Teaching Kids Consent

Tips from Cleveland Rape Crisis Center on How To Teach Consent at Every Age

Consent is about asking for permission and respecting others’ boundaries. Most often, when we think about consent, we think about sexual relationships. However, consent is a normal part of everyday life.

We can help children understand consent by talking early and talking often. This will help them build a strong foundation for the rest of their lives. It also empowers them to speak up when boundaries are crossed.

Here are some ways to talk about consent with children and teens:

Ages 0-4:

  • Model consent during day-to-day life. For example, when a child is being tickled, they will sometimes say “Stop! Stop!” while smiling and giggling, even if they are having fun and want you to continue. Instead of playing along, stop when you child says no, and continue when they tell you they are ready.
  • Let them know that it is OK to cry and express their feelings. Learning to be in touch with their emotions can help them let you know if something is wrong.

Ages 5-10:

  • Introduce the meaning of consent. You do not need to talk about sexual consent just yet. Start with examples like sharing toys, playing games, and respecting personal space.
  • Teach your child that they get to decide about their own body, and that no one should touch them without their permission.
  • Practice consent: Many children enjoy giving hugs to friends and family at gatherings, but physical affection should never be forced. Ask your child, “Would you like to give Grandma a hug, a high five, or a wave?” If Grandma insists on a hug, stand up for your child’s decision. This will demonstrate to your child that their bodily autonomy matters.

Ages 11-13:

  • Start incorporating what consent means in romantic relationships. Teach them that both partners need to agree and give consent, even with giving hugs and holding hands.
  • Emphasize the importance of asking for consent and respecting a “No,” even if it’s not the answer you wanted.
  • Remind them that a trusted adult can always help them if they are unsure or feel unsafe about something.

Ages 14-18:

  • Introduce the more complex aspects of consent, including how alcohol can play a role. Let them know that intoxicated individuals are not capable of giving consent.
  • Empower your teen to speak up when they see something that violates consent. For example, if they see that their friend looks uncomfortable with their date, encourage them to step in and support their friend.
  • Even if your teen is not sexually active in high school, conversations about sexual consent can equip them for dating relationships as they grow into adulthood.


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