voice be heard.
Get started with these great resources:
There are millions of teachable moments over the lifespan of childhood and beyond. Many of them can present an opportunity to engage in conversations about sexuality, healthy boundaries, character, and values. Children will carry the messages we send them as trusted caring adults – intentionally or not – into their adulthood. Let’s ensure those messages are positive messages. Children should hear from you on what consent or healthy boundaries looks like before they become young adults and start navigating sexual consent and relationships.
How can we start those conversations? Here are resources on talking to kids about consent and healthy boundaries:
- 100 Conversations is a resource to support adults in having “the talk” with children they care about. It interweaves conversations around the mechanics of sex with body positivity, consent, gender and identity, and more. Embrace your voice and advocate with other adults who are part of your children’s life;
- Amaze catalogs videos that provide “medically accurate, affirming, and honest sexual health information” aimed at adolescents and their parents;
- The Parents Sex Ed Center, via Advocates for Youth, offers more guidance on interweaving conversations around sex, consent, and boundaries with children;
- The National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s (NSVRC’s) fact sheets on healthy sexual development in childhood offers more discussion points and case examples of conversations about consent.
Remember, we don’t have to have all the answers. The key is to keep talking and keep listening!
Consent means asking permission for something to happen or agreeing to do something. Just as we teach our child to ask before taking someone else’s toys, we can teach them to ask for permission before touching or embracing someone. Children learn so much about their own bodily autonomy (the notion that your body belongs to you alone!) during their formative years. We can teach them that their body belongs to them and give them permission to display affection how they choose to (maybe hugs for some folks, kisses for others, high fives for the neighbors, and waves for cousins) and/or say no to physical contact if they’re uncomfortable. We can talk to them about affirming and healthy relationships. We can also teach them to think critically about the media they consume and how it depicts consent, relationships, and equity.
* A note on how we are defining parents. We are using parents to describe caring adults. This can be biological, legal, social, or emotional. NJCASA recognizes and celebrates the many ways by which people define family and their role within it.
This publication was made possible via a grant from the New Jersey Department of Children and Families’ Division on Women. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Department of Children and Families’ Division on Women.