From headlines in the daily paper, morning radio talk show hosts discussing it on the air, and news outlets sharing breaking news through Snapchat, it’s hard for our kids to avoid words and current events that are associated with sex. It may be tempting to change the radio station, turn off the nightly news, flip the newspaper over, and restrict their social media use to protect their innocence but it’s not realistic. Instead, take charge and talk to tweens and teens about sexual consent.
If this post could serve as a trigger, please stop reading!
Why talk about this now? Besides the landscape of current events, TeachConsent.org believes, “Attitudes and beliefs formed during these critical years will most likely affect how they treat their dating partners now and in the future.”
Our kids are growing up in the age of #MeToo and hearing from women, who have been silenced for too long, as they come forward to share powerful stories about times they didn’t give consent and why they didn’t report it at the time. We might like to think the conversation about consent can wait until our kids are in healthy relationships but deep down we know a violation of one’s consent can happen at any time, anywhere, and at any age.
Sexual consent isn’t an easy topic to talk and it’s even more difficult if your past includes a situation where you did not give consent.
As hard as it is to want to avoid the hard topics, we’ve had some important conversations in our home that originated from current events. I thought it would be helpful to write about how to talk to tweens and teens about sexual consent based on how I’ve approached this subject my 12 year old boy (7th grade) and 14 year old girl (9th grade). I hope these conversation starters and resources provide guidance about how to approach this difficult, but important, topic in your home.
How to Talk to Tweens and Teens About Sexual Consent
Ways to Start the Conversation
The easiest way to start hard conversations is to seize teachable moments and not shy away from tough topics as they come up in daily life. Tweens and teens will know that they can come to you with questions and concerns about anything if you have important conversations about difficult subjects. Media can give kids the wrong idea about boys’ and girls’ roles in relationships but you may find that these are two great ways to begin a talk with tweens and teens about sexual consent:
- Current events- There’s no shortage of coverage of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the news. Asking your child what they think about #MeToo, the Brent Kavanaugh hearings, etc. opens the door to a conversation and allows them to express their opinion about current events since the media does play a big role in our lives.
- Shows and movies- Watching and listening together creates a shared experience that can be used start a conversation about what you’ve seen. Highlight positive examples of consent in what you just saw. Call out instances when characters were put in situations where they didn’t give consent.
Amaze.org recommends asking:
- What were some examples of consent you noticed?
- Why is consent important?
- Did watching this change your ideas about consent and if so, how?
- What can a young person do to make sure they get consent from a partner?
- *If there’s kissing, ask your tween or teen if the characters consented to the kissing. You can also ask what someone should do if they’re not sure if their partner is consenting.
You can also check movie and TV ratings on Common Sense Media who provides discussion points for families as part of each review. Also be sure to take 48 seconds to watch this video: 5 Easy Ways to Deal with Sexy Stuff in Media
Since questions related to consent could come up with kids of any age, I recommend The Good Men Project’s This is How You Teach Your Kids About Consent. This age appropriate guide features a list of parenting action items for parents of kids ages 1-21 in hopes that we can raise a generation of children who have less rape and sexual assault in their lives.
Teach the Definition of Consent
According to Amaze.org, “Sexual consent is when people agree to engage in certain sexual behaviors.” Here are 9 very important points about consent that Amaze.org believes all tweens and teens should know:
- They can express their consent by saying, “Yes, that’s okay with me.”
- Just because someone doesn’t say “no,” it doesn’t mean consent has been given.
- Asking for consent and giving consent for any sexual behavior is very important.
- You have the right to say “no” to any behavior that you do not want to engage in at any point, for any reason, and your partner must respect your decision.
- Your partner also has the right to say “no” to any behavior at any point, for any reason, and you must respect their decision.
- Consent must be given willingly—if a person is forced to consent to any type of behavior, that’s not consent. It’s called sexual coercion.
- If an individual is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, they cannot legally give consent. Engaging in sexual activity with someone who is under the influence of drugs and alcohol is considered rape.
- A person must be a certain age in order to legally give consent. This is called the “age of consent” and consent laws vary in each state. Know the age of consent for your state.
- Consent can get confusing, so if you are ever unsure whether a person is consenting, it is a good idea to ask them.
Take Time to Listen
We know our kids will tune us out if we start talking too long so take a step back and let them talk while you listen. CommonSenseMedia.org advises parents to “Draw kids out by asking what they’ve read and watched and what they think about it” by saying:
- “Are your friends or teachers talking about the latest news?”
- “Why do you think this is such a big deal?”
- “Who do you believe and why?”
Also know that a short conversation can be incredibly meaningful. You don’t need to have a long drawn out discussion to have made an impact on your tween or teen.
Provide Age-Appropriate Examples They’ll Understand
Tweens and teens don’t want to talk about sex with you any more than you want to talk about it with them so reinforce what you’re trying to teach through YouTube videos, memes DMed via Instagram, or sent as part of a Snapchat streak. Kids tend to need to hear things at least 7 times before they start to sink in so using age-appropriate multimedia tools such as the Tea and Consent video (above) to reinforce the message about consent can be extremely helpful.
Build Media Literacy Skills
With 24/7 news that comes at us from all angles, one important skill that parents can foster is media literacy. Being media literate means learning what the specific piece of media is, why it was made, and determining if it’s credible information or misinformation. It allows tweens and teens to better understand all sides of the issue before taking a personal stance.
Common Sense Media encourages parents to teach media literacy by asking specific questions and backing up opinions with answers. These skills help tweens and teens think critically and empowers them have a constructive conversation about the issues being discussed. Media literacy is best taught when incorporated into everyday activities and can also be taught during breaking news.
News comes from a myriad of sources and since over half of all kids get their news from online media, including social networking sites, it’s important to remind tweens and teens:
- Breaking news can be wrong
- Be wise in your use of social media
- Stick with credible news sources
- Know the characteristics of legitimate and fake news
- It’s ok to remain skeptical
- Always check facts. This list of Fact Checking Tools for Teens and Tweens from Common Sense Media is quite helpful!
Revisit the Conversation
Just like so many other conversations we have with our kids, talking to tweens and teens about sexual consent is not a one and done. Our kids grow up, their relationships with each other change. Check in and make sure they remember the 9 very important points about consent from Amaze.org mentioned above.
Other important articles to help you talk to tweens and teens about sexual consent include:
- 5 Tips for Talking to Your Teen About Consent from Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center
- Six Tips for Talking to Your Teenage Son About Consent on GrownandFlown.com
- You Asked It: If You Love Me… from Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center
- How to Talk About Sexual Harassment with Tweens and Teens on Common Sense Media
- How to Talk About Healthy Relationships with Tweens and Teens on TechSavvyMama.com
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