"It's Not What You Think": Teaching Consent To Youth

By Candice Christiansen, LCMHC, CSAT-S

Last month was Sexual Assault Awareness month and all across the United States various organizations such as NCOSE, http://endsexualexploitation.org; It's On Us, http://itsonus.org/#landing, End Sexual Violence, http://endsexualviolence.org; and our movement, The Love Ed. Movement™,http:// www.theloveedmovement.org are taking a stand to educate children, teens, millennials, and adults about Consent.

Many young people are divided regarding what consent actually entails. For instance, a poll by the https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/local/sexual-assault-poll/ shows that at least 40% of students see certain unspoken actions — nodding in agreement, taking off their own clothes or getting a condom --- as meaning YES. On the contrary, another 40% https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/local/sexual-assault-poll/ said that actions alone — whether enthusiastic or not — aren’t enough to signal ‘yes.’ 

If you ask junior high or high schoolers, the term "Consent" gets even more confusing. Especially with those who have been exposed to pornography (which is a majority of youth). Consent in porn is often non-existent and the assumption is that no matter how violent or exploitive a sexual act is, a woman or a man "always" wants it. 

  • But, consent is NEVER assumed. If we want children to grow up being respectful of others in non-sexual and sexual ways, we must start the conversation about consent early. How do we do this?Help your children understand what it means when they or someone gives consent to do anything. Explain that "Yes" means "Yes" and "No" means "No." Simplify it so that they understand. For example, if Billy is being chased by kids on the playground and screaming "No!" he is not giving consent to be chased. If we start young and keep an open dialogue, then children grow up to be adults who have a clear understanding of consent.
  • Teach mutual respect at a young age. Model this in your home via respectful communication and listening. 
  • Talk about and demonstrate healthy physical, verbal and written boundaries. What does it mean to have personal space and who gets to be in one's personal space? Teach verbal boundaries and written boundaries via social media; what is ok to write and send to others (social media etiquette) and how to report someone who is cyberbullying.