By Nicole Fuge, MD® Managing Editor
We need to have a chat about child consent.
Because a new study has found that most Australian adults think we should start teaching children about consent and their body after school age.
But Act for Kids Chief Executive Officer Dr Katrina Lines says it needs to start much earlier, as kids aged between 0-4 are most at-risk of abuse and neglect in Australia.
“The early stages of a child’s life are crucial for development. It’s where they grow physically and emotionally, but also begin forming social connections,” she says.
“Teaching children consent from a young age can be as simple as using the correct language for body parts rather than euphemisms, or explaining your actions in your child’s routines, such as bathing. Rather than just forcing them to bath, try explaining what you’re doing and why it is important.”
The importance of teaching bodily autonomy
“It’s really important to teach children from birth about bodily autonomy, including using the correct language for body parts, such as vagina and penis,” Dr Lines says.
“This helps children develop body ownership and empowers them to protect their own body later in life.”
Plus, it’s been found that sex offenders were less likely to act on a child if the child knew correct names for their body parts.
Signs of abuse can vary. From behavioural to physical changes, including low self-esteem. Being withdrawn from adults and their friends. Unexplained injuries. Or in some cases inappropriate sexual knowledge or behaviour for the age and development of the child.
How to protect our children
“Parents and carers can protect their children by starting age-appropriate conversations about consent from a young age,” she says.
“This includes, normalising conversations about sex, body parts and relationships. As children grow up and reach school age it’s crucial to continue conversations about consent as they experience different relationships in their own world.
“We also advise parents to monitor their child’s internet usage to ensure they aren’t talking to someone they don’t know and aren’t getting misinformation when it comes to sex, consent and relationships from unknown online resources.”
This week [September 5–11, 2021] is Child Protection Week. It’s the perfect prompt to start talking to your family about child consent.