In many cultures, talking about the reproductive parts of your body is looked down upon and this secretiveness creates a sense of stigma from a very young age. Not giving children a proper vocabulary to describe the sexual and reproductive parts of their body risks the child not being able to accurately communicate negative experiences like sexual abuse.
It is key to teach kids about consent and boundaries for themselves and for others.
One of the most common lessons that parents teach is “stranger danger,” warning the child to not trust strangers. But the fact is, in the case of child sexual abuse (CSA), the perpetrator is far more likely to be a person known to the family than a relative stranger which is why education needs to go beyond this simple instruction. The most popular version of this conversation is the “Good Touch – Bad Touch” discussion, but educational programs are leaning away from this because the words ‘good’ and ‘bad’ come loaded with moralistic judgements.
Educator Pooja Kandula explained that terming actions like touching as “bad” becomes confusing for the child when they grow up and start exploring their sexuality. She noted that right from the age that a child starts to understand, it is key to teach them about consent and boundaries for themselves and for others.
Here’s how parents can tackle this conversation at every development stage:
0 – 3 years of age
- Teach children to identify and name all body parts,
- Normalize sexual body parts by including them in body part identification,
- Point out the areas such as genitals and teach them to react if anyone touches them there, other than trusted adults like parents and doctors.
4- 9 years of age
- Introduce consent as a concept within all social interactions that can be given and taken back,
- Respect the child’s right to say “no” proactively in the family with regard to kissing, hugging and tickling. Teach children to respect and accept when others say no,
- Don’t coerce them to physically interact with friends and family, especially if they express discomfort.
Kandula stressed that it is necessary for the whole ecosystem of schools, parents, and educators to work together to create an environment where children can express their issues. She believes that children should feel safe enough to point out who and what is making them uncomfortable and deserve to feel validated. As children grow older, the network of people they interact with also expands and their education should equip them to deal with different scenarios they may come across.
- Introduce concepts of sexuality,
- Explain in a simple way what changes they will witness in their bodies,
- Reassure that experiencing or not experiencing sexual attraction are both normal.
14 years onwards
- If you are comfortable, you may help your child understand that the exploration process including self-exploration, can be healthy,
- Talk to them about the dangers of indulging in unprotected sex and introduce options for protection,
- Underline the need for mutual consent, respect, and privacy in sexual relationships,
- Educate them about the concept of enthusiastic consent and the need to keep seeking consent during the process of engaging in sex.
There is a long way to go in terms of destigmatizing talk around bodies and sex but there can be no concept of safety without explaining what the dangers look like. By giving children a more robust physical vocabulary and having more transparent conversations, parents can take the first steps to help them become more self-aware and have a more wholesome relationship with sex and sexuality.