Consent (i.e., giving permission for something to happen) is a big topic now, with many arguing that it’s a principle on which all people should be educated. But one sexuality expert says that it’s important to teach children as young as infants about consent.
In an interview with Australia’s Nine Network, sexuality expert Deanne Carson said that it’s important to teach a child that “their response matters.” The example she then gave was that of parent asking a baby for consent before change their diaper. “Of course a baby’s not going to respond, ‘Yes, Mum, that’s awesome. I’d love to have my nappy changed,’” she said. “But if you leave a space and wait for body language and wait to make eye contact, then you’re letting that child know that their response matters.”
People slammed Carson on Twitter, arguing that babies can’t give consent, and pointing out that toddlers often say “no” to everything anyway.
I'm looking after my cousin's baby. Yesterday, I asked xer for consent before changing xer's nappy. Xer shook xer's head with a firm 'no means no' expression. I respected xer's wish. Xer's nappy is now enormous and smells like a dead yak, but I know I have done the right thing.
— Godfrey Elfwick (@RealElfwick) May 11, 2018
She is fairly stupid though. Because the nappy has to be changed no matter how the baby reacts, so if they react negatively, the message they’ll receive is that their consent is irrelevant. By this woman’s own logic, that is – which is bad logic.
— Ben Pobjie (@benpobjie) May 11, 2018
Fingers crossed our baby gives consent to having his measles vaccination.
— Andrew Glover (@theandrewglover) May 11, 2018
sure but….i also understand the upset. this is a really bad way to make that point. babies can’t consent! period. telling people to ask consent before changing their baby is like a parody of the real argument.
— Laci Green (@gogreen18) May 10, 2018
But Carson isn’t the only person who is arguing that babies should be asked to give consent. Last year, mom Nisha Moodley drew national attention after she revealed on Instagram that “since the moment he was born,” she has asked her son, Raven, if it’s OK for her to pick him up before she actually does it. “I always feel for his ‘yes.’ Why? Because we want him to know that his body is his, and that others’ bodies are theirs, and no one gets to make choices about someone else’s body,” she wrote. (She was also criticized for her comments.)
Here’s the thing: Babies really can’t understand the concept of consent, Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator for intellectual and developmental disabilities and mental health services at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Consent requires being able to understand a cause and effect relationship,” she says. “That comes with cognitive development.”
Consent is even a little vague for children between the ages of 1 and 2, she says. But by the time children are 2 years old, they can better process what they do and don’t like. “When they say ‘no,’ you can absolutely trust that they mean it,” Mendez says.
But consent is a little tricky with children, and there’s a point where it’s not applicable. A child may not want to get a bath or understand why they need it, Mendez points out, but allowing your child to go unbathed could have negative health consequences for them. The same is true when it comes to changing a diaper, she says. “If your child says no to a diaper change, you’re not going to leave them dirty,” Mendez says. “It’s not healthy, and it’s not teaching them about how to navigate situations in life where there may be things you don’t want to do.”
This doesn’t mean that parents can’t teach their children about consent — there are just situations where it is and isn’t appropriate, Mendez says. And diaper-changing is not up for debate.
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