Asking Babies for Consent

So the ot my wife went to a course about baby massages, which is a lovely way for her to bond with the little guy, get out with him and mingle with some other mums.  However, she started by saying something which for me would have meant straight away getting up, packing up his stuff and getting the fuck out of there!

Asking for baby’s consent

So the “teacher” said that they should start by asking the baby for consent to take their clothes off and give them a massage.

Now if he was a little bit older and understood what the question was and had the capacity for being able to make a decision, then yeah ok… I could see where this was heading.  But he’s not even 12 weeks old!

He has no perception of what those words mean, has no ability for being able to answer and has no concept of things like massages, personal space and the power to be in control of his body.

The baby consent principle

This all seems to have started (in the UK at least) from an interview aired by ABC and then covered by a number of British news outlets with a sexuality expert called Deanne Carson.  That particular piece was about asking for consent from babies to change their shitty nappies!

WHAT!?!?!

There are times where I would say actually yeah asking your child for consent when it comes to things like a massage, getting their ears pierced, certain snack foods or activities and even to an extent their clothing makes perfect sense.  IF they are old enough to understand the question and make a response, why not start to teach them about the idea of having control over one’s own body.  It’s an important lesson and eventually does lead to an important part of their sexual development to know that they can say no.

BUT

Don’t teach them that if they want to walk around in a shitty nappy that it’s ok to refuse a nappy change.  Kids (when they can understand) do need to learn about their own body but they also need to learn about hygiene & safety and that while they are young there are certain decisions which are to be made by adults.

Nappy change consent out of context

I understand from a few other interviews with Deanne Carson that her original interview has been taken out of context and that the way people made it sound, it did turn it in to an absolutely crazy concept…  However if there are people who misunderstood it and thought she is an absolute joke, there may be people out there whose baby has had the same shitty nappy on for weeks!

I do get her teachings being about control of their own body, but think that the times at which she is asking for consent are not appropriate.  Asking about nappies for example could be even more damaging.  What if the baby learns what the question is, doesn’t want to be changed, tells you as such, but it really needs doing.  What happens if a toddler say’s no, you can’t change my nappy, but you have to do it.  Is that child then learning that he has the right to say no but it doesn’t mean fuck all?

They’re just growing up and learning boundaries, let’s not confuse them.

Deanne Carson works mainly with children aged 3 years and up…  I think that age, where they are becoming more in control over things such as foods they can eat, activities they can take part in and being in control of their own bodily functions (like going to the toilet), it’s a good time to teach them about their rights over their body.

They still need to know that parents some times need to do things which the child won’t like, but at that stage it makes sense.  It’s not a lesson which a 12 week old baby needs to learn!

I know that the idea is that you’re just talking to them…  I have conversations with Ripley, of course I do, and yeah I answer for him.  But would I ask him if I can change his nappy, give him a bath or give him a massage?  Hell no.

Deanne Carson’s idea has been taken far too literally by some people I feel, and it’s important that a nice idea about giving them a personal identity and personal strength isn’t taken too far and becomes something utterly confusing or downright unhygienic if you take it too literally.

Give babies more choice

If you really want to do this however, you have to also be careful to ensure that you are consistent.  I don’t want to generalize (although I’m going to and I apologize for that, it’s just for the purpose of giving an example), but usually the people who would go along with this idea are people who have a “new world” approach to life and / or parenting.  Perhaps it would go hand in hand with things such as gender neutral parenting, earth babies, non-directive parenting or free range parenting.

For example you can’t ask your child for consent about changing their nappy but also tell them that they must recycle or have to eat all their vegetables, or even in the case of vegan parents, that the kids can’t eat meat.  Gender neutral parenting styles would need to fall in line as soon as a child chooses that actually they do have a gender identity no matter which way they choose and at what age.

Being able to choose different things about various aspects of their own lives and bodies is something which will come later in life (and still well within their childhood)…  At a time where it is all a lot less confusing.  I honestly think that it is more important that children learn that yes their body is theirs and that they have a voice which they need to use, but that also there are certain things which are and always will be out of their control and that this is also something which they need to learn to accept.

At primary school now, they don’t have winners and losers during sports days.  So how will these kids cope when they grow up and suddenly the prospect of winning (and doing so with pride but respect) or losing (and doing so with dignity) are new to them.  The same applies to consent… Socially and legally consent can involve more than one party and what the child (or then adult) wants may not be possible in the legal realm.

You might not agree with everything I’ve said here – you might agree with none of it at all, but I think we can all agree that when it comes to parenting we need to do what is best for the child.  Not what’s best for us or our consciousness…  But what has the absolute most benefit for the kid – even if in the short term he or she doesn’t like it.  I know that the concept has been take out of context for a lot of people and it has been taken way too far by some others.  I’ve focused on those views a lot in this because that’s the sort of extreme parenting I am talking about.  Kids need a certain amount of freedom, they need to learn their own lessons, but as parents we do need to also show a degree of restraint.

Let’s try and find that balance!

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