[Content note: rape]
All of these issues are matters of consent that we are teaching children about, whether we realise it or not. When you say to a child "Give your granny a kiss or she'll feel sad and think you don't love her any more." you're teaching your child that it's okay for people to emotionally blackmail you into physical contact, or that it's an acceptable thing to do to other people. When you keep tickling a child because you love the sound of their laughter you're teaching them that if you're bigger and stronger then it's okay to restrain someone and do things to them even though they're asking you not to.
As a parent to two young boys I am especially aware of these lessons. Messages about rape prevention are usually phrased as "Don't Get Raped", but I have the opportunity to teach "Don't Rape" instead. Obviously they're a little young for being told about actual rape yet, but there are things that Andy and I do that teach them positive messages about consent.
- If you're tickling someone and they say stop, you stop immediately.
- You ask before you hug or kiss someone, or climb on their lap.
- If someone asks you to hug, kiss, or touch them and you don't want to, you are absolutely allowed to say no, and to enforce that no by pushing them away if you have to. Surprisingly this doesn't mean that they've ended up smacking the crap out of a grandparent for being too pushy with the hugs.
- When they're in the bath we hand them the sponge and tell them they can ask if they need any help. We never wash any part of them without their permission.
- If they ask for privacy when using the bathroom we let them have it, and the same goes for getting undressed.
- We ask their permission before taking photos of them. If they're doing something and we don't want to disturb them we'll take the photo and ask later if they are happy for us to keep it.
- We never upload photos to social media sites without their permission, and we never upload them to anywhere publicly accessible.
Adam and Jack are only young children at the moment so these rules will obviously change as they get older, but they're a good starting point for teaching them that they have to respect other people's personal space. It might sound like our house is devoid of hugs and physical affection, but I assure you that the opposite is true. Adam and Jack are extraordinarily affectionate, particularly Jack, but they know what the boundaries are, and they don't cross them.
At 4 and 7 years old they already understand the meaning of "No" with regards to physical contact, so why the hell do so many grown men have such a problem with it?