At Defend Innocence, our unwavering stance is that a child is not ever in a position to give consent to someone to sexually abuse them. We know that capable kids can learn to apply principles of consent at a young age. And as they grow, mature, and find themselves in situations where they have power or influence over another individual, they will be able to respect the other person enough that they don’t act in a way that causes sexual (or other) harm.

Consent includes:

  • Giving (and receiving) respect.

  • Ongoing mutual interest.

  • The ability to understand and agree to any action before it happens.

  • The option to withdraw from an activity at any point.

Here’s where parents are often surprised. Because consent and boundaries go hand-in-hand, teaching consent can begin at a young age. As children practice giving respect, reading body language to understand mutual interest, and honoring another person’s “no,” they will understand that consent happens in situations that have nothing to do with sex.

Your child practices principles of consent when they want to borrow clothing from a sibling and respect the “no.” You provide the example of consent when you are tickling or wrestling with your child and stop when they ask you to. Your child practices consent when they express romantic interest in a peer and, when it isn’t reciprocated, understand that for a relationship to develop there has to be mutual interest. As your capable kid practices giving and receiving consent in small, day-to-day activities, they are preparing themselves for future situations where the stakes are higher.

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