When you read that sentence, how does it make you feel? What’s your gut reaction? From my experience and conversations so far this sentence is a real divider of people. The majority reply with a stance that encapsulates a certain logic, mixed with a dash of civil obedience.
‘Well you have to drink water to live, and you have to pay your bills or you’ll be homeless.’
True, to a degree. But there is still choice in even these actions. You could choose not to drink water, you’d die eventually, but in theory you can choose that deathly option. And you can certainly choose not to pay your bills. Things will get ugly and inconvenient, but again, it is an option.
So in basic terms that’s my standpoint. Everything is a choice. And in my opinion, you should never do something you don’t want to. I don’t do things I don’t want to, sometimes I push through things I don’t necessarily enjoy because I do want the end result, like working out. I don’t want to work out, after about 15 years of doing squats religiously, I’m bored of them. But I do want lower body strength and a butt that looks great in my favorite jeans – that I enjoy. So the work out is something I am willing to endure because I do want the end product.
As an adult do I allow anyone to tell me what to do or to control my choices because it’s what they believe is righht or best for me? Absolutely not. I ask for advice and guidance from people I love and trust when I want it. But like most grown ups, I make my own mind up about what I do with my life and my time. And yet, I used to think it was acceptable to tell children what to do and when, to control them as if they needed me to make their decisions because they couldn’t be trusted or simply didn’t know how to choose for themselves.
‘Share your toys with your friends,’ says parent to their child.
‘But I don’t want to share my toys,’ replies kid.
What do most parents do in this situation? What is the ‘socially appropriate’ response here? The parent talks their kid into sharing the toys even though they don’t want to, using phrases like, ‘it’s kind to share’ and ‘no-one will want to play with you if you don’t share your toys.’
Feeling disheartened, unheard and as if their own happiness and comfort was of lesser importance, the kid hands over their toys. The parent made the choice for them and the child just has to deal with it. Their choice, their consent, was irrelevant.
Fast forward 10 years or so. This kid, now a teenager, is being asked to share their body with someone who wants have sex with them. I wonder where the parent would stand in this scenario? Hopefully, they’d say,
‘no, you do not have to share your body with anyone unless you genuinely want to. No-one has the right to force you to do something against your will.’
Thing is though, the parent isn’t here in this scenario. Their teens at a party of a friend who lives on the other side of town. Any input the parent might have had has already been learned by their child, through the experiences they shared when the kid was younger and their parent was around to guide and advise them/instruct and control them.
Maybe the teenager holds their own, hopefully they are strong enough to know that consent is vital and that they have a right to say no. But I guarantee this isn’t the case for all who face this kind of situation. Either conciusly or sub-conciously, their is a lesson floating around in their head that was repeatedly taught to them as they grew up,
‘It’s polite to share’
‘No-one will like you if you don’t share your toys’
‘You have to go to football club, you already got signed up, so you can’t change your mind’
‘You have to wear this outfit today, I’ve picked it out for you’
‘There are some things in life you just have to do, you have to Emily’s house because it’s already arranged’
We as a society (in the UK) have a severe lack of respect for our children. I recently learned through my friend, that on a list of countries which are best at protecting children’s rights, the UK ranks 169th (according to a United Nations based study).
I don’t know about you, but this shocked me. I knew we weren’t great as a nation for our respect towards the youth, but I hoped it was not quite so drastically bad. But it is. We prioritise saving face over allowing our kids to have a say in decisions that directly impact them. As an adult this would not be tolerated in most cases. Or worse, it gets learnt and accepted as a norm, and what a sad world that is to live in right? Faint hearted and sad adults existing in a mind set where they have no choice and no control over their own lives.
You have to go to that job that makes you terribly unhappy because you already signed the contract. You stay with an abusive partner because your own parent taught you that pleasing others is more important than doing what feels right to you. You give away valuable time doing things you don’t want to because that is what is expected. You’ve been taught to sacrifice your own freewill, joy and wellbeing for the sake of pleasing others or keeping up appearances.
And yet consent is such a trendy topic. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t preach about consent to our children, whilst saying ‘there are just some things in lie you have to do’. This subject is a controversial one, because a lot of people don’t want to hand the reins over to their kids, they don’t have faith that their children will be able to make decisions for themselves, we want them to do the things that we want them to do, and it’s hard when they choose otherwise.
But the thing is, early experiences in children generally shape their perspective and the future decisions they make. So we need to think outside of what makes people comfortable and what the ‘appropriate’ thing to do is, we need to relinquish control and relax. If we want our kids growing up strong, bold and shooting for their dream occupations and lifestyles, then we need to show them that they have a choice, they have freedom, and they won’t be drummed down and undermined by a society that prioritises expectations over their wellbeing.
When my daughter shows reluctance in something, we talk. I hear her. I make it clear that she has a choice, and that she does not have to do something that she doesn’t want to. Even if it goes against what I want her to do. Because I don’t want to live in a world full of people who believe ‘there are just some things in life you have to do’. I want her to demand way more from the world than that, I want her to always have a choice, to always give consent, so that she can be happy and comfortable in her life and in herself. As a truly loving and respectful parent, could you want anything greater for your child than that?
‘It is easier to build strong children, than to repair broken men.’ – Frederick Douglass