Why Consent Needs to Be Taught Young
Immediately in life, we begin to learn about our environment. This applies not only to earth, wind, sea, and fire, but also to the language of our culture and the norms we are expected to follow, which become engrained in us, impacting every stage of our lives.
This allows people to easily navigate society. But what happens when this early socialization leads to harm down the line? Think of when children are taught that if someone picks on you, it’s because they like you. As those who are bullied get older, this belief can increase tolerance of abuse in romantic courtship and relationships. Furthermore, as those accused get older, they base society’s tolerance of their earlier behavior to form the belief that it is acceptable to push your interest on someone in a forceful manner.
When trying to relearn behaviors such as these at a later age, people have to actively reprogram themselves and erase years of socialized habits. Learning the proper behaviors earlier in development would truly allow it to become a norm.
With this, we enter the topic of affirmative consent. For those who aren’t familiar, affirmative consent is explicit, informed, and voluntary agreement to participate in a sexual act. This helps to protect rape victims in cases where the perpetrator would claim innocence due to lack of overt resistance.
In teaching this behavior to college students, we are trying to re-program them years too late. They may have started participating in sexual intercourse in high school, have had their first kiss middle school, and so forth. That is a lot of time to be adapting to a certain mode of behavior.
To truly make consent an expected norm, this behavior needs to be taught early on. Think of when students receive sexual education. Affirmative consent could be included in the agenda to cover this form of safety (in the way they do with condoms and STD testing).
Teachers can then model this type of behavior. They can show what it is like to ask someone to hold their hand instead of just grabbing it and how to ask permission to kiss someone for the first time. As these children grow older into high school and beyond, they can then fully understand and apply these examples, since they have an understanding of the concepts.
Yes, it is important to teach adults this now. But if we truly want this to be a consistent norm for generations to come, we need to teach them young. From asking how to borrow a crayon to asking how to hold a hand.
Also published on Medium.