I’m not a parent myself (but am an uncle), but I do often read articles about parenting and behaviour modification. Partly because I might actually learn something from it, and partly because I’m always asking myself “what could I be doing better?”.
I think most parents genuinely “try their best”. No one is really given a manual, and some of us had some pretty poor examples to work from. You can read parenting books, which most likely won’t hurt, but even still, no parent is going to be perfect, and everyone is going to have days where they lose their composure and don’t make the best choices.
That said, I did just stumble across this article on Everyday Feminism, called “4 Ways Parents Teach Kids That Consent Doesn’t Matter”. It is quite interesting. Some of you might react with the sentiment “this writer is over-thinking it!”, but the more I read about sociology and the true emotional roots underneath behaviours (and thus why certain CBTs work and others don’t), the more I think most people may be under-thinking it.
Anyway, here’s a brief run down of the article:
The first is tickling and other types of roughhouse play. Now, I think that tickling and being silly and pretending to eat my kids’ feet is one of the greatest parenting skills out there. So, I definitely don’t really think that tickling is bad or roughhousing is bad.
I think the important thing is that the minute your kid says “no,” you stop. Even if you know they are kidding, teach them that “no” means the other person will stop. They’ll learn both that their “no” matters, and they’ll learn that if someone says no to them, that they should immediately listen.
Now, with my kids I know if they say no and I stop, they’ll come and put their foot back in my mouth, because they don’t really mean “no,” they want me to keep chewing, it was just a game. Or they’ll pull the shirt up again and ask me to tickle. And that’s fine, so we keep going on. But I do immediately listen to the word “no”.
So, remember to stop periodically and “check in”. I’ve heard the same advice given a fair bit for healthy relationships – check in with each other at regular intervals and ask what’s good, what’s bad and what could be better. Similar idea here – give your kids a chance to tell you if they want to keep doing something. That will teach them that they have a choice, and that they are allowed to not want to.
The second way that we sometimes teach kids that consent doesn’t matter is by contradicting their feelings. I think this is a huge problem because it just comes so naturally. I’ve talked about this before where a kid says “I’m cold” and we say “No you’re not, it’s hot in here” or “I’m hungry”, “No you’re not, you just ate.” “I’m tired”, “No you aren’t, you just got up from your nap.” I think that we, in our minds as parents, we know “What? Why are they saying this? She can’t be hungry, she just ate.”
But by saying so, we teach them not to trust their own instincts and their own feelings, and then these are feelings that we want them to trust when they’re in their twenties and they’re in a situation that they are not feeling comfortable with, we want them to trust their gut reaction.
So, instead of contradicting kids, we can just ask them an open-ended in a neutral way. So, when your child says “It’s cold in here”, you can say “Is it? I’m kind of hot in here.”
I think I’ve noticed my sister do this with her son. All too often adults will tell kids things in a matter of fact manner which re-inforces the idea that they always have to do what they’re told. We inadvertently train and program them to be purely obedient and not develop healthy free will or sense of personal awareness and exploration.
Really, this comes down to a subtle change in the way you phrase your response, but that small difference matters. That’s something I have been learning about and trying to implement here – avoiding negative or critical phrasing, sticking to neutral or positive word choices when I can.
The third way that we sometimes teach kids that consent isn’t important, is through forced hugs and kisses, and this is all in the guise of teaching politeness. We want them to give Uncle Joe a hug and a kiss when you see him because he is their elder and it is important to respect him in that way and because he wants a hug and a kiss, regardless of how your child is feeling. And the idea being that if they don’t go give Uncle Joe a hug and a kiss, it reflects poorly on you, that your kids are rude or standoffish or whatever. And we worry about that as parents, and so then we end up, you know, whether it’s by force or coercion, getting our kids to hug and kiss someone that they don’t want to.
This is a huge red flag. You know, we don’t want our teen daughters or teen sons to be in a sexual situation where they are feeling like they don’t really want to continue. But they feel like they can’t say anything because they have come as far and it would be rude to stop, or that type of thing.
So, it’s very important not to make your kids hug and kiss or shake hands or anything like that, you know. You know Uncle Joe, you saw him last year and if Uncle Joe asks for a hug and kiss, you can say “Do you wanna give him a hug and kiss or just wave hi?” And then have a wave hi or blow a kiss, whatever is comfortable
I have a family member who is older, and who likes to hug everyone and also kiss on the lips. I only started openly resisting/avoiding this a few years back, because I really wasn’t comfortable with it, but I lived with that person at one point, and at that time I didn’t feel I could say no. So I can relate to this one. It comes down to not forcing anyone to engage with another person in a way that they don’t want to.
The last point comes down to the partially flawed idea of respecting your elders, no matter what, which I basically agree with the author on. There is a certain level of respect that you do have to give to elders and figures of authority, but as long as you are still polite and respectful on a base level, you don’t have to completely bow down to anyone who is bigger or older than you, period. The distinction needs to be made clear to kids so they know the difference.
On a semi-related note, I just finished reading the chapter about Dogs in Temple Grandin’s book “Animals Make Us Human”, and I was really blown away by how much raising a dog well is like raising a child (seriously). Dogs are very social and emotional and require a lot of social attention and need to be trained to control their impulses and moderate their emotions and to have patience. She writes that dogs that bark at everyone and everything, and misbehave a lot, are often poorly raised/trained, and emotionally immature. In human terms, we might call that a “brat”.
So, I think this is worth thinking about and that if we properly factor these things in, we will have happy, healthy, consenting, respectful kids.
Here is the video included in the post about these ideas: