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7 Ways of Teaching about Consent to Boys

In the month of March where the world celebrate International Women's Day, Cactus Foundation highlights it's unique and crucial initiative of *Key to Change - Raise Responsible Boys* 

Empowering women is just one end of the spectrum to end gender based violence, another very important and ignored aspect of this fight is to raise males to step outside of the toxic standards set for them of looking at females as inferior to them. 

Key to Change suggests 12 Action Points that can be put to use by families and parents to Raise Responsible Boys. This blog post addresses in detail, action point no. 9.

Have you ever filled out your child's consent form for a school excursion? Or have you filled out one before proceeding with a line of treatment your doctor suggested for you? Whatever may be the case, one thing is for sure, CONSENT goes beyond agreement on papers and is more relevant to your daily life than you'd like to think. So, what do you think defines consent? Consent is a clear agreement between individuals or parties involved. It must be specific, voluntary, sober, ongoing, informed and affirmative. It must be maintained not only in the real world but also in the online one. 

In recent years, consent has become a hot topic and an important conversation to have in our society. However, it’s not just about teaching girls and women to say no, it’s equally as important to teach boys and men to understand what consent really means and how to practice it in their everyday lives. This is especially crucial as toxic masculinity and rape culture continue to be prevalent in our society. As a parent or caregiver, one of the most important things you can do for the future generation is to teach them about respect and consent in relationships. In this blog post, we present to you, 7 ways in which you can teach children, especially boys about consent.

  1. Be the ROLE MODEL

When it comes to teaching your kids about consent, actions speak louder than words. And the best way to model healthy boundaries is by seeking permission before touching someone or their belongings. For instance, if you want to give your child a hug, ask them first if that's okay. Or if you want to borrow a pencil from their bag, ask their permission before reaching into their personal space. And let's not forget - always seek permission to kiss them! Not only does this show them that you value their personal space and belongings, but it also teaches them an important lesson: everyone deserves to have control over their own body and space. By starting these habits early on, your child will grow up with a respect for others' personal boundaries and realizing the importance of consent. It's a small step, but it can go a long way in helping them develop a habit of seeking permission before acting. Ultimately, this habit can help them make better choices and avoid negative consequences in their future relationships. Let's create a culture of consent, one action at a time!

2.UPDATE conversations around consent

It is essential for parents to understand that the conversation about consent does not end after one discussion. Consent is not a one time solution or concept but an ongoing training process. As children grow and develop, parents must continue to reinforce the concepts of respect, boundaries, and positive consent. This means that, as children progress from kindergarten to being teenagers, there may be changes in their understanding of boundaries and what they feel comfortable with. For example, a five-year-old may not fully understand what it means when someone asks for a hug, while a teenager may be more aware of the nuances involved in navigating physical intimacy

Starting at kindergarten, it's important to teach boys that they can't touch or speak to anyone without permission. It's essential to reinforce this message consistently so that by the time they become teenagers, their understanding of consent and respect is already ingrained. As they get older, there are more complexities involved in interactions with others, which is why it's important to update their understanding of consent. We need to teach them about different types of consent such as verbal and non-verbal cues, and how to recognize situations where someone might not be able to give their consent. As such, it's crucial to talk openly and honestly about what consent means at different ages and stages of development.

3.The importance of EVERYDAY consent

“Do you think we need to wash your hair today?” “Are you ready for it?” Have you ever asked these questions to your child? And what he says no, how would you handle it? Can this be considered an example of consent? Well, yes.

Most people quite superficially equate consent with sexual intimacy or something more formal as consent to a line of treatment(mentioned previously). However, consent is also associated with property, objects and reputation. Most importantly it is present in the simplest things of our daily lives that we often ignore. Inculcating the value and habit of consent from an early age is essential to create a culture of respect, equality, and safety. 

4.CHALLENGE the notions about consent

As discussed previously, there are a lot of misconceptions around consent as a topic. Some narrowly associate and restrict it to the realm of sexual relationships. While some think that it's only applicable to formal processes on paper. Most people think that once consent is given it can't be taken back. And, the biggest misconception is that silence means a yes. 

This concept also has out of proportion associations with gender. As parents and caregivers it's important to remember that consent is not gender specific and no is a no regardless of gender. One of the most important things we can do when it comes to teaching children about consent is to empower boys and men to play an active role in creating a culture of respect. It's crucial that they learn that consent is not something to be taken for granted, but rather something that should be given and received respectfully and clearly. This means challenging the outdated and harmful notions that still persist in our society - like the idea that "boys will be boys" and that "no means yes." 

5.Teach them to say NO

The word no involves hidden power dynamics and can also lead to terrible consequences. If you as an adult find it hard to disagree with someone, think about your kids who are still in the process of figuring out their values. Saying no to a physical touch from an adult who is in an authoritative position can be incredibly hard for young minds. They might even go with the thinking that adults are always right. On the other hand as a teen, the child faces considerable peer pressure, societal pressure and has to challenge a lot of unhealthy stereotypes and beliefs that have been reinforced since their childhood. Most boys might even eve-tease, harass or sexually abuse someone just out of group pressure. So as a parent or caregiver, it's your responsibility to equip them with the skills of resistance. Teach them to not be a mere bystander to wrongdoings committed against oneself or other people. And, give them the reassurance of a supportive backup in case things go out of control.

6.Teach them to stay true to their VALUES of consent

When saying no to a person or situation seems challenging, ask your child to respect their values of consent. Encourage open communication and teach them to assert their boundaries confidently without feeling guilty or ashamed and to trust their instincts. As a parent, it's your responsibility to ensure that your kid knows that their body is theirs alone, and that they have the right to say "no" when they're uncomfortable or feel unsafe. Make them understand that being a bystander to wrongdoings in their class or in their friend circle does not mean that they are safe. And when you stand up for people, you stand up for yourself and vice-versa. By doing so, you're empowering your child to become a confident individual. By staying true to their values of consent, children can make informed decisions about what they're comfortable with, and they'll be able to identify when their boundaries are being crossed.

7.Build a culture of seeking permission and drawing boundaries

We frequently find that all of the systems and adults around children-principals, teachers, management, caretakers, and so on-do not have appropriate policies in place where a child can openly communicate if their consent is violated. And, any such issues involving bullying, harassment, or abuse are met with a hush culture from authorities. The need of the hour is to build systems around our children(home, school) that are built on consent and realize its importance. Boundaries are also to be maintained in close relationships. “Oh I don't need to ask for her permission because she's my wife”, is an undesirable view. The degree of closeness should never hinder one from seeking permission.

In conclusion, teaching consent to boys and men isn't just a "nice to have" - it's essential for creating a safer and more respectful society. By educating boys and men about what consent means and how to practice it, we can help to prevent harmful behaviors such as sexual assault or harassment. But perhaps even more importantly, we can help to promote healthy relationships and understanding between genders. So let's keep the conversation going, and make sure that consent education is a priority for everyone - regardless of gender or age. Let's remember that CONSENT teaching is the most important aspect in raising responsible boys.

Watch this video by Cactus Founder Director, Nusrat Khan talking about the Action Point no.7