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Talking to Kids About Consent


With the rise of the Me Too movement and allegations of sexual misconduct against many high-profile figures flooding our current events many parents are wondering how to talk to their kids about consent. It is not as tough of a conversation as you may believe. Here is a quick guide to help you feel confident and get started talking today.

Starting Early With Younger Kids

Helping kids understand consent (permission) early and understand their bodies belong to them makes it much easier to discuss sexual consent as they get older. The behaviors and mindset you help your child create have the power to be carried with them into adulthood. Here are some important lessons to pass on to your kiddos. You've got this parents! 

Begin with teaching children that their bodies belong to them and that a person needs to ask permission before touching their body. This includes hugs, kisses, holding hands, tickling, doctor visits, bathing, bathroom help, etc.  As kids get a bit older and are capable encourage children to wash their own genitals during bath time. Of course, parents have to help sometimes. When you do, model consent by asking for permission to wash your child’s body. “Can I wash your back now? How about your bottom?” If your child says “no” then hand them the washcloth and say, “Cool! Your booty needs a wash. Your turn to practice washing it.”

Never force a child to hug, touch, or kiss anybody, for any reason. For example, if Uncle Mike comes to visit and asks your child for a hug and your child says "no", don't make your child give Uncle Mike a hug.  This may hurt the adult's feelings, but you can simply explain that you are teaching your child about autonomy and s/he may change their mind later. Uncle Mike will get over it. You can offer alternatives if a child is resistant by saying something like, “Would you rather give Uncle Mike a high-five or blow him a kiss, maybe?”  Respecting children when they don't want touch helps them establish bodily autonomy.

Teach children "No" means "No". If someone says "no" or asks them to stop they need to respect that. This message goes both ways. To protect your child against abuse it is also helpful to tell them what to do if someone doesn't respect their "no" and that they must always tell a trusted adult even if the person told them to keep it a secret. At home use the word “surprise” instead of “secret” with your child. Ask other caregivers to do the same. Teach your child that adults should never ask kids to keep secrets.

Help children read body language. A large part of communication is body language (like facial expressions). Point this out to children and practice how they think others may feel in everyday situations. This will help them develop emotional intelligence and sense when someone is upset, being left out, lying, and more.  

Allow children to talk about their body in any way they want, without shame. Teach the correct words for their genitals, and do your best to be open and honest about bodies and sex.

A great way to bring up these topics is to read a book together. Here are a few to check out. 

You can also find some great videos on YouTube or Vimeo that you can watch together. Here is one you may like. 


With Teenagers   

Conversations around consent with teens need to be more comprehensive.  You can discuss consent in general terms but you'll want to give specific examples of when consent deals with sexual behaviors. Sexual consent is not just a simple yes or no. Consent can be given and then revoked or a person can change their mind. Partial consent may be given for one thing but not another or given last week but not today. Consent is not valid when given under the influence of drugs or alcohol. There is definitely more to discuss as kids get older.  

You can start with what consent is and is NOT. 

What is Consent? 

  • Permission and full acknowledgement to participate in a sexual activity
  • All partners want and freely choose sexual activity
  • Communicating YES on your own terms
  • It should be an enthusiastic yes and without doubt or convincing
  • Respecting that when someone doesn’t say “no,” it doesn’t translate to “yes.”

What Consent is NOT

  • Assuming that dressing sexy, flirting, accepting a ride, accepting a drink etc. is in any way consenting to anything more.
  • Saying yes (or saying nothing) while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Consent cannot be legally given when someone is drinking or using drugs.
  • Saying yes or giving in to something because you feel too pressured or too afraid to say no. 


Healthy Romantic Relationships

Before your teen begins to date have conversations often about healthy relationships.  Instill values such as everyone has the right to decide what they are comfortable with sexually, communication keeps relationships healthy, and that asking for consent shows respect for yourself and your partner. Talk about the role of coercion and how sometimes power is used to force or gain someone's compliance. Give examples. The news has plenty right now.  

