Consent education in Australia is explaining to young children that they have the right to say no to unwanted physical contact — even from family members.
But grandmas across the globe aren’t taking it well. News of the program sparked internet fury among the older generation, who claimed the consent education was “insulting” and “extreme.”
The Respectful Relationships program is currently being taught in the Australian state Victoria, starting in kindergarten. It’s intended to teach children as early as possible about body autonomy, and help prepare them for concepts of sexuality and consent in the future.
Too soon? After a Human Rights Commission survey reported more than half of Australian college-aged respondents were sexually harassed at least once in 2016, with one in four harassed on a university campus, it’s clear that consent is not being taught soon enough.
It’s not an easy concept to grasp, especially for elementary school students, so educators are starting with simple examples. Respectful Relationships educator Margie Buttriss explained one “child-friendly” example used in the program: commonly-experienced (and commonly unwanted) physical contact with close family.
“We’re talking about situations such as Grandma wants to swoop in for the big sloppy kiss and if the child doesn’t want that to happen what can they do,” Buttriss told ABC Australia. “They can respectfully say ‘no thanks Grandma, let’s have a hug instead,’” she suggested.
The example seems small, but it makes a big point about who’s in charge of your body: you. Most kids take for granted they have to accept hugs and kisses from adults, but that may be teaching them the wrong lesson when it comes to adults they don’t know.
Grandparents online, however, aren’t quite seeing the big picture. Many saw the program’s example as a political statement, like 69-year-old Twitter user Dennis Barr, who said: “This rot [was] brought about by some extreme lefty who never had a granny.” Twitter user Karolyn Rae (“American Grandma”) agreed, text-shouting “I’m INSULTED!” User “Swinging_Voter” inquired, “So a kiss from Granny is now abuse?”
This backlash makes it clear many adults aren’t familiar with the concept of consent. That’s part of the reason why sex educators are teaching young people of all ages about enthusiastic consent and healthy relationships.
As of right now, only the eastern Australian states have introduced the Respectful Relationships program into their classrooms, but educators are still pushing for the curriculum to spread. With growing rates of violence against women, and pornography’s increasing influence on sexuality, respectful sex education is more important than ever.
And this isn’t just a problem for Australia. Sex education in the United States is inconsistent and often misinformed too. Many states only teach abstinence, and most schools don’t introduce sex ed until kids hit puberty. Consent is rarely mentioned.
It might be hard to hear your child or grandchild reject your affection, but look at the bigger picture. They’re learning how to take ownership of their bodies so that they can be safer and more respectful in their future relationships.