Consent. To give permission for something to happen. A medical intervention. Marriage. Sexual activity.
Through the late 1800s, the “age of consent” for marriage (for girls) in most US states was a shocking 10 and 12 years, and as late as 1895, a mere 7 years in Delaware. But by 1920, women reformers successfully campaigned to raise the legal minimum age of consent to 16 to 18 years in most states.
Nearly a century later, activists are turning their attention to the definition of consent for sexual activity on college campuses. California and New York are leading the way with affirmative consent legislation that require colleges and universities receiving state financial aid to adopt an “affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement to engage in sexual activity” and to use this redefinition to both investigate claims of assault and instruct their student body.
While college students today are adapting to this new definition of consent, parents, teachers and other adults have an opportunity to positively influence younger children’s understanding of consent throughout their lifetime.
It’s never too early, or too late, to teach children and teens about consent and personal boundaries. Anne Theriault of the Washington Post offers valuable suggestions for age appropriate discussions. And the GoodMenProject provides a list of parenting action items for children ages 1 to 21.
By providing new language and models of behavior for children of all ages, our hope is that future generations of girls and boys will grow up in peace and safety.