What age is too young to teach consent?

HOW early is too early to start teaching children about the concept of "consent" in schools? This is a question the Scottish Government is currently considering after launching a national review of how Personal and Social Education (PSE) classes address the topic of abuse across all age groups.

Under a push from the Scottish National Party to combat violence against women, children as young as two could receive lessons about consent.

The proposal, titled "Equally Safe: A deliver plan for Scotland's strategy to prevent and eradicate violence against women and girls", caused an outcry from family groups who claimed it was "ridiculous" to teach preschool age children about consent.

Along with teaching schoolchildren the importance of consent and healthy relationships, the plan will also see Rape Crisis Scotland's sexual violence prevention education program rolled out across a further 11 schools.

Some campaigners have hailed the proposal, claiming that working with children from a young age was a vital step towards reducing the number of sexual crimes.

The proposal would see preschool aged children being taught about consent and what it means. Picture: iStock
The proposal would see preschool aged children being taught about consent and what it means. Picture: iStock

But, according to The Scotsman, senior lecturer in sociology at Abertay University in Dundee, Dr Stuart Waiton, thinks the idea of teaching young children about consent is "very troubling".

He said that, while children need to be taught right from wrong, it is also integral to their development that they have a "private space where they are free to make mistakes and learn from them".

"It is right to tell children about boundaries. But the presumption seems to be that we need to teach children otherwise they will become violent which is a fairly grotesque presumption particularly about children, especially small children," Mr Waiton said.

"It would seem to be inappropriate to say the least in terms of the age, the younger children who don't even know what sex is or what relationships are. But they don't seem to be able to leave this alone - they've got an obsession with early invention even when it makes no sense.

"It is very natural for young children to touch and cuddle and it almost as if they want to make that into something that is toxic," he added.

Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, which campaigns for family-related issues, echoed these sentiments, saying the introduction of this policy could have an adverse effect on children.

Family groups and academics have criticised the plan, claiming the Government has an “obsession with early intervention”.
Family groups and academics have criticised the plan, claiming the Government has an “obsession with early intervention”.

"Politicians need to recognise that the school curriculum cannot provide the answer to every social ill," Mr Wells reportedly said. "To prematurely introduce the minds of young children to thoughts and behaviours that are completely alien to their knowledge and experience would only confuse and disturb them unnecessarily.

"There is no need for early years settings to promote the Scottish Government's view of gender equality.

"Young children can be taught to treat other people - whether male or female - with respect without promoting an understanding of gender equality that fails to recognise that there are fundamental differences between men and women and between boys and girls."

However, the Government doesn't seem swayed by these claims, emphasising that teaching consent is only one part of the PSE class, which also includes relationships, sexual health, parenthood, physical health and sport.

"We do not accept these claims," a Scottish Government spokeswoman said in a statement. "It is vital that children and young people gain knowledge of healthy relationships and behaviour and this pilot of the Whole Schools Approach engages children, staff and parents [to] talk about this and wider gender equality issues.

"The review of personal social education, which is now under way, will look at how education authorities are delivering this important element of the curriculum."



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