When sexuality educator Deanne Carson went on Australian news network ABC to talk about consent, her analogy completely took a turn.
To understand and teach children why consent matters, Carson told the broadcaster that parents, for example, should ask their babies for consent before changing their diapers.
“‘I’m going to change your nappy now, is this OK?’ Of course, the baby isn’t going to respond … but if you leave a space and wait for body language and wait to make eye contact then you’re letting that child know that their response matters,” she told ABC.
Parenting coach Julie Romanowski in Vancouver says the media attention around Carson’s comments has morphed the story into an unnecessary sexual discussion.
“It’s about dignity and respect – even at the youngest of ages, and even to those who are more vulnerable. The very word vulnerable means those who are not able to protect themselves fully. As a child advocate and specialist in children’s behaviour, it is important to protect our children but also teach them, as much as possible, how to protect themselves in the future.”
Romanowski adds with young children, it’s not always about sexual consent, but teaching the concept of it.
“The concept of your rights and protecting yourself at the earliest ages possible to help children learn the entire scope around sexual consent,” she continues. “By asking if it’s OK or simply letting the child know you are going to change them, allows the opportunity to build skills around body awareness and personal boundaries.”
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She adds in parenting, there have been many instances where parents should consider asking their child if they want to do something vs. insisting that they do it.
“Asking a child for a hug rather than insisting on one, is a form of respect for that person – no matter the age, big or small. It is proper etiquette and the greatest form of respect to their rights to their bodies and life.”
Social media users react
Carson’s comments have garnered all types of responses on social media.
“So if my child says no, I just let him wear a filthy nappy all day, then end up having to take him to the doctors for a UTI/nappy rash etc? I understand what you’re trying to say, but my boy wouldn’t understand, nor would he ever consent because I can barely get him to sit still long enough to even change him sometimes,” user Michelle Cunningham wrote on the Herald Sun’s Facebook page.
“This has the potential to be the dumbest thing said ever. Clearly never had a child in her care and if she has would love to have been there when she asked the baby the question. What an idiot,” user Nicholas Phillips said.
Others understand where she was coming from, but don’t agree with how it was brought up.
Some users stand by Carson’s remarks and others even talked about their own experiences with this situation.
“I am fully supportive of the idea of asking for consent to change a child’s nappy and giving them time to process the request. Well done for starting a difficult topic of conversation,” user Tamara Jose wrote.
“I don’t ask consent to change nappies. But as an early childhood educator responsible for changing the nappies of other people’s children, I do make a point of explaining to each child as I am taking them to the change room exactly what my intentions are and what will be occurring. Not because the child necessarily has a choice in the matter, but because I value the relationship I have with each child. The trust, the security, the communication, the routine… it’s all very important in nurturing the development of each child,” user Rebecca Clemson wrote on the Herald Sun’s Facebook page.
How to teach children consent
Mary Gordon, founder and president of Roots of Empathy in Toronto, says the organization uses similar methods when teaching young children the meanings of respect and consent.
The group works with children between the ages of five and 12 (as well as instructors, babies and their parents), to help these children observe the baby’s body language.
“The idea is you loop in the child’s experience,” she tells Global News. “‘When was the last time you felt frustrated like the baby? Or when were you angry like the baby?’ We are teaching children emotional literacy which is part of empathy.”
She adds sexual abuse is never brought up and while some children notice the baby can’t say “yes” or “no,” they also quickly figure out body cues through movement or facial expressions.
“The hope is the next generation will grow up and understand the rights of the child.”
READ MORE: 5 ways to teach your child about consent
She adds teaching children what consent is means teaching them respect, and normalizing a routine like changing diapers or putting on clothes helps parents (and other children in the household) get used to talking about it. It’s not so much about asking for permission, she says, but even saying what you are doing out loud.
Romanowski says the benefits of making children comfortable with the topic of consent early on will benefit everyone in the long run.
“By doing so, they develop that skill which can help them throughout life in troublesome situations and people they may encounter rather than just ‘give in to them because it’s the polite thing to do or you don’t want to upset anyone.'”