Continue to model and practice how to give consent and ask for it from others. When you see it on a TV show or movie point it out as a good or bad example of how to ask permission to make advances sexually.  

Talk about Red Flags in relationships, for example:

  • Feeling pressure or guilt to do things you may not want to do.
  • Feeling like you “owe” them — because you’re dating, or they gave you a gift, etc.
  • They react negatively (with sadness, anger or resentment) if you say “no” to something, or don’t immediately consent.
  • Ignoring your wishes and not paying attention to nonverbal cues that could show you’re not consenting (ex: pulling/pushing away).

Consequences of not respecting consent

Below you'll find some common terms and consequences when someone's "no" is not listened to or respected. All of these behaviors are illegal and the perpetrator can be charged, prosecuted and if convicted, fined or imprisoned. Teens should know what each of these terms means. 

Sexual exploitation or misconduct

  • Refers to the use of tricks, coercion, threats, or an inappropriate use of power to get someone to agree to sexual contact; "taking advantage."

Sexual Harassment 

  • Sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that is unwelcome by the person to whom it is directed.  Harassment often contains an implied threat that something bad will happen if the victim does not comply.

Sexual Assault

  • The use or threats of force or violence to obtain sexual intercourse or sexual contact without the willing consent of the victim.  There are various degrees of sexual assault that are determined by the amount of force used, the presence and use of weapons, the images the victim suffers from the assault, and the kind of sexual contact which occurs.  The most extreme form of sexual assault is rape.  Other forms of sexual assault include kissing, pinching, grabbing, slapping, or otherwise touching someone's sexual organs without the consent of that person.
  • Date rape and acquaintance rape are specific forms of sexual assault that refer to rape by someone known to the victim—they are the most common forms of sexual assault.

Statutory Rape

  • Sexual intercourse with a minor, or if both people are under 18 and there is more than a 3 year age difference between them (in California).  The law does not consider a minor capable of giving consent to have sexual intercourse. Regardless of consent, any intercourse with a minor is technically rape, even if the intercourse is between two minors.  The age at which a person is no longer a minor varies from state to state.

Sexual Abuse

  • Sexual assault and/or exploitation of an individual that occurs on an ongoing basis over an extended period of time, sexual contact with someone who does not have the understanding or ability to give truly informed consent, such as a child or someone who is mentally incapable of making such judgments.

The Role of Drugs/Alcohol and Consent

Talk openly and honestly with your teen about partying. Make it clear that you don’t want them drinking or using drugs, but you know parties often have drugs and alcohol at them.

It's not a bad idea to establish a code word as a family in case of a bad or tricky situation. Establish some ground rules and be especially clear with your teen that there may be times they may feel scared to tell you what is going on for fear of getting in trouble, but that their health and safety are ALWAYS your #1 priority. 

Practice common scenarios and ask your teen questions about how they are going to keep themselves and others safe when they’re at parties.

    • How will you handle it if your driver has had too much to drink?
    • How does behavior change when someone has had too much to drink? How can you keep someone safe who has had too much to drink?
    • How will you know if drinking or drug use has reached a dangerous level?
  • Although it should be obvious, explain that a person who is drunk, high or otherwise impaired should not be touched, harassed, or have sex. Teach your children to stand up for, and seek help for, a fellow partygoer who has had too much to drink.
  • If you are drinking and make someone do something you are still responsible for your behavior.
  • A person can decide to stop an activity at any time, even if they agreed to it earlier. Above all, everyone has a right to their own body and to feel comfortable with how they use it.

Consent can be revoked

  • Someone can change their mind at ANY time. Someone needs to stop if someone changes their mind no matter what. 
  • Consent for one thing doesn't mean consent for another
  • Granting consent this week doesn't mean consent today. You must check in and ask again. 

Tools to help you with these conversations

Finally, here is a fun video you could watch together that compares consent to a cup of tea. If you have any further tips, questions, or comments please share them below.  



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