This weeks blog post on the comes from Kim Comatas from Partners in Sex Education and I love the way in which she frames consent. Her simple, but effective approach shows just how easy it is to have conversations regarding consent in your classroom…irrespective of the age of your students.
What’s the first thing you think of?
Sexual consent? Permission?
What if I said adulthood and consent? College and consent? Are you still thinking along the lines of sexual consent?
Middle school and consent?
Elementary school and consent?
Pre-K and consent?
Toddlers and consent?
Infants and consent?
Does your idea of consent change as the age of the person giving consent gets younger?
Are we talking about or even thinking about infants and consent? Can they consent? Discuss amongst yourselves.
Toddlers and consent? Try taking that special toy away. They may be the most verbal when it comes to revoking consent. Oh you know when they are pissed and what their boundaries are. They are clearly able to consent, yet many times their bodily autonomy is taken from them. When I talk with others in the health field, I know I am preaching to the choir. When I talk with many not in the health field, I get eye rolls In response to, for example, “Ask them before you just hug them if they want a hug.” As an adult, what is the message you’re reinforcing if you just go in and take the hug from a kid without asking first? Kids aren’t giving hugs without consent, it’s being taken from them. What a great opportunity to teach about consent and that your body is your own.
I’ve been teaching sex education to elementary and middle school students for 13 years. Before each session I meet with “the people” to answer their questions and to explain the up-coming lessons. “The people” is the name I have given to the student’s trusted adult, over the age of 18. It could be a parent, a guardian, an aunt, uncle, grandparent etc. As I tell my students, I don’t know who your people are, but you do. I’ve found this has been a wonderfully inclusive and easily understood term.
At the “People Meeting” I’m often asked if I teach about consent in elementary school? I answer, “Yes.” The immediate next question is, “How?” I’ve noticed adults often bring their adult sexual baggage into spaces like these, myself included, and they assume that by consent I mean sexual consent. And I do, but in a manner that’s age appropriate. It’s important to share with The People how I talk about consent so they can continue this conversation at home. The People are truly the earliest and most influential sex educators in their child’s life. Talking early about consent, in bite-sized pieces allows consent to becomes a familiar word in the home as well as in the classroom. I believe this is vital to the healthy sexuality of a young adult. Growing up discussing consent in non-sexual ways makes discussing consent in sexual ways, when the time is appropriate, that much easier.
The first time they may hear the word consent in class is while we are going over Classroom Agreements on day one. Included is the agreement: “No phones out. No pictures, no videos.” I explain to them, they do not have my consent. Then I ask what consent means and why it’s important to be heard. Finally, I let them know we will be discussing consent again throughout class and to listen for it.
In elementary and early middle school, the students behave like puppies. They’re so excited to see each other and can’t keep their hands to themselves. Your possession is their possession; they reach out impulsively to grab it. Boundaries are so important, and easy to point out in the classroom when we talk about them in terms of consent.
Did you ask them for consent before you hugged them? Did you ask for consent before taking their pencil? Did you just rush to leave pushing them aside without asking for their consent to let you pass?” As the days of class expand into the week, I’ll just point to an infraction and yell out, “CONSENT!” I only need to point this out a few times before the students are parroting me. I think they may be teasing me at first, but it doesn’t bother me because they are using the language and understand what it means in the context of body autonomy. Their body, their possessions, their boundaries, their choice. It belongs to them and they get to decide what do.
In some schools I have the honor of teaching students in subsequent grades and watching them grow up. Nothing makes me smile harder than when I’m in the halls between classes and I hear a student yell out, “CONSENT!!!” This is the foundation we as teachers have the responsibility to teach. Look for easy potential CONSENT opportunities, and try working it into your class. We continue to build upon our students’ knowledge of consent and its application in different scenarios. At a time when it’s not yet mandated to teach consent in sexuality education, it is needed the most.
We are currently waiting for An Act Relative to Healthy Youth (H.3704), commonly referred to as The Healthy Youth Act, to make its way through the Massachusetts Legislature. This act would require schools that teach sexuality education to teach medically accurate and age appropriate material, including lessons on consent and healthy relationships, that are LGBTQ+ inclusive. When this act finally passes, we can introduce this concept no matter the age of the audience. If you’re in MA please contact your Representative to share your support and the urgency of this bill.
Partners in Sex Education
If you liked Kim’s blog post, then you might also like:
Teaching Consent – the slowchathealth blog post that shares some great resources for the classroom.
Between Friends – a guest blog post on consent from Levi Todd , a relationship educator and poet from Chicago who works for Between Friends.