Understanding Body Autonomy: Why it is important for children


If an adult is uncomfortable with having physical contact with someone they do not want to interact with, why should children be forced to do it? Child exploitation manifests itself in different forms. Some ways to combat it include adults being observant of the child’s surroundings, being communicative with children, supporting child welfare groups, and teaching children about body autonomy.

This subject can help children identify and/or deal with abuse to equip them with essential knowledge about their body.

Beby Study
Photo credit: Short Term 12 (2013) from IMDb https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2370248/mediaviewer/rm1902940673/

Body autonomy is defined as the power of a person to have full control over his/her own body, without external threat or coercion. Everyone – even children – has the right to reject any form of touch from anyone to whom they do not consent. A child’s “No” is still a “No”.

As equally critical to teaching children, adults should realise the highest level of importance about a child’s consent. Children are already aware of their bodies and know when they are uncomfortable, regardless of their relationship or familiarity with another person. Even if it’s a “sign of respect” to hug a relative during a reunion, if a child disapproves, adults should refrain from doing it. Respecting a child’s decision about what to do with their body empowers them. It will teach them that they are the only ones who have the right to govern their bodies and help them deal with abuse.

Here are some guides and reminders on how to teach children about body autonomy:

Hole body

Call each part what it is

There is no malice in calling our genitals what they are. No one is “too young” to be taught the right names for their body parts. Genitals are just like any other part of the body; they have a purpose. Therefore, there should be no shame in referring to them as they are. By encouraging children to use the right names for their genitals, they will be more likely to speak up if they have been abused. Giving nicknames to genitals only reinforces the idea that it is shameful to talk about the parts and, in the long run, may be harmful to children. When a child reports that someone touched their “cookie”, people might mistake it for actual food and disregard the child’s concern.

The importance of consent

Children learn to say “No” early. It should be treated as valid as an adult’s no, if not more serious. They should not be viewed as being disrespectful when they say “No” to adults. And equally, teaching a child about consent means that they should also value the consent of other people. They should learn to always ask for it before doing anything, especially physical contact with someone.
beby Girl

Setting boundaries

Helping children identify their boundaries will make it easier for them to understand the situations they are in. Adults should let children identify and decide what kinds of touch they are comfortable with, and what they are not. It is very crucial that children are taught that uncomfortable touches from relatives, loved ones, and friends are no exception.

Identify trustworthy adults

Help children identify at least five (5) adults they can turn to when something happens to them. It is usually helpful if most of them are not from the child’s family since they tend not to tell their parents or family members.

Shoplifters (2018) from Cincinatti World Cinema Shoplifters Short Clip

Remind them it’s not their fault

Reassure them that if something happens to them, it is not their fault and that they will not be in trouble speaking up. An adult’s initial response to victims should be to believe them and protect them. Children should not be invalidated because an adult’s reception will be detrimental to their development and future actions dealing with similar situations.

Teaching children body autonomy may prevent abuse, or in severe cases, prevent it from being hidden. Abuse is a difficult issue to tackle and deal with. Ultimately, though, it is an adult’s duty to provide a safe world for children. Children should not be expected to bear the burden of protecting themselves against abuse or dealing with abuse on their own. Knowledge of body autonomy can only do so much if abusers roam freely. At the end of the day, adults should be vigilant and hold predators accountable. Make no mistake; the only way to prevent abuse is to ensure that there are no abusers.

Disclaimer: In support of our advocacy for child protection, the following content is solely for educational purposes. The Studio Bridge is not liable for any inaccuracy or misrepresentation herein.

About The Author

Gian Suarez

He is a visionary storyteller who brings his writing and brand development skills to the team. He provides unconventional solutions to projects through thorough analysis and deconstruction. Gian is a filmmaker, a banana bread critic, and a milk tea connoisseur, among others.