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My Daughter Told Her Pediatrician He Had to Ask Permission to Touch Her

Photograph by Twenty20

My daughter was in first grade last year, when the #MeToo movement swept the country. One day, she came home and reported that her teacher had introduced the concept of consent to the class.

"You need to ask a friend if it’s OK before you hug them,” she told them.

While unexpected, I was appreciative that the teacher had introduced the kids to the concept of consent at such a young age. I was pleased that this generation of young kids would be comfortable advocating for their own personal boundaries in a way that people in my generation were not. As a kid, I didn’t always want to give a random relative or friend of my parents a hug just because that’s what was expected. I felt a certain relief that modern-day kids wouldn’t be called rude or shy simply for not wanting to do things that made them feel uncomfortable.

This powerful early lesson has already had impactful implications in my young daughter's life.

The other day, during a doctor's exam, my daughter informed her pediatrician he needed to ask permission to touch her. It was completely innocent. He had given her a compliment and placed his hands on her cheeks. Her response: "You need to ask permission before you touch me.”

He responded gracefully saying, “You’re right. You’re the boss of your body," and then went on about the examination.

She was right. I was wrong. In that moment, I let her take the lead. I needed her to teach me.

Despite being taken aback at her words, it was my own reaction—worrying if he was mad at her—that surprised me the most. It was the childhood me, the one who had been taught to worry about someone else’s feelings if they made me uncomfortable, that was still alive and well. I had to check myself in that moment, because my little 7-year-old had no problem stating her boundaries, but I was still concerned about repercussions or payback.

She was right. I was wrong. In that moment, I let her take the lead. I needed her to teach me.

There have been a number of situations since that day where I witnessed her composure when stating her boundaries. If a relative asks for a hug and she doesn’t want to, she says, “No, thank you.” If an adult graciously wants to pull a leaf from her hair, but she’d prefer they didn’t, she steps away. If a cuddly friend at school asks for a hug and my daughter doesn't feel like it, she says she’d rather not. I still hope nobody is offended, but if they were, that’s on them.

I know that being able to speak up for herself regarding things as innocuous as hugs means my little girl is getting training for being able to speak up if a boundary is crossed when the behavior isn’t so innocent. There’s nothing offensive about that.

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