Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Teaching Kids About Consent: Yes means yes

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.

  • Parents can use popular media depictions to start those conversations. Television shows aimed at teens such as Pretty Little Liars provide many different opportunities to talk about different situations in which teens may find themselves, like nonconsensual physical touch. Use both specific media and real life examples of positive, reciprocal ways that people show affirmation, kindness, love, affection, appreciation and attention towards one another and examples of ways that are inappropriate.


  • Directly teach your child that each person’s body is their own and they have the right to say what does and does not happen to it. Tell them that no always means no, and whenever, wherever, or for whatever reason a person says no, it must be respected. Focus on the concept of yes means yes, so instead of trying something and seeing if a partner says no, instead teach kids to ask for consent. “Can I give you a hug?” Is a simple way to start thinking about consent and the “yes means yes” concept at a young age.


  • You can begin modeling this early with children by not forcing physical affection on them when they don’t want it. For example, if someone wants to hug them and they don’t want to be hugged, teach them that they can offer a polite handshake instead. Ask for consent before engaging in physical affection to allow your child to practice giving or withholding consent.

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.

Although it may be hard, parents need to talk with their adolescents about very specific cases, such as those in the news about Steubenville and Maryville, and ask questions like these:

  • “Do you think this girl gave consent? Why or why not?”
  • “If you were the initiator in a situation where alcohol was involved, what would you do to make sure that you obtained consent from your partner?”
  • At what point do you know that the other person cannot consent to sexual behavior?”
  • And talk with your adolescents about their responsibilities as a bystander. “What would you do if you were at a party and saw someone having sexual relations with a person who was passed out?” “What would you do if you heard about or were shown pictures or videos of someone who appeared to be involved in a sexual activity when they were unconscious?”
  • Brainstorm possible solutions, such as finding the nearest adult, calling a parent and getting them involved, directly intervening, gathering a group to intervene, or calling the police. All of these are possible solutions that might be best in given situations. Providing your adolescent with the chance to think and talk through these difficult situations will leave them better prepared to respond if the chance arises.

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.


3 comments on “Teaching Kids About Consent: Yes means yes

  1. Pingback: Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker on Teaching Kids About Consent | The Achilles Effect

  2. Pingback: Why “Yes Means Yes?” | Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

  3. Pingback: The Writing Continues... | The Achilles Effect

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This entry was posted on September 29, 2014 by in Acting, For Teens and Tweens, Talking and tagged , , , .
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