Learning about boundaries and consent is a process that takes place over many years. Here’s what it looks like at different ages.
In the words of a two-year-old child, whose mother has been teaching body-safety concepts for over a year, “My vagina is mine!”
Toddler to Tween:
Mom to her Mother: “I know you love to hug the boys, but we’re teaching them that they get to choose if and when they give and receive hugs, so they know that if they are ever uncomfortable with touch from anyone, they have our permission to refuse.”
“My five-year old son was having his annual physical and did not want the doctor to examine his genitals. After reminding him that because I was with him in the room, and it was part of a health check, it would be okay if he agreed. My son did not agree, so we passed on that part of the exam this time and will try again next time.”
(Note: There are times, of course, when you would have to reassure you child and go forward with the genital exam if there is a medical concern. And yes, there are times when children’s bodies need to be touched for a variety of other medical reasons when they have not given permission (e.g., medication in ears, shots or even putting sunblock on when a child refuses); however, there are also times when honoring a child’s lack of permission is an excellent reinforcement in teaching consent.
Four to five years old
“My husband and I were out on a date and when we came home, our sitter told us that she was giving our son a bath and he said, ‘No one is allowed to touch my private parts, so I will wash my own butt.’ Our sitter knows our family’s body-safety rules and respected our son’s boundaries.”
Eight or more years old
“My eleven-year old was at a sleepover party and a couple of the kids suggested looking at porn on their phones. My child was uncomfortable but worried about refusing because of the peer pressure. In the end he said to his friends, ‘That stuff is not real and it’s illegal, and I don’t want to look.’ I think he was able to refuse because of our many talks about not compromising himself for others.”
Tween and teen
“I am comfortable kissing and nothing else for now.”
Adult Committed Partners:
“I know tonight is ‘date night’ but I’m really just in the mood to watch a movie and give each other back rubs. Is that okay with you?”