By Trish Allison
Thanks to the recent, long-overdue disclosure of rampant misogyny, ‘consent’ has finally become a recognized value that needs to be taught to our children. One way to teach consent to children is to explain it at a very basic level by defining respect, then self-respect, then boundaries.
Let’s start with respect. But before you start your discussion with your daughter, keep in mind that when kids sense the important adults in their lives want to have a ‘conversation,’ they can sometimes feel like they’ve done something wrong.
That said, it’s important for you to tell your daughter as soon as she knows you want to talk about something important that you’re not angry with her. This will hopefully prevent her from spending the entire conversation trying to figure out what she did wrong.
You could start the conversation by saying something like:
Once you feel like she understands that you’re not mad at her, define ‘respect’ together. Start by giving her a compliment by saying something like:
I know you already know what respect is. For starters, it’s things like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ And I know you already know that respect goes beyond just saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’
To me, respect is a way of treating or thinking about something or someone. If you respect your teacher, you admire her and treat her well. If you respect your friend, you regard her highly and treat her with consideration.
Hopefully, she’ll chime in here and add her own examples of respect, like ‘asking permission to borrow something’ or ‘letting someone finish speaking even if you already know the answer.’
If she doesn’t contribute and needs more time to join the conversation, you could continue offering your own ideas about what respect is. Try to tailor your ideas to match activities in her life.
‘To me, respect is not interrupting the teacher’ or ‘not borrowing someone’s sweater without asking.’
Keep it simple. Talking about it with her on a level that she understands will greatly increase the odds that the concept sinks in. If you start throwing around terms like ‘sexual assault’ and ‘social injustice,’ she’s likely to tune out.
The more she feels like she’s part of the conversation, and not being lectured, the more ownership she’ll feel for the subject matter. And the more ownership she feels, the likelier it is that she’ll be able to assimilate what she learns from you and apply it to scenarios in her own life.
Keep the conversation going by defining respect together. Try to get her to expand on your examples. Then expand on her examples so it starts to feel like a two-way conversation.
Here are some more ideas for defining respect together:
- Think of someone who is respectful and talk about why they would be a good friend.
- Think of things people say who are respectful. Here are a few: ‘please’ ‘thank you’ ‘I appreciate that’ ‘may I hold the door for you?’ ‘excuse me’ ‘I’m sorry I offended you’.
- ‘Respect for belongings’ is a big issue at the pre-teen age. You could try to integrate it into the conversation especially if you’re having a hard time getting things started. If you are the target of her ‘respect for belongings’ frustration (e.g. you borrowed something from her without asking), listen attentively to her feelings, make eye contact, and tell her you’ll pay more attention to the problem and work on improving.
- Watch a TV show together, point out examples of respect and/or disrespect, and discuss reasoning. Do the same thing when you are out doing errands together. (store clerks? parking etiquette? check-out line?)
- Think of ways to show respect that connect with her interests. For example, if she’s interested in climate change, think of examples (together!) that respect the environment. Recycling? Reducing carbon emissions? Look up Rachel Carson and/or Laurie David on Wikipedia and talk about how they respect our earth.
Try to make sure she has a good foundation for understanding respect before progressing to ‘self-respect.’
Stay tuned for part 2 (‘Connecting respect and self-respect’) of “How to Help Your Daughter Understand Consent.” Trish Allison is the founder and writer of the P.I.N.K. Backpack gender-equality book series for parents. Visit her website at http://www.pink-backpack.com