I feel sure I will have further occasions to talk more clearly
with my children about how one goes about approaching and pursuing love. But I'm
also realizing it will involve more than "The Talk" on some far-away day.
Talking with children about romantic relationships is an on-going process, and
one that is as psychological as it is biological.
It begins with talking
Here, sex education begins as early as age 4 and focuses largely on issues of consent—how to express what you want and don't want, how to establish clear boundaries without feeling intimidated.
There's a lot of talk about consent lately. This week,
Trinity College in Dublin caused some controversy by recommending mandatory
consent workshops for incoming freshman. In the U.S., more and more states are introducing so-called affirmative consent—"yes means yes"—to existing high school sex education programs.
In a time when some romantic comedies
border on stalker training videos, and Roosh Valizadeh suggests legalizing rape,
this seems like a good idea.
But I think it all starts too late.
We live in the Netherlands, where children are taught a
little expression to use when they don't like something being done to them:
"Stop, hou op, ik wil het niet." (Basically, "Stop, I don't want that.")
daughter said this at a playdate some time ago, when another child gave her
what I think was a well-intentioned but slightly aggressive hug. That's when I
realized that she is already learning how to give (or not) consent, and the importance of
asking for it.
Children should learn early that consent is a part of every interaction.
Here, sex education begins as early as age 4 and focuses
largely on issues of consent—how to express what you want and don't want, how
to establish clear boundaries without feeling intimidated. They talk about how
to build relationships, how to approach someone while remaining mindful of
their comfort zones and desires.
Explicitly explaining the line between complimenting a
person and harassing them, between pursuing a love interest and aggressively
stalking them, is more complex than explaining how babies are made or diseases
can be prevented.
Teaching about consent begins long before talking about sex.
Insisting that a child hug his grandmother if he doesn't want to takes away his
consent. Allowing a child to grab a toy from another without asking implies
that consent is not something they have to seek.
Children should learn early that consent is a part of every
interaction. That a "yes" can be a "no" and be a "yes" again later. And that consent
is an active thing: if my daughter had endured the unwanted hug silently, the
other child would have assumed it was OK.
As Valentine's Day approaches again, and little Cupid raises
his arrow once more, I'll remember to be a little more mindful about what I say
and model to my children about love and relationships. And not just on February 14—but every day.