Today I want to remind everyone about the idea of teaching consent from a young age. I say remind because this is not a new idea and the topic of consent has, thankfully, blown up in the mainstream as of recently. Over the last few years or so I’ve referenced other writer’s very thorough and well written thoughts on the subject and I’ve also had many conversations directly with teenage clients and parents of child clients about the topic of consent.
It can often be a thin line between being rude to Grandma by not giving her a “welcome” hug and following your inner guide about what you accept and don’t accept in regards to treatment of your body. To cut to the chase, if kids don’t want to give hugs or kisses, they shouldn’t be forced to. Ask before you do so to them. This also means teaching kids to ask others before they kiss, hug, or touch another person.
Let’s take this idea a little further: This advice is not meant to create a sterile environment where we tiptoe and walk on eggshells about showing affection or care to others. This is about the underlying idea of empathy. There are many ways to show care and physical touch does not have to be included. If you truly want to help someone else, ask the person what you can do to help them. Often times we see someone expressing a negative emotion and the first desire we have is to stop that negative emotion, or in other words, we take control of the situation. We may do so by hugging or touching in some way with a rub on the shoulder or back. Obviously this is a gesture of care. But it also communicates ‘I don’t want you to feel bad’ or ‘I am uncomfortable with your negative emotions’. So, the real desire is to stop the negative emotions in the self rather than the other person. Expression of and tolerance for negative emotions is very important, but that’s another topic for another time.
During physical touch, like hugs, the brain releases chemicals, one of which being oxytocin. You may know this chemical as the bonding hormone which causes people to feel closer to each other. This chemical also lowers blood pressure and reduces stress and anxiety. There is lots of evidence that shows that physical touch and hugs are beneficial for our health for these reasons. But only if it is wanted. When we are looking to console another person, we’re likely not thinking about the chemical reactions happening in our brain and body. And because of those automatic reactions in our brain, we need to be more aware of being in control of our behavior. To take it even further, sexual assault is never about sex and always about controlling the other person. Teaching children from a young age about asking for consent to physically engage with another person is the first step to addressing the culture of sexual violence in our society. Yes, I went there. That’s how quickly it happens. We have to address consent with our children now.
Below are some links to some interesting blogs related to this topic. There are SO many out there and these are just a few!