Georgie Porgie pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry.
Bet you can still recite this ubiquitous nursery rhyme by heart.
I vividly remember singing this odd little diddy when I was a kid, and then, more awkwardly, as a mother of two young daughters.
As I read aloud, I looked at the pictures of wailing young girls and the churlish Georgie and wondered if I should say something, you know, about consent.
I hummed and hawed so long that I didn’t have to bring up the subject.
“He should stop that,” one of them said in the succinct and clear-minded language of the young.
It was easy after that. I took their lead and asked why. They talked slowly for me, amazed that I didn’t seem to understand the problem.
“The girls don’t want him to kiss them, mom,” said one.
“He should ask them,” the other said.
That was my chance. I added in my two cents worth and wholeheartedly agreed Georgie should ask before he kisses them.
He should ask anyone before touching them for any reason.
“So should you,” I said. “And so should anyone who wants to touch you.”
“Ya,” the squealed in unison.
Suddenly, that was enough time wasted on Georgie for one day. They quickly flipped the page to another nursery rhyme and another conversation.
I’d forgotten about that story until a friend told me how her grandchild is always visibly upset with Georgie Porgie every time he sees the guy. She tries to skip the rhyme, but it doesn’t always work.
So, without fail, she casually talks about the troublesome behaviour and reinforces her young charge’s feelings about the cad. She normalizes the discussion. One minute you’re talking about Lego, the next you are talking about consent.
No big deal.
The consent discussion is ubiquitous in these days of the #MeToo movement as we learn – or relearn – how important consent is to a healthy sexual relationship. But still, it’s not the first thing to come to mind when you are sitting around with your children belting out nursery rhymes.
But, hey, maybe it should be.
Children intuitively know that they should be in charge of their bodies. They don’t like it when others invade their privacy without their permission. The only thing they really need is us to help empower them to speak up, and to back them up when they do. They will do the rest.
I get it. It ain’t always easy. Don’t get me going about my first discussion with my youngest daughter about a sex-ed video we were prescreening before she saw it with her class. Let’s just say, it didn’t go well, and I’ve been the butt of family jokes ever since.
Still, we can start with the small stuff. Ask our own kids for permission for a kiss. Respect them when they don’t want to be tickled. Make it clear to them that they don’t have to hug anyone unless they want to – no matter how nicely they are asked. This won’t make your kid a thankless brat, or a fearful loner, it will make them an individual who gets to decide their own boundaries.
Meg Hickling, a sexual health educator in Vancouver, has an easy-to-read guide for parents on the subject, The New Speaking of Sex: What Your Children Need to Know and When They Need to Know It.
Studies in the Netherlands and Germany suggest children who begin discussions on consent young have stronger self-esteem, better body image, and healthy sexual practices as young adults. Sex education starts in the early years of school in B.C. for a reason. It works.
So why not start with our own kids in our own homes? Let’s rewrite our definition of consent, from the time they are born, and we can start by kissing Georgie Porgie goodbye for good.
Lynn Easton writes for the Ridge Meadows Early Childhood