When I had my daughter Charlotte in 2015, I read parenting and milestone articles like crazy. I wanted to be “in the know” about everything so that I could be prepared for raising Charlotte in today’s culture. At that time, the Brock Turner case had just hit the news and I was feeling very scared and vulnerable raising a daughter. For those who do not remember, Brock Turner, a Stanford University freshman at the time, was convicted of assaulting an unconscious woman and was given a laughably light sentence for his crime. The rape case shocked the nation and as a new parent I was searching for a way to cope. That is when I came across this article, “Teaching Kids Body Privacy, Personal Agency, and Consent Begins While They’re in Diapers,” that completely changed my view on parenting, consent, and normalizing social behaviors.
The blog post, written by Adriel Booker, is about teaching your children body privacy, personal agency and consent from the beginning. It’s strange to think that toddlers have to give you consent to touch them, or that they have something called “personal agency.” They can barely speak, yet we’re supposed to give them control over their bodies? Parents usually make all the decisions for kids until they can vocalize their feelings, and even then, many of their opinions are ignored. For instance, your kids want ice cream for dinner? No. Your kids want to stay up and watch TV all night? Not happening. Your kids don’t want to wear that itchy sweater for Christmas photos? You have to.
What REALLY spoke to me in this article were the very simple concepts that get planted into children’s minds from an early age and how that can directly relate to how they make (or cannot make) decisions as teens and adults. For example, when family members come over and want to kiss or hug your child and your child doesn’t want to. In most cases, the parent usually forces the child to, right? It’s not polite to refuse and kids are forced to kiss/hug the adults. At that point, you as the parent are thinking about the social impoliteness to the family member. But what you are subliminally telling your child is that even if they do not feel comfortable kissing that person and they do not give consent, they will do it to be polite.
Fast forward to when those kids are teenagers or young adults. Some females are put in uncomfortable positions on a date, but they are afraid to say no. They do not want to be impolite nor do they want to make their date angry. So they go beyond their physical and personal boundaries to please others. Obviously this isn’t a 1 to 1 correlation in every case, but this concept definitely makes you take a step back and think. Had parents known about body agency, consent and body privacy, they could have taught their children alternative ways to greet someone within their comfort zone: a high-five, a wave, a simple “hello.” And as adults, maybe those same kids who are afraid to say no, will have learned to vocalize their body agency and say, “no thank you” when uncomfortable situations present themselves in adulthood.
Author, Adriel Booker, addressed something else that I loved: teaching your kids to read body language and signals. Not only should you be aware of your child’s personal agency, but you should teach them to recognize other people’s. In the instance that your child is on the playground, on a date or working at their first job, there is awareness of other people’s emotions, boundaries and privacy. I feel like our culture is so focused on what we want, that teaching our kids to recognize another person’s emotions and body language is invaluable.
One last thing I loved (and hope to do in my own home) is the section at the very end of the post that discusses the difference between surprises, secrets, and privacy. I love that this mom is intentionally trying to differentiate the three words so that she and her kids can have an open communication and speak to each other with confidence. I work at a four-year University and each year I go through a mandatory sexual harassment training for minors. It blows my mind how many minors will keep very serious secrets from their parents because they are scared or they do not have adults they can trust to confide in. Reading this last part in the blog post really impressed upon me how important it is to make sure that your kids understand what it means to have secrets, surprises and privacy in their lives. And that within a family, a sense of trust and open communication is vital in shaping how your child interacts with you and with others.
The author gave clear differences between secrets, privacy, and surprises. In the author’s family, they do not keep any secrets from each other, especially those that make the children feel uncomfortable. If someone asks them to keep something a secret and they feel uneasy, then it is definitely something they need to share with their parents. Surprises are when you are surprising dad with a birthday cake. You don’t want to spoil the surprise, but it is not a secret. Privacy is when mom and dad need to talk about something that is inappropriate for children so they need to talk “privately.” Differentiating these concepts to kids in the family helps clarify what must be communicated to the parents immediately and when children are allowed to keep something a “surprise.”
Charlotte is now 27 months and I constantly keep Booker’s blog post in mind during social situations and even in the way I speak to her at home. When grandma or a new person wants a kiss and Charlotte does not want to give one, I give her the body agency and respect she deserves. I teach her that she has to acknowledge the person, but she is not required to kiss or hug if she does not want to. Charlotte can say “hello,” give a high-five, blow a kiss, wave, or do anything that makes her feel comfortable. Yes, this may not make grandma or Aunt Sally happy, but it’s not about them; it’s about raising my daughter to feel comfortable in her own skin, to listen to her intuition, to feel confident to express herself, and most of all, give herself and others the respect their bodies and minds deserve. It’s pretty foreign to say, “may I give you a hug” or “may I hold your hand.” But the movement behind body agency and consent is to change the rape culture and the forced idea of “politeness.”
I am just starting my journey as a parent and as one that is intentionally teaching her daughter that her body is hers. It can be difficult and awkward when a family member or close friend insists on a kiss or hug, but I am confident that these issues pointed out by Adriel Booker and this article, will help our new generation be more mindful.