Consent is permission or an agreement for something to happen. Consent needs to be clear. When talking about consent, it is often used in reference to engaging in sexual activity. But it is more than that. More broadly, conversations around consent should be rooted in the idea that everyone has the right to own themselves.
For younger children, a good way to start conversations about consent is around the topic of sharing. In addition, empowering children to respect when a friend doesn’t want to share something or engage in forms of touching (like hugging) are great ways to incorporate the basics of consent into your conversations.
A helpful acronym developed by Planned Parenthood is to think of consent like FRIES:
F- Freely given
A person does not feel forced or made to say yes.
● Example: “If you give Grandma a kiss we can get ice cream.” That is not a consenting yes, because in order to get the ice cream you had to be talked into doing something you maybe didn’t want to do.
People have the right to change their minds at any point.
● Example: You agreed to a playdate with friends, but later decided you would rather stay home. You can change your mind at any point about the things you want and don’t want.
A person has to have all the information about a situation to decide if they want to do anything involving it.
● Example: You agreed to go to the park with your friend, but when you get there you realize the park is a splash pad and you don’t like splash pads. You might not have agreed to play with your friend if you knew it meant playing in the water.
For a yes to be a true yes, it has to be genuine. People may agree to do something, but are they happy to do it? Is there hesitation in their reply?
● Example: “ Yes! I will try going down the slide by myself!,” and “ Ugh, I am really scared to go down the slide by myself…but I guess I will do it.”
The first example is enthusiastic, while the second is not. The second example is also a good way to practice checking in with someone. In response to the second prompt, you could say, “Are you sure you want to go down the slide? If you do not want to, that is okay too.”
A person can agree to say “yes” to one thing and say “no” to another.
● Example: I can say “yes” to a hug, but that doesn’t mean that I want to be kissed on the cheek.
Talking about Consent at Different Stages
The way we talk to children and adolescents about consent is obviously going to be different. Throughout different developmental stages, it is important to emphasize with children and teens that they are the masters of their bodies and experiences. Empower them to know that they have the right to say yes and no when feeling unsafe.
Just as important to the conversation of consent is teaching children and teens to respect the boundaries that others set. If someone says no to something or shows that they are uncomfortable with something, it is not an invitation to try to convince them or coerce them into saying yes.