Your body, your choice: children should be taught consent from a young age

Consent is important with all matters of the body


Lily Stickley, Feature Editor

Imagine you are a child seeing family you haven’t seen in years, or have never seen before, and your aunt Margaret comes over to you and your parents and asks you to give her a hug. She’s being all, “Come here deary give your dear old aunty Margaret a hug,” but you don’t really know aunty Margaret. However, your parents force you to hug her anyway. It ends up being one of those awkward hugs–you can tell one participant does not want to hug.

Recently there has been a large movement of young parents who are no longer forcing their children to hug people if the child is uncomfortable with it. This is a part of the growing trend to teach children consent from a very young age. This also includes a growing trend of encouraging children to say when they are uncomfortable with something. 

Consent within the context of the story is when someone gives permission to be touched. Consent is a super-important thing for everyone to learn, especially starting from a young age. It’s important for children to understand that consent works both ways. One of the easiest ways to teach the guidelines of consent to young children is with hugs. 

A lot of people grew up being told to give family members hugs, even if they didn’t know the person that well or really at all. A lot of children were not taught about consent till quite a while afterwards. This can have a major impact later in a child’s life because they will not understand the importance of consent and could allow someone to do something they are not actually okay with.

Hugs and handshakes are one of the easiest ways to teach about consent. I collected answers in a survey that I sent out to many teachers and students. Of the 28 people who answered my story, 22 people believe teaching children that they don’t have to hug people teaches them about setting healthy boundaries and giving consent. 

“I cannot emphasize how important it is for kids to learn consent. There are people out there who do not understand consent and think ‘no’ means ‘yes’. People get hurt, raped, sexually assaulted because some people don’t understand what consent is and that ‘no’ means ‘no,’” junior Libby McFarlen said. “Teaching your kids consent, and it goes both ways with the parents too, is very very important. Kids need to understand this concept so that way, they can keep themselves and others safe.”

Being taught consent needs to start somewhere, and hugging is something simple that everyone has done. So it is a simple thing to be taught.

When I was a child I loved to hug people, and I did not understand that not everyone wanted to hug. But understanding that is super important. 

“Body autonomy is important. It’s something to teach your children early on so they know that it’s okay to say no if they’re not comfortable. It may be somebody you trust, but the child doesn’t know them. If you teach a child that they have to allow people to hug them when they’re uncomfortable, they’ll more likely let things slide later because they were taught to,” said senior Mackenzie Sackett. 

This idea of not forcing children to hug people and encouraging them to stand up for themselves when they are made uncomfortable has even been on mainstream television. On the show “Jane the Virgin,” Chapter Eighty-Four, two of the children are fighting, Mateo and Anna. Mateo hits Anna and she stands up and says, “Do not touch my body!” Anna’s mother, Petra, encourages Anna’s behavior by saying “Good girl, Anna.” 

By encouraging Anna’s behavior, Petra is helping Anna learn about consent, and learn that touching someone’s body without their consent is not okay. These boundaries include hitting, hugging or anything that could be considered intimate.

Children should know that they are able to say no to anything that they are uncomfortable with. Children should also know that if someone says no, they have to stop what they are doing because it is not okay. Consent should not be a foreign concept to anyone, and it needs to be taught to people from a very young age.