Most previous generations, including mine, experienced this as children. When visiting a more or less distant family member, we were asked to give a kiss or a hug to the host and all the grown-ups present. But, come on, give your aunt a kiss! Don't be shy! If we didn't make the first move, then the adults didn't mind doing it themselves. We did not refuse at the risk of either being scolded by our parents or being labeled shameless.
This reality still present in many families is now confronted with a new phenomenon. Indeed came #MeToo or #MeAlso which has shed light as never before on the sometimes twisted relationships to intimacy that are accepted in society.
The whole issue of consent has been raised in the media and in the general population. Consequently adults have had to reflect on this notion and it has reminded us of the importance of teaching children this often misunderstood concept.
Intimacy is not a ride
Let's recall the basics of consent for all in intimate relationships, which includes innocent kisses and hugs. This one must be:
Free, that is, without constraints of any kind.
Enlightened, that everyone is aware of themselves and their intentions.
Enthusiastic, there must be no doubts left.
In fact, it is still strange that consent needs to be explained these days and yet it seems that many people still have strong prejudices. We are not helped by a totally false proverb: "Qui ne dit mot consent". A person can say nothing, even act "as the other person wants" without meaning to. This is why it is essential to check regularly if the other is well. The moment there is denial and even doubt, everything must stop.
After all, intimacy is not a ride that must be completed in full once the initial "yes" is given. It would not occur to us, for example, to force tea or cookies on someone who no longer wants them because they said yes 15 minutes earlier. Unfortunately, even the justice system can forget these very simple concepts though.
And these aspects need to be taught to children. According to experts, from the age of 3, it can be made clear that they should respect other people's bodies and that they are entitled to get the same respect. Because even though grandma means absolutely no harm by wanting to kiss her granddaughter, it is still an intimate gesture. Consequently, the child may feel the desire to receive this affection and other times not.
Because the danger of imposing intimacy is that the child will not be able to set boundaries if it were to go too far. Therefore, this sex therapist reminds us that we need to inculcate that NO adult, which includes mom and dad, can ask them:
to show, touch, fondle genitals;
to ask to photograph them;
that these are never games, no matter what he is told;
that he does not have to look at, or touch, the same parts whether in real life or in pictures.
Inculcating this notion
Of course, it can be tricky for parents and even teachers to broach these subjects. It needs to be addressed in a safe setting where the child is accompanied and not dictated to in their conduct. It is best to be open, prepared and especially use concrete examples from their lives. In the framework of the kindergarten, it will be possible to illustrate with scenarios of fictitious schoolchildren who in the playground will experience contexts where hugs take place. Therefore, they will allow to emphasize the importance of asking for consent and accepting the answer, even if it is negative. That attempting to buy approval through promises, flattery, or gifts is an attempt at bribery. This free comic book could be used with children in late elementary and early secondary education.
They also need to learn that if they were to receive unwanted hugs, kisses, or the like from peers or an adult, they should definitely tell a trusted adult. In fact, they need to have people they can trust in addition to Mom and Dad. This can become problematic if they are the aggressors.
This sensitive but essential topic is a good reminder of the importance of adding sex education classes to the school. An article published in Libération in March 2021 reiterated the urgency of integrating this type of knowledge into the school curriculum in order to equip youth with free and informed consent in sexuality. A way also to reduce the violence they could suffer during childhood, adolescence and even adulthood.
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