Parent, Teacher, Author
Last week I taught a series of classes on Helping Children Thrive at ACU’s Summit. As we talked about thriving, we moved into a conversation about sexual self-efficacy. When someone has sexual self-efficacy, she is able to see herself as a person who can make decisions about what happens to her sexually. He knows how to say yes and no to sexual behaviors and relationships. He knows how to ask for consent from a partner before engaging in sexual behaviors and how to demand that others ask for consent.
In order to help children thrive, parents need to connect with them through talking often and openly, build competence by providing kids with information about physical development and facts about sex and sexuality, and encourage confidence through helping kids think through specific scenarios that might cause difficulty and making a plan to handle them.
Middle school is a time when many adolescents will touch one another in the school hallway. Oftentimes, this happens without the consent of the person being touched. Talk with your child about why non-consensual touch is not okay, even if it does not appear to be hurting anyone. Role-play with them how they might handle it if someone touches them without their consent, and what they might do if a friend engages in non-consensual touching. Have them practice asking for consent from others and giving or withholding consent.
This is just the beginning of the kinds of conversations that you’ll be having your kids about consent. Adolescents need to be inundated with information about the importance of consent. The issue of consent tends to be blurry for children at this age when mood altering substances are involved. Have frank conversations with your adolescents about the fact that drug and alcohol use can decrease inhibitions, and that once someone is clearly unable to make informed decisions, then everyone should consider that person unable to give consent. Remember, since “yes means yes,” if someone cannot say yes, then they cannot give consent. Once again, use role-play or very specific scenarios as a way to talk about controversial and difficult situations that may require increased assertiveness.
I asked Dr. Dae Sheridan, clinical sexologist and a parent herself, if she had any thoughts on talking with your children about consent. She said, “Remember that this is a series of discussions throughout childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. When you are open to having the dialogue, discussions will come more easily.”
From early on, we must begin talking about the concept of consent. Once our children reach middle school, we need to be sure that they understand what consent means, in which situations one can never assume consent, how to give or withhold consent and ask for it from others, and how to seek help when they or someone else is having their right to consent violated. It is up to adults to be sure that every child is taught that there are no “blurred lines.” Yes means yes, and when someone is incapacitated for any reason, they cannot give consent. That’s all there is to it. When we as a group teach this lesson and stand against behavior that violates it, our voices will be heard.
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