“How do I Teach My Teen about Consent in Relationships?”
With the rise of the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements, the topic of consent has become more talked about than ever. As teens reach their dating years, many parents worry about them being taken advantage of or being unfairly accused of violating consent. While there are some controversies about what can be deemed as consensual, a teen’s best bet is to seek clear, verbal consent before kissing, touching, or becoming intimate with another person.
So what should parents teach their teens to help them understand consent?
1. Clarify consent
Explain to your teen that consent means the other person clearly and verbally tells them they want to move forward with whatever they’re asking them to do. Consent is something your teen should seek from the other person, regardless of their gender. Seeking consent shows the other person that you respect their body and do not want to make them uncomfortable. Your teen should also know that their consent should always be sought, valued, and respected.
2. Supply sample questions
There are many ways to ask for someone’s consent. Give your teen some examples so they’re prepared to clearly communicate with the person they are interested in:
“Before we go any further, do you want to do this?”
“Can I kiss you?”
“Do you like when I do this?”
“Is this ok? It’s fine if you want to wait.”
3. Describe body language
Remind your kid that a lack of “no” does not mean “go.” A person’s verbal answer is only part of the equation when determining consent. If your teen’s date says, “yes,” but their tone or body language seems hesitant, guarded, or unsure, it’s always wise to give them an “out” in case they aren’t comfortable.
“You seem like you might be unsure. We can wait if you want to - it’s really ok.”
“I know we just met. If you don’t want to do this I won’t be upset.”
“I respect you and I want to make sure you’re comfortable before we go any further.”
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4. Kick coercion to the curb
Remind your teen that if the other person says no or seems hesitant, it’s not ok to coerce a “yes” out of them by saying things like, “Come on, don’t be a tease,” or, “I thought you were cool.” Even if they reluctantly agree after being guilted, their answer would not be considered consensual. Explain to your teen that no one should ever try to guilt them into doing things they aren’t comfortable with, and they should attempt to leave the situation if they feel pressured. Give your kid a few examples of things they can say if they are feeling guilted or coerced.
“But I love you!”
“If you loved me you wouldn’t try to pressure me to do something I’m not ready for.”
“We done this before, why not now?”
“I can change my mind. It’s my body and my life.”
“Everyone does it!”
“Well, I’m not everyone. And everyone doesn’t do it – even some of the people that say they do!”
“Come on, your parents aren’t going to be home for hours.”
“You don’t know that for sure, they could come back any time. I’m not going to risk it.”
5. Emphasize boundaries
Empower your teen to set clear boundaries with their date and explain the importance of respecting the boundaries of others.
Emotional boundary – “I won’t be pressured into having sex.”
Physical boundary – “I am not ok with you putting your hands under my clothes.”
Digital boundary - “I will not send you sexual photos.”
6. Stress sobriety
Hopefully your teen and their peers are not using drugs or alcohol, but they should still be aware that a person is not capable of giving consent if they are under the influence. Tell your teen that if they’re looking forward to their first kiss with their crush at prom, they should make sure their date is sober before asking for their consent to kiss.
7. Rehearse responses
It can be hard for teens to hear, “no,” from a person they’re really crushing on. However, it’s important that they learn to respond respectfully to being turned down. Encourage them to keep their responses simple and neutral. Tell them to avoid expressing anger, frustration, or disappointment.
“Can I take off your shirt?”
“No – I’m not ready for that yet.”
“Ok, no problem.”
“You look so hot in that photo you sent me earlier. Can I show it to my friends?”
“I’m not really comfortable with that.”
“Alright, I’ll keep it between you and me.”
“Do you want to have sex?”
“I’ve always planned on waiting until I’m married.”
“That’s fine – I respect that.”
8. Keep consent a family value
Modeling consent is a great way to teach your teen how to value the boundaries of others. Ask your teen for permission before you post pictures or stories about them on social media. Don’t force affection; if they don’t want a hug or a kiss right now, let them know you respect their physical boundaries.
9. Make media a teaching tool
Unfortunately, consent is not always valued in the shows and music our teens are exposed to. The silver lining is that you can use these examples to teach your teen to identify when consent isn’t being respected. The next time a celebrity has a high-profile case on TV, or the next time a questionable song comes on the radio, engage your teen in conversation about how consent was being violated. Similarly, if a celebrity provides a positive example of respecting the consent of others, point out their actions to your kid.
10. Remember it’s revocable
Remind your teen that consent is revocable at any time. That means if their date says yes, then changes their mind a few minutes later, your teen needs to respect their revoked consent and stop what they’re doing.
11. Ingrain the impact
Help your teen build empathy by explaining the emotional impact of things like sexual assault and harassment or cyberbullying on others. If you hear your kid referring to others as sexual objects, explain to them that it’s important to respect the privacy, bodies, and values of others, just as they would want theirs respected in return.
12. Teach how to get help
Hopefully your teen will never find themselves in a situation where their consent is not respected, but if they do, it’s important they know where to turn. Give them a code phrase to text you if they’re in an unsafe situation. Encourage them to speak to a teacher, school counselor, or other mental health specialist if they need support. If you would like guidance in teaching your teen about consent and safe dating, we can help.
Dr. Daniella A. Davis, Psy.D., is an expert in dealing with the unique challenges that women face throughout each stage of life. If you are a mom wanting support with teaching your teens about dating and consent, Dr. Davis can guide you.
Dr. Elsa Torres, Psy.D. is a specialist in counseling and diagnostic testing. If you think your teen may have autism or other intellectual challenges that make it difficult for them to understand consent, Dr. Torres can provide testing and guidance to help your teen overcome obstacles.
Dr. Marta M. Shinn, Ph.D., is an expert in Child and Educational psychology. It’s never too young to start teaching children about respecting others’ boundaries; if you would like to learn more ways to educate your children or teens on consent, Dr. Shinn can recommend support.
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Shinn. M.M. (2019). Could My Teen Have Autism? Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/could-my-teen-have-autism
Shinn. M.M. (2019). How Do I Talk to My Teen About Drugs and Alcohol? Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/blogs/how-do-i-talk-to-my-teen-about-drugs-and-alcohol
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How to Cite This Blog Article:
Shinn. M.M. (2019). How Do I Teach My Teens About Consent? Psychologically Speaking. [Variations Psychology blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.variationspsychology.com/test-blog/how-do-i-teach-my-teen-about-consent-in-relationships