By Eleanor Beeslaar, Graduate Assistant

As your kids get older and more mature, your conversations about consent can cover more complex topics. The pre-teen and teen years are a good age to discuss topics like coercion and manipulation, while also introducing information about building healthy relationships with friends and dating partners. At this age, it’s also essential to continue teaching kids how to set healthy boundaries with their peers, as well as with romantic partners as they begin to date. Talking to your pre-teen or teen about consent will help them learn important, lifelong skills to develop happy, healthy, and safe relationships of all kinds! Check out these tips to help you continue the conversation of consent with your kids 

Talk about what consent is vs. isn’t. One of the most important things to help your child understand is what consent is versus what it isn’t. This will help set the stage for later conversations about other topics, such as healthy boundaries, peer pressure, and coercion. Help your pre-teen/teen understand the following:

  • Consent is voluntary. It is freely and willingly given and is not manipulated or forced. Consent cannot be given when someone is under the influence of a substance (i.e. alcohol). 
  • Consent is mutual. Both people in the relationship give clear verbal agreements about what they want. Consent cannot occur if only one person is willing or if it is unclear whether or not someone is giving consent.
  • Consent is ongoing. It is important to ask for consent every time, regardless of whether or not someone has consented to something in the past. Just because someone was okay with something in the past, does not mean you can assume they are always okay with it.
  • Consent is mandatory. It is critical to always seek consent. Consent is never optional!
  • Consent is enthusiastic! Both partners should be excited and show enthusiasm. If someone sounds apprehensive or unsure, it’s not consent.
  • Consent is reversible. You can change your mind at any time, and you can say no to things you have consented to in the past.

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Talk about coercion and peer pressure. Coercion and peer pressure can begin to emerge during middle school and continue well into high school, so it’s important to have a conversation with your pre-teen/teen about how to handle these tricky situations. Teach them that consent cannot be given when someone is being coerced or pressured into doing something they’re really not okay with. It’s important to teach your pre-teen/teen that this doesn’t just apply to sexual activity. It can involve a wide range of activities and situations from manipulating someone to do something for you that they’re not okay with, like copying homework, to pressuring someone into a romantic/dating relationship. 

Talk about healthy boundaries. When talking to your pre-teens/teens about consent, remember to emphasize that consent is all about respect. It means respecting someone else’s boundaries, and expecting the same in return for ourselves! Help your teen learn how to recognize the difference between healthy vs. unhealthy boundaries, how to set healthy boundaries, and how to deal with boundary violations. Helping your teen learn how to set and enforce healthy boundaries, will set the stage for a lifetime or healthy relationships!

Talk about what healthy vs. unhealthy dating relationships look like. Pre-teens and teens are at the age where they begin to develop crushes and maybe even enter into dating relationships. As a parent, this can feel scary, as it signifies that your child is growing up. However, it’s important to talk with your pre-teen/teen about how to develop healthy dating relationships and practice consent with romantic partners. This includes talking about consent in the context of physical and sexual intimacy. When you engage in an open and non-judgemental conversation with your pre-teen/teen, you can help them understand what to look for in a healthy dating partner, how to practice consent, and what healthy relationships look like. This can also help your teen feel more comfortable to maintain an open dialogue and come to you with questions in the future. 

Talk about teen dating violence. We can’t talk about consent without also addressing teen dating violence, as in abusive and unhealthy relationships, there is often a lack of consent. Unfortunately abuse and dating violence can start at a young age, so it’s important to talk to your pre-teen/teen about the warning signs of dating violence and the resources available to reach out to for help. 

Remember, talking about consent is an ongoing process, so keep an open dialogue with your pre-teen/teen!

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