The #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have finally amped up conversation and awareness about sexual harassment, gender inequality, and misuse of power, all of which have been going on for decades. Since September 2018, powerful men in India — celebrities, politicians, journalists, and others — have been the subject of sexual harassment, assault, or other misconduct allegations. More survivors are coming forward nearly every day, many of them inspired and emboldened by those who have gone before.
While the discussion around sexual assault and consent has been on our collective mind, how we, as a society, deal with these issues has a very long way to go. It may be a hot topic right now, but sexual harassment is something parents should be talking about with their children all the time. Kolkata-based child psychologist and parenting expert Polli Dasgupta says teaching children about sexual safety should be thought of as being as necessary as teaching them about other types of safety, such as road safety.
If you assumed (or hoped) it was okay for a family discussion about sexual assault to sit on a back burner for the next few years, Dasgupta points out it’s important to “talk to kids as early as possible in an age-appropriate way.” She says if you broach the topic now, it won’t be as uncomfortable for children or their parents to discuss sexual assault when they’re older.
“Age-appropriate discussions about sexual assault should happen as soon as your child is able to understand the concept of privacy and should continue to be an ongoing conversation. Talking with your child, even at a young age, can instill in them a sense of ownership over their bodies and a respect for others, says Dasgupta.
Conversations about safe touch and consent should be interwoven in casual conversations with your child. (Shutterstock)
From an early age, it’s important to explain to children that their private parts are just that: private, and not for others to touch/ see. However, she advises differentiating between private and shameful.
“The conversation evolves as your child grows, so always be sure to keep it age-appropriate. For a very young child (about three-year-old), you might begin to identify their privates parts and explain who is allowed to see/touch them. Start with the basics, and make it a casual, normal conversation,” says Dasgupta.
Experts recommend using the terms “safe/unsafe touch” as opposed to “good /bad touch,” because, for instance, if a child has to get a vaccination in the buttocks, that is a safe, albeit seemingly “bad,” touch. Of course, awkwardness comes with the territory when you talk about anything of a sexual nature with your child. But you should not avoid this very important issue, just so no one feels weird. “If you feel uncomfortable, you are doing it right,” Dasgupta assures parents.
“Your child may feel uncomfortable talking about sexual assault with you. That’s okay. Drop it for now, and bring it up later. Kids have questions about sex, so remember, if your son or daughter isn’t talking about this with you, he/she is talking about it with someone else,” she says.
While many women with daughters are proactive about teaching their children to stand up for their bodily autonomy and talking about private parts, boys aren’t given quite the same message, according to Dr Aparna Sengupta, a clinical psychologist. She says regardless of gender, children must be taught healthy boundaries and feel empowered to protect their bodies. Although, knowing how to talk to your son about sexual consent, heartbreaking current events around #MeToo, and respecting bodies in an age-appropriate way can feel tricky, Dr Sengupta says.
“These conversations don’t have to be scary and can even be quite relaxed,” Dr Sengupta, says, adding “The sooner you introduce your child to the idea of body safety and consent, the more comfortable he will be with the topic. Remember that our kids are looking to us to gauge how they should react to certain subjects — if you feel uncomfortable talking about sexual abuse, your son will take notice.”
Once boys get to the age of being active on social media or the internet, it’s important to broach the topic of pornography. (Shutterstock)
She suggests conversations about safe touch and consent should be interwoven in casual conversations.
“If you’re watching the news with your child and sexual assault is being discussed, ask, ‘What do you think of that?’ Or, ‘What would you do in that situation?’”
Dr Sengupta recommends that parents use the following phrases as often as they can, to make sure they’re casual but still reinforcing consent and bodily autonomy: “No means no” and “Please respect my boundaries.”
“The above statements help model boundaries and consent. Not only are you teaching your child to protect his/her own body, but you’re also educating him/her on the importance of consent and how to respect other people’s bodies,” says Dr Sengupta.
As your child gets older, monitor what they watch. Dr Sengupta say once boys get to the age of being active on social media or the internet, it’s important to broach the topic of pornography.
“If you suspect your son is looking at porn or may accidentally stumble across it, explain that you want him to have a positive and realistic experience with sex. Even if you see nothing morally wrong with it, I recommend explaining that pornography can be harmful to a developing brain and likely reinforces rape and sexual harassment. It has explicit themes that aren’t healthy for a young person who’s just beginning to understand sex,” says Dasgupta.
She recommends setting up limits in your household and blocking pornography websites so your young child doesn’t have the ability to access them.
“Pornography often emulates rape and molestation culture. Porn is also often a boy’s first introduction to sex, and it can be highly influential in his expectations about sex.”
First Published: Oct 22, 2018 17:31 IST