As children begin to grow and mature in their preteen years through early adolescence, it is important to continue to talk with them about healthy relationships and the nuances of consent.
During middle school, young people undergo rapid physical and emotional development. They may feel awkward and have curiosity about their bodies changing, and they may start to have curiosity about their peers’ changing bodies. Preteens are trying to figure out who they are and where they fit in.
⇒is an active process between two people
⇒can be taken back at any time
⇒must be given in a free & clear mindset
Middle school is also a time that your child will be hearing a lot about romantic relationships and what they entail from peers and from music, social media, and TV. As a parent or trusted adult, you want to make sure that your child is receiving information that is accurate, counteract false narratives they may be seeing or hearing, and talk through any questions they may have.
You might be thinking, “How do I talk to my preteen about respecting boundaries and sexual consent?” In this post we will provide resources that are helpful for engagement as well as information that can help get the conversation started.
In Consent Part 1: Talking to toddlers and elementary-age kids, we cover the importance of talking about consent and boundaries at an early age. Understanding the importance of respecting boundaries can help preteens to both resist peer pressure and refrain from applying peer pressure to a friend or partner. Planned Parenthood encourages the following reminders when talking to your preteen:
- If anyone tries to make you do anything you don’t want to do, you can tell them, “I don’t want to do that. Let’s do something else instead.” If they don’t listen, try not to hang out with them anymore.
- In a relationship, it’s never okay for one person to pressure the other to do anything they don’t want to do.
- It’s never okay to touch someone in a sexual way without their consent. If someone does that to you, you can always tell me, your teacher, or your [aunt/uncle/grandparent/another adult you trust.]
- Rape and sexual assault are crimes, and they’re never the fault of the victim.
Another wonderful resource is Consent at Every Age, which gives tips for talking with youth from preschool to high school.
The article gives four tips for talking to middle school children about consent:
- Remember that it’s a confusing time, and that students might be hearing about sex and relationships from unreliable sources.
- Start defining what sexual harassment is, emphasize the importance of talking with a trusted adult, and begin talking about romantic relationships.
- Teach your children that consenting and asking for consent are all about setting your personal boundaries and respecting those of your partner, relative or friend – and checking in if things aren’t clear.
- Both people must agree to what happens, whether it be sharing personal information that you were told, holding hands, touching or sex – every single time – for it to be consensual.
When talking about consent, it is important to talk about both giving and asking for consent and not just one or the other. Consent should be clear, with no doubt or hesitation; anything less than explicit consent should be taken as lack of consent and clarified. Ask your child – if you ask someone to hold hands and they shrug – is that consent? No! Conversation Cards provides many scenarios that you can review and discuss with your child.
TV shows and movies are filled with situations where pushing and breaking people’s boundaries is portrayed as romantic. It is important to look at these examples with your child. Teach them to look at scenarios with a critical eye, work to recognize examples where lack of consent occurs, and change perceptions. Pop Culture Consent Examples gives a few scenarios that you can look at with your teen. The Family Planning Association (FPA) Consent Test lists questions to ask and provides short video clips to watch and discuss with your child.
According to the article, a film passes the consent test if:
- Consent has been verbally given or asked for.
- There is no coercion involved: violence, threat, pressure, asking multiple times until they say yes (i.e., persistence).
- None of the characters involved are intoxicated.
- None of the characters are underage.
- Each of the characters involved are giving verbal and nonverbal cues that they want to have sex.
Keep these questions handy; you can use this guide as a good starting point for discussion anytime you are listening to music or watching a show or movie with your youth. Remember, your child will be learning from their peers and media; it is crucial that they can deconstruct what they see and hear and help to dispel myths.
Equally important is to continue to help youth to be able to identify what is “safe” touch or “unsafe” touch. Safe touch is touching that is welcome and makes you feel happy or cared for, such as a pat on the back or a hug from someone you are happy to see. It is touch that is wanted, agreed to, or is needed for help.
Unsafe touch is touch that you don’t want or didn’t agree to. It is touching that is unwelcome and makes you feel scared, bad, or disrespected – including hitting, holding too tight, not letting go, or touching places of your body (vulva, penis, butt, breasts) that you don’t want someone to touch. If someone tells you to keep the touching a secret, especially if it is uncomfortable, it can be a sign of unsafe touch. It is important to remind youth that unsafe touch is never their fault and they can tell a trusted adult if it happens to them.
If you would like more resources, Stop It Now provides a searchable database of resources to assist in understanding child sexual abuse and taking actions to prevent it.
These short videos creatively explain consent:
- Two Minutes Will Change Your Mind About Consent
- Consent: It’s as simple as tea! (clean)
- Pizza, Sex, and Consent
- Consent for Kids
February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. Please check back in for information on talking with high school-aged youth about consent and other resources for teens.
(Photo at top by Luisella Planeta Leoni on Pixabay)
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