Understanding and following the rules of consent keeps everyone safe.
As your teen navigates the complicated world of sexuality, it is critical that they understand the foundations of consent. Solid knowledge about giving and receiving consent will help to keep your teen safe, and also equip them with a clear understanding about their responsibilities and the consequences.
It is essential to discuss consent with your teen to ensure they understand that it’s more complex than someone just saying yes or no. Again, this can be awkward to talk about, but it’s better to be a bit embarrassed and know your child understands the rules.
Conversation blueprint: here’s what to say
Everyone needs to understand the legal consequences of failure to get consent. You can be criminally charged, or be expelled from high school/university. And, you can cause another person significant physical and emotional distress. On the other side of the coin, understanding rules and laws around consent can help you to quickly identify if your rights are being violated.
Legal consent CANNOT be given when any of the below conditions apply.
If the person:
- Is asleep
- Is drunk or high, even if they say they consent
- Says NO
- Does not say YES
- Is a few years younger than you – check the age of consent laws in your area
- Is in a ‘power under’ dynamic (such as a Boss & Employee, Teacher & Student, etc)
So what can a person consent to?:
- Being in a relationship with someone else who is within the consent laws of the place you live in
- Allowing a relationship to grow
- Making the choice to have sex within the context of intimacy
- An incremental relationship with lots of time to think about whether or not you want to move to the next stage
If you’re preparing to get intimate with someone, and you have any doubt that they are in a position to give proper consent, you need to stop right away. This protects the other person and it also protects you. If you’re not 100% sure your partner is able to consent, DON’T DO IT.
Likewise, you can say no if someone is asking you to do something you’re not ready to do. You should never feel embarrassed or ashamed to say “stop”, even if it is something you have done before, or you have done it with someone else, or even if you have already begun to have sex and have changed your mind. This is not the time to worry about offending someone.
If you see it, speak out
When you are at school or at a party: if you see something that you think is not OK, speak up. If you see someone putting moves on a person you don’t think is in a position to give consent, do the right thing and intervene right away or tell an adult. When someone is at risk of being taken advantage of, it’s never ‘not your business’. It’s everyone’s business who was there to see what was going on. Don’t become complicit in someone’s crime.
Help to keep yourself safe
In a perfect world, everybody would respect each other’s boundaries. But in the real world, unfortunately that is not always the case. With that reality in mind, here are some safety tips for you:
- Never do anything you don’t want to do, no matter how awkward it might seem to stop.
- Be clear about what is ok and what is not.
- Stay aware by not getting drunk or high.
- If you plan to drink, stick with friends at parties and decide in advance who will be the sober pal.
- Watch out for each other.
- Speak up when something is not right.
- If a friend is impaired and not acting like him or herself, protect them, stay with them and get them home safely.
If you been forced or pressured into any sexual activity against your will, or without your consent, you need to tell a trusted adult – ideally a parent – immediately. They can work with you to pursue any necessary medical or psychological consultation, help protect you from more abuse and contact the authorities.
For more about how to keep teens safe in an increasingly sexualized world, sign up for our FamilySparks course.