Teaching Older Children and Teens About Consent
Asking for consent means asking someone for permission to do something. An example might be asking if it's okay to touch someone or be physically close to them. Someone gives consent when they know exactly what they are being asked to do, and they agree clearly, without being pressured.
How can you teach older children and teens about consent?
As your child reaches the teen years, it's important to talk about what consent means in sexual situations. Even if your child isn't dating or having sex, talking about consent early can help make sure they understand how to set their own boundaries. And it helps them know how to respect other people's boundaries. Here are some tips.
- Ask your child what consent means to them.
This will help you find out what they already know and where they might have gaps in their knowledge.
- Be clear about what consent means and when it's needed.
Here are some talking points:
- To give consent, someone has to clearly understand what they are being asked to do.
- Consent isn't just required for sex. Kissing, cuddling, and general physical closeness all count as things that need consent.
- People need to consent each time they have physical contact, even if they have consented before.
- Consent at the start of a sexual act is not a promise to complete it. Someone can stop consenting at any time, for any reason.
- Consent doesn't count if:
- Someone is being pressured to give it.
- Someone is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or becomes unconscious.
- Someone is younger than the legal age of consent. (This varies from state to state.)
- Talk to your child about how to say no.
It might help to give them phrases they can practice. That way, they don't have to try to find the "right words" in the moment. For example, "I don't feel comfortable with that. Let's watch a movie instead." Or simply, "No. That's not okay with me."
- Talk to your child about how to accept a "no" from somebody else.
Explain that being told no might feel a little hurtful or embarrassing in the moment. Reassure your child that it's okay to have those feelings. But stress that above all else, it's important to respect someone else's boundaries.
- Remember that teaching kids about consent doesn't mean you're encouraging sexual activity.
Many things shape a parent's opinion about when it's okay for their children to start to have sexual relationships. It's okay to talk with your kids about your values and your hopes for their values. But try to keep those talks separate from conversations about consent.
Teaching your child about consent helps them understand more about what healthy relationships look like. And that can help them avoid unhealthy or unsafe situations in the future.
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Andrew Littlefield PhD - Psychology, Behavioral Health
Lesley Ryan MD - Family Medicine