Teaching Teens About Giving Consent

As the father of a teenage daughter, nothing keeps me awake at night more than her personal safety. Aside from STI’s, teen pregnancy, and random acts of violence, consent, and everything that comes with is still a huge topic of conversation in the world today.
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Click the image for more information about consent.

When I grew up, we lived in a world where “No Means No”, but that outdated philosophy has been replaced with, in my opinion, the more accurate and conclusive, “Yes Means Yes”.
What does it all mean? Truthfully, it’s kind of a mess. Why? Because we are trying to define consent using a word like “yes” or “no”. In reality, that’s not how consent works. Sometimes yes means maybe. Sometimes yes means no! Learning about consent isn’t just about preventing sexual assault. It’s about learning now to read your partners physical, verbal, and nonverbal cues. Sometimes, saying “yes” feels like the right thing at the time, but quickly escalates to a situation that one or more parties find uncomfortable.

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 When it comes to teaching our teens about consent, you want to make sure that boys and girls alike understand that it is OK to say “no”, and it’s OK to change your mind. It’s OK to back out, no matter how “far” things have escalated.
I think it’s important that we teach our teens that consent isn’t just about preventing sexual assault. It certainly is a huge factor, but it’s also about respecting your partner, and the way they feel in the moment. For many teens, intimate encounters, even more innocent ones, are already a jumbled mesh of hormones, emotion, anxiety, and impulse. Add in peer pressure and feelings of rejection, and these intimate encounters can easily become a situation that got out of hand to one or both teens involved.

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Here’s a couple of things to consider when teaching about consent. Some of them can be taught at any age, and some or more focused on adolescence and young adults.
  1. Make sure you kids ask permission before touching their peers. If the answer is no, move on with your business.
  2.  Educate your teen by telling them that it’s OK to “check-in” with their partner every once in a while to make sure that they are still a willing participant to any activities.
  3.  Help teens understand the importance of the words “STOP” and “NO”.
  4.  Help teens read social cues, body language, facial expressions, and other non-verbal cues that suggest a partner might not be as comfortable as they say they are.
  5. Empathy is a gift that we can give our children. Teaching them to put themselves in someones shoes can help children understand that their actions have consequences.
  6.  Don’t assume just because your partner was OK with something once that it means it will happen again.
  7.  Encourage children and teens to speak up when they feel uncomfortable or violated.
  8.  Explain to teens exactly what harassment and assault are, and the consequences of such actions.
  9.  Don’t leave out topics that include consent and other high risk behaviors, like drinking and drugs.
  10.  Of course, include consent related topics in “the talk” when you feel your teens are ready.
Here’s something else to consider. Teaching about “Good Touch” and “Bad Touch” is not just something we teach to younger children. Working in group homes with teen boys I saw a lot of physical interactions: butt smacking, “purple nurples”, pinching, and even hits to the genitals. However, time and time again teens will sit down and discuss consent and often the boys and girls will have dramatically different reactions to these types of physical interactions. I also feel it’s important to point out that this is not just a boys vs girls scenario. We are all different, come from different backgrounds and cultures, so respecting physical boundaries isn’t about not allowing “boys to be boys”. It is about teaching boys and girls to have fun and stay safe and comfortable around each other.

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This topic is a pretty big deal. We could spend all month talking about consent in all of its forms. If you have any specific questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below, or message me in private. I’m always open to new topics too!
Nick.
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