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The slippery slope of seeking infant consent
Living with Children
John Rosemond

Competition amongst the membership of the International Association of the Weird and Even Weirder for the Most Bizarre Idea of All Time has finally, after more than five decades of weird-mongering, come to an end – the rest of us can only hope, anyway.

The winner is Deanne Carson of Australia who proposes that to advance a “culture of consent” in the home, parents should ask their babies’ permission before changing their diapers, as in, “I’m going to change your nappy [diaper] now, my precious. Is that OK?”

Carson contends that infants will not comprehend the question but, she says, “If you leave a space and wait for body language, then you’re letting them know that their response matters.” Back to that in a moment.

It should be noted that Carson – a self-appointed “sexuality expert” – is CEO of Body Safety Australia, which promotes itself as “Victoria’s leading provider of positive relationship education in childhood, primary and secondary schools.”

It might also be relevant that Carson dyes her hair purple, a color symbolic of mystery and, by extension, the mystery meat baloney.

Once upon a time, and not all that long ago, a person who proposed that parents should ask infants for consent to change their diapers would be regarded by everyone except herself as deranged. Not so today.

Today, there are not only people like Carson who come up with this stuff but also people who believe it and immediately begin doing it. (It should be noted that Carson is only the latest spokesperson for this, um, movement.)

To be fair, Carson believes that asking infants permission to change their diapers is going to help them, later in life, recognize individuals who harbor inappropriate intentions toward them and head them off at the pass. (Did you get that? It was truly quite clever.)

But back to the topic at hand: In other words, Carson’s intentions are worthy. She simply wants to protect children from sexual predators. No rational person would dispute the value of that.

But as Bernard of Clairvaux so astutely pointed out some 870 years ago, good intentions often lead to highly problematic outcomes – the invention of weather predicting being a prime example. Carson assures parents that their infants do not understand the question, but how can she be certain of this? After all, it did not take long for my dog, Mazie, as a puppy, to figure out what was I was saying to her. Mazie is smart, but – and somewhat needless to say – human infants are smarter. They understand mega-more than they can express.

Ergo, the very real possibility exists that most infants will readily decipher the meaning of “Can I change your diaper now?” It is equally possible that some may then try to communicate with body language, squealing, flailing and such that no, they do NOT give the permission.

What if their parents, thinking the squirming, squealing and flailing is simply cute, charge ahead and change the diapers? Take it from a child and family psychologist, no amount of therapy can reverse a trauma of that sort induced so early in a child’s life.

In this paradoxical fashion, Carson’s “culture of consent” becomes instead a family culture of confusion, mistrust, denial, and all-around dysfunction.

Where is Bernard when we so desperately need him?


John Rosemond is a family psychologist. He can be reached at and

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