At first, Natalie Richard didn’t believe her daughter when she said she wasn’t allowed to say “no” to boys at the school dance.
The Utah mom told Fox13 her daughter in Grade 6 was informed by teachers she had to say “yes” to boys who wanted to dance with her at the school’s Valentine’s Day dance.
After Richard went to the school to investigate, she found out this rule has been around for a long time.
“[The school] basically just said they’ve had this dance set up this way for a long time and they’ve never had any concern before,” she told the broadcaster.
Speaking with Fox13, a Utah school district spokesperson said the rule is meant to teach children how to be inclusive.
“We want to promote kindness, and so we want you to say yes when someone asks you to dance,” spokesperson Lane Findlay told the station.
But Richard said there are other ways to teach young boys and girls how to be inclusive, kind and polite, without telling students they can’t say “no.”
“[It] sends a bad message to girls that girls have to say ‘yes’; sends a bad message to boys that girls can’t say ‘no,'” she continued.
The school dance, which is voluntary, also asks students to pick five people they want to dance with. If a student feels uncomfortable with someone on that list, they are told to speak up. Fox13 notes the rule is still in place.
WATCH: 5 ways to teach your child about consent
Parenting expert and child psychologist Jillian Roberts of Family Sparks, says the school in this situation is not teaching consent in the most appropriate way.
“Even if a girl said she was comfortable dancing with a person whose name was on the pre-organized dance card days before the event, she should still have the right to say ‘no thank you’ at the dance itself,” she tells Global News. “We need to talk to our kids about boundaries as early as we can and reinforce these ideas over time.”
Roberts adds she teaches children “smart boundaries,” where they understand the importance of their surroundings.
“You do need to be kind and, if possible, reasonably put the other person’s needs before your own in all of the outer rings, but not in the centre ring. By this I mean, it is proper to give an older person your seat on the bus or allow the person sitting beside you at dinner the larger piece of pie at dessert,” she continues.
“However, when it comes to your romantic self, you do not constantly put the other person’s needs before your own. You do not say ‘yes’ to a sexual advance you do not want — regardless of timing — to appease the other person. You do not stay in a relationship that is not right for you, out of kindness.”
Roberts says it is valuable to teach children the difference between “yes” and “no” early on, as well as consent.
In Ontario, for example, children learn about consent in Grade 2, and with the current climate of #MeToo as well as the importance of consent, Roberts says we shouldn’t be encouraging children to hug or kiss distant relatives either.
“Teaching our kids anything else sets them up for a confused understanding of boundaries,” she continues.
In 2017, Girl Scouts in the U.S. told parents to not to pressure their children to hug relatives, while a school in Brampton, Ont. even banned hugs.
According to SBS in Australia, teaching consent isn’t just about saying “no” or sex, it’s about empowering them to understand how to use consent on a daily basis.
“Children, regardless of gender, express fear of getting into trouble if they say no to an adult, and concern that they will be physically hurt if they say no to an older child or student with a history of bullying,” author Deanne Carson notes.
“We need to help kids on both sides of the equation understand these principles,” Roberts adds. “So kids know how to set boundaries and also respect the boundaries set by others. Teaching kids to simply say, “no thank you” is all that is required.”