ELEANOR MORRISON, author of C is for Consent
Please briefly introduce yourself.
I'm a writer with experience in academia, activism, and entertainment media.
Why did you decide to write this book?
My son was not even a year old when all the big #MeToo stories of 2017 were hitting (Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, etc... a new one every day). Reading these stories and looking at my son, I felt such a tremendous responsibility to get it right with the way I raise him. And I realized I wasn't the only parent who would be having those feelings and thinking about this subject. I wanted a book that would be just as much for parents to get used to talking about the concept of consent as it would be for the kids to learn the concept in the first place. Consent isn't just this thing related to adult sexual experiences — it's woven throughout our daily lives from the time we are kids. Teaching respect for body boundaries to very young children will inform their respect for their own bodies and the bodies of others for the rest of their lives.
What research or information did you gather to complete the story?
As a research-loving parent, I've been immersed in a wide range of research, pediatrician recommendations, and respectful parenting practices since before this book came to be. C is for Consent was this wonderful coming together of many things I'd been thinking about, reading about, and enacting in our daily lives. For instance, I knew that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends kids not be forced to show physical affection to people if they don't want to, which includes being able to turn down hugs and kisses from grandma and grandpa. But it turns out a lot of people aren't aware of that recommendation, or even more unfortunately disagree with it, prioritizing an avoidance of momentary disappointment by a grandparent over the healthy development of a child. You don't have to give a hug when you receive a gift. Why should your child? Neither adults nor children should be forced to perform politeness with their bodies.
Why do you think that it’s important to teach kids about consent?
Kids are our future. Trite but true! If we want cultural norms to shift, we have to start with our own children. And more immediately, we really have to help our children be thoughtful about this subject because there's a cultural onslaught of messaging that doesn't respect body boundaries. Imagine if instead of all the implicit lessons society and media give us about disregarding consent, encouraging kissing a girl who says no, we had narratives respecting other people's ability to decide what they want to happen to their bodies. We're inching closer to that, and having more open cultural conversations about consent, but society is going to take a long time to shift. If we don't provide direct guidance to our kids on the subject, they will pick up lessons elsewhere.
Can you share some tips for ways that parents can do so?
The most fundamental action for parents to take is to listen to their children's verbal and nonverbal cues about physical affection, and respond supportively. I might want to lavish my child with kisses at a time that he wants a little space, and it is within my control to acknowledge his feelings and behave respectfully. A relative or good friend might be pressuring my kid for a hug, and it is up to me to step in and let my child know it is his choice whether he gives a hug or says no thanks. And by the way, these things are possible with a preverbal child! We started this approach in our household long before our son had words, because it was pretty clear from his nonverbals what he did or didn't want. If we teach kids to be in touch with their feelings about their body, and we consistently reaffirm that their preferences will be respected, that is the healthiest possible foundation we can offer our kids.
Do you have other current or upcoming projects related to consent or consent education?
Just this book! I'm trying to get it into more stores and libraries so that more children and caregivers have access to it. Anyone who wants to support that effort can call up their local bookshop or library and tell them that C is for Consent is available on Ingram! Ingram is the biggest global distributor of books, but shops and libraries have to know to order the book before it can appear on their shelves. This was just a small Kickstarter-backed project, so I don't have the publicity or marketing budget big publishers use to get their books carried everywhere. This is a true passion project, and it's been an honor to take it this far. I dream of the day this book becomes a go-to baby shower gift, toddler birthday gift, preschool and kindergarten library selection... Until then, I'll keep trying my best to get it out there.