Teaching Body Autonomy as a Core Value
Most parents have the best of intentions to help their kids develop strong core values like kindness, leadership and integrity. These are traits that will help them live long, happy lives. But there’s an important value that has only recently received the kind of attention it deserves—body autonomy.
Body autonomy, or the concept that every person no matter what age, has the right to make their own decisions on issues relating to health care, contraception and whether to have sex, is too often ignored in the earliest years of character development.
The alarming fact, researchers have found, is that one out of every three females and one in every 20 males will encounter unwanted sexual contact at some point before their 18th birthday. With more awareness and discussion about body autonomy, experts believe we can chip away at those statistics and prevent traumatizing sexual experiences.
It is never too early or too late to teach children that every person is in control of their own bodies. Here are three concepts to actively promote body autonomy in your kids’ lives:
- Create space that is “safe,” free of punishment or shame. This means using the anatomical names of body parts in everyday conversation, for example. Also, explain to kids that they will never get in trouble for expressing contact that feels “not okay.” Parents have tremendous power to set the tone and keep lines of communication open.
- Embrace the concept of consent. Talk about examples of consenting to physical contact, as well as asking others for their consent to engage. For example, instead of forcing children to hug friends or family, teach them to read the situation and offer a fist-bump or handshake if those feel more comfortable.
- Teach how to spot “not-okay” secrets and that it’s important to tell a trusted adult. Secrets that hide physical or emotional hurt, that are bound by fear or threats, or have anything to do with uncomfortable touching, are not okay. Make sure kids are aware that there are no limits to this guideline – even when the one who is hiding the secret is an adult, family member, friend of the family or boyfriend/girlfriend.
Age-old cultural norms like avoiding confrontation and win-at-all-costs aggressiveness have shrouded the importance of body autonomy over generations. In recent years, governments and NGOs have poured resources into awareness and education campaigns to provide a basic understanding of body autonomy as a universal human right.
Parents are on the front lines of this movement and can be agents of change by teaching body autonomy as a core value. Kids can grow up appreciating their bodies and the way they receive pleasure as a beautiful and healthy part of life.
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