As troop leaders, our girls’ well-being is our number one concern—and given our current culture, where sexual harassment and assault are frequently normalized, it can be easy to constantly worry about keeping our girls safe. But teaching our girls about consent doesn’t always have to come from a place of fear. In fact, it can actually be an act of great joy—a fact I was reminded of a few weeks ago with my Brownie troop.
As a ConnectZ program troop leader, I run staff-led Girl Scout troops in public schools to reach girls with access barriers. Around the third week of programming, we create community standards or a troop agreement about how to behave and treat each other during our meetings. In the process of reading some premade troop statements, we came across the concept of consent. It was a new word for nearly all of my elementary-aged troops. I explained to them that consent is asking someone first before touching them. During our closing activity for a second-grade troop, one girl asked if we could end with hugs. After I replied, “Yes, but only if people are comfortable, remember consent?” the girls started asking each other “Can I give you a hug?” and going around hugging each other. I asked, “Does anyone want to hug me?” and a girl responded, “Let’s all go hug the teacher!” and I ended my week surrounded by the embrace of a dozen small second graders.
These are the moments that remind me that teaching girls to respect their bodies and desires, and to give and accept love however they feel most comfortable, is inherently beautiful and, yes, joyful.
Why Consent is Important at All Ages
We don’t need to wait until girls are pre-teens or teenagers to talk about consent. As girls grow up, we can tailor and adapt the conversation to ensure it’s still age-appropriate. As demonstrated by my inspiring Brownies, girls at a young age are the most receptive to conversations about showing affection, and they’ll remember these small lessons for a long time. Preadolescent girls are discovering their sense of self, what they like and don’t like, and who they like; first crushes and the onset of romantic feelings for the first time are a perfect opportunity to begin a lifetime of instilling that a girl’s choice is always most important. Adolescent girls will increasingly encounter tough situations as they age. They’ll benefit from a firm foundation of self-respect and support from trusted adult mentors to guide them through these rough spots.
Ideas for Incorporating Consent into Daily Life
- High Five/Handshake/Hug. In younger troops, you can greet girls or close troop meetings by giving each girl the option of a wave, hug, high five, or special handshake. Older girls can also do this activity amongst themselves to practice communication and navigating different preferences.
- Let her decide how to show affection. Girl Scouts of the USA published an article reminding parents why it’s important not to pressure daughters into giving physical affection to family members. We can also extend this sentiment to expressing affection in general—girls always have power over their own bodies. This means that girls can say no to receiving affection as well!
- Talk about what you see. Television and movies are saturated with sexual messaging. Instead of turning the channel or awkwardly ignoring a steamy scene, ask teenagers what they think. “Is it okay for the man to keep kissing that woman even though she tried pushing him away at first?” In troop settings, you can analyze these scenes as a group and discuss what healthy sexuality looks like in reality.
The central idea of consent is creating a culture of mutual respect. Teaching consent does not have to be exclusively about protecting our girls from harm—although that is the part that makes it crucial to do—it can also be about preparing girls for a world in which they know they have the power to say yes or no, to set their own boundaries, and take control of their futures.
Additional Resources for Teaching Consent
- Teaching Consent Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
- 5 Ways to Teach Your Children About Consent
- Three Handshakes- An activity for learning how consent feels
Jinath Tasnim – Jinath is a Program Coordinator with the ConnectZ program at Girl Scouts River Valleys, running staff-led troops and bringing the Girl Scout experience to traditionally underserved girls. She received her BA in geography from Macalester College and has a background in communications and multicultural education. Before Girl Scouts, Jinath worked for a human rights nonprofit (With an all-female staff of lawyers!). Jinath loves to be outside—you can find her hiking, biking, and gardening until wintertime, when it’s time to cook, host parties, and check out the Twin Cities’ theater scene.