Consent is talked about now more than ever, it seems. Good. I have to point something out and you probably are not going to like it. Why? Because it makes life more difficult. It makes our job as parents harder. It makes us see our kids as humans. Why is that a “problem”? Because then it is not so easy to treat them as lesser beings. Let me explain.
We are coming into that time of year again- the time when children are exploited, threatened, and bullied. I’m not talking about what is being done by the big lousy bully in the hallways, I am referring to what is being done by mom, dad, television hosts, advertisers, grandparents… anyone who is not a child themselves. Anyone who is a trusted grown-up. Anyone who holds all the power. In simpler terms, anyone who is not a child.
Let me use a specific example. Trick or Treat is on its way and for many families this comes with the Candy Tax. For those not familiar (first, YAY you!) the Candy Tax is a payment demanded by mom or dad. For the trouble of taking a child trick or treating, he or she owes their parents as much candy as mom or dad sees fit. The payment can change depending on the mood. Even once the debt seems to have been settled it can be reopened out of nowhere- even if the child is down to the last of their favorite candy bar. Mom and dad have earned this payment. The sheer act of having to give up an evening to costume a child and walk around with them in the festive air is a hardship and they are owed.
I know- you do it all in fun. It’s silly. Everyone is in on it, right? Are you sure about that?
Many of these same parents talk a lot about consent. They talk about how their son will never push beyond “no”. Their child understands respect. Their child knows what consent means with a capitol C. They get it. I have to ask though, how do these kids know? How do they get it? Children learn from what we do not from what we say to do.
If a child does not live in consent, how will they really understand what it looks and feels like? If we talk about consent and model it as forced acquiescence, won’t there be confusion? Will our children not then understand consent to be submission by force?
I know this is hard to wrap our heads around. It’s the very opposite of everything that is modeled for us! Bear with me though and please consider this message.
When we require our children to hand over the candy they trick or treated for what message are we sending? When saying “no” is not an option, are we allowing our kids to practice using their voice? Are we modeling respect for the boundaries that they have set? When we demand they fork over what is theirs, how are they learning ownership of themselves? If mom and dad are modeling power over them and their belongings from whom will they learn healthy boundaries?
I know this feels like a stretch to many of you. “It’s one night a year” many say. “What a crock of crap” others retort. “Geez. This lady needs to lighten up and learn how to have some FUN” some cackle. I suspect though, that those who demand a candy tax don’t do it just once a year. Maybe it doesn’t always look like forcing our kids to give us candy as a payment for our efforts. Maybe it’s forced hugs or hairstyles or clothing choices. Maybe it’s requiring our kids to stay in a friendship or activity that makes them uncomfortable. Or, maybe, it’s all of these things all the time.
If we are serious about wanting to make the world safer for our children we can see that we have the most power of anyone in the world to make it happen, for we are raising the next generation. When we understand that consent must be modeled to be understood, our perspective shifts. When we realize that we have the opportunity to choose between heckling our kids with the Candy Tax or using it as one of the many ways to establish consent and ownership, we become grateful that our kids get to keep all of their candy.
We parents can be real change agents! We get to give our kids so many opportunities to practice and live in consent. If we really want to change the world, eliminating the Candy Tax is an excellent place to start.