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Talking to Your Teenager About Consent

While it may seem premature to talk to your child about sexual consent, the statistics say that these conversations are definitely needed.

Consent can be defined as permission for something to happen or agreement to do something. During the middle school years and into high school, parentings requires more and more difficult conversations. While it may seem premature to talk to your child about sexual consent, the statistics say that these conversations are definitely needed.

Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that about forty percent of teens report that they have had sexual intercourse. Another ten percent noted that they have had sex with four or more people. On the other hand, about thirty percent of reports that their parents have never spoken with them about sex. Given that teenagers and pre-teens are having sex at early ages, they need to understand how consent applies to this delicate topic.

Who Can Give Sexual Consent?

The law actually states that children are not developmentally capable of making decisions about sex. In some states, the age of consent is 16. Engaging with someone under the age of consent is illegal. It is important to discuss with your child that giving permission does not equate to consesual sex. Even if a preteen or teenager gives consent to have sex or particpate in sexual touching with an adult or older teen, their consent is not a legal one. Make sure your child knows that adults have a responsibility to set boundaries with children and underage teens.

Relationships and Consent

If two middle schoolers are in a relationship, what does consent look like at this age? There are different laws in each state, so it is important to explore your specific laws before having this conversation with your child. If a middle schooler does not understand how to navigate the gray areas of intimacy, it can be hard for them to know what is and is not okay. Bluntly stated, consent can be a mess. Now, it is super important and as such, wading through the details is imperative.

How Do I Obtain Consent?

When two people are old enough to discuss sex in a mature manner and then make the choice to proceed, this is different than the blurred lines that become super complex. On the other hand, what if one person consents to have sex and then decides they do not want to proceed? In this case, they have withdrawn their consent. If they are forced into having sex, this is not consensual. They removed their consent when they said they changed their mind. Make sure your teen understands the need to be direct and not mince words. In this case, it is important to be very clear. If someone is forced to participate, it is not only ethically wrong, but also highly illegal.

To proceed with sexual activity, both parties need to say ´yes´. If one or both parties says ´no´, then there is no consent. This example is obviously much clearer than the back and forth emotions that teenagers may have regarding this topic.

What If Consent is Given, but Then I Regret It?

Helping your teen understand that creating allegiations hours or days after consesual sex is problematic. There are many factors when this occurs. Were both people truly consensual before the sexual act occurred? Were they under the influence of drugs or alcohol? Were they just being impulsive? These variables illustrate why consent is not a black and white line. There are many situations that can make a teen vulnerable.

Why Should I Have These Tough Conversations?

Many times, teens do not know what to do or how to act regarding consent or even ´did I consent´ doubts after the fact because no one ever talked to them about these topics. Teens need guidance, so use these suggestions to begin the conversation:

  1. Do not lecture your child. Make the conversation as natural as possible and pick a time when emotions are not already taxed. If you are already having a stressful day with your teen, this is not the time to talk with them about consent.
  1. Be open. Share your own experiences. If teens feel like they can relate to us because we have been through similar experiences, they are more likely to listen to us.
  1. To abstain or not. Some parents are quick to tell their children that abstinence is the best decision at all costs. This may be true; nonetheless, is it realistic? Is it better for them to know how they can and cannot consent? Even if their goal is abstinence, they may need to know how to say no and make it clear that they are not giving consent.
  1. Teach your teen that using the direct question: do you want to have sex? is a direct way to ask for consent.
  1. Help your teen understand the difference between consenting to sex and consenting to sexual activity.

Are these conversations easy? No! Are these conversations necessary? Yes! The more that parents and guardians take the time to discuss sexual consent with their children, the less of an issue it will become. With plenty of resources online, don’t feel like you have to go it alone.


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