I got my ears pierced at 6 years old. My daughter is now 6 (almost 7) and has no interest in piercing hers yet, despite many of her friends having them done. I told her she can pierce them when she wants, if she wants; but that she never has to. She’s in charge of her own body, after all.
The concept of consent is one of the most important things we need to teach our kids — both our girls and our boys. Our children must learn that they are the bosses of their own bodies, and that they control who touches their bodies and what happens to their bodies. And that’s exactly the message of a recent PSA by the Girls Scouts of the USA that’s going viral.
Entitled “Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays”, the public service announcement reminds parents everywhere that forcing their girls to hug a relative — even if we think it’s “the polite thing to do” — sends the wrong message. The article opens by asking parents, “Have you ever insisted, ‘Uncle just got here — go give him a big hug!’ or ‘Auntie gave you that nice toy, go give her a kiss,’ when you were worried your child might not offer affection on her own?”
“If yes,” it continues, “you might want to reconsider the urge to do that in the future.”
The bottom line is this: Whether or not that seems harmless in the moment, teaching our kids they “owe” someone physical touch might actually lead to them to feel they “owe” physical touch to someone else at another time in their life. The GSA article also makes the important point that “consent” is not just an issue that pertains to high school students or even college kids. Consent is something we all need to teach our children from an early age, long before we send them out into the world on their own.
“The lessons girls learn when they’re young about setting physical boundaries and expecting them to be respected last a lifetime, and can influence how she feels about herself and her body as she gets older,” says Girl Scouts’ developmental psychologist Dr. Andrea Bastiani Archibald. “Plus, sadly, we know that some adults prey on children, and teaching your daughter about consent early on can help her understand her rights, know when lines are being crossed, and when to go to you for help.”
However, another important lesson to teach our kids is appreciation. GSA certainly knows this, and reminds parents that there are plenty of other ways to show “appreciation, thankfulness, and love” that don’t require physical contact of any kind.
“Saying how much she’s missed someone or thank you with a smile, a high-five, or even an air kiss are all ways she can express herself,” the PSA asserts, “and it’s important that she knows she gets to choose which feels most comfortable to her.”
I know it might seem innocent to urge your child to go hug Uncle Ed after he gives her a giant candy bar, but it really needs to be her decision. (Yes, even if she’s 4.) Sometimes my kids are super affectionate. Other times they aren’t, and want their space. Their bodies; their choice. This lesson has to start at a young age, so that if and when they are presented with a situation where their bodies or personal space is being threatened, they know the boundaries. They know who the boss is. They know about consent.