two people kissing outside in darkness

How to teach your teenager about consent

Consent is when everybody involved in a sexual experience agrees to what is happening without threat, pressure, being too ‘out of it’ or being too young (the exact age is slightly different in each state). And yes, we know this is probably an awkward topic of conversation but it’s also really important. If you’re after a few tips, we spoke to some parents about what works for them when having general chats and talking sex specifically.

Here are some ways to teach your teen about consent. 

Discuss what consent means for them
Instead of assuming your teenager knows (or doesn’t know) what consent means - ask them. This will give you an idea of what you need to talk about, and any confused or problematic understanding of consent. Most importantly, consent must be explicit (i.e. only ‘yes’ means ‘yes’) and any sexual activity without consent is harmful and against the law.

Talk about their changing lives
When your teen is in the midst of growing up puberty and brain development can sometimes make it hard to think clearly. Make sure your teen knows that these new, possibly overwhelming, feelings are okay and that they can always talk to you about them. But they still must respect themselves and others despite these feelings.

Let them figure out their own boundaries...and respect others
Discuss what impact they think their actions may have on other people. How would they feel if someone touched them without their consent? Let them know that they have the right to having their sexual boundaries respected, and so do other people. If you hear your teen objectifying other people, remind them that their crushes are whole, complex people - not just sexual objects. Tell them that if they feel like their (or their partner’s) boundaries have been violated, to always talk to you about it.

Get them to reflect on their experience
Ask them questions like, “How do you know if someone wants to kiss you?” and “How can you tell if someone is interested in you?”, “How can you tell if your partner is ready for sex?” If you don’t think they’ll feel comfortable answering those sorts of questions you could do it via email or a notebook left under their bedroom door. Or even organise for them to chat with another trusted adult they feel comfortable with.

Make sure they know it's okay to say 'no'
Your teenager might think it’s uncool to say ‘no’ - remind them that they have every right to say no if they’re not feeling it. Consent is also subject to change - if they or their partner change their mind after things have begun, things must stop immediately. When both parties are enthusiastic about their consent, it’s a better time for everyone.

Check in about parties, drinks and drugs
Ask your teen what they’ll do to keep themselves and their friends safe while partying. How will they know when they (or someone else) has had too much to drink? Drink and drugs affect consent and if they or someone else is really drunk or high, they can’t give consent. Being sexual with anyone who can’t give informed consent is sexual assault. Be careful with your language here and make it clear that the responsibility always lies with the perpetrator to make the right decision and not harm anyone.

Keep the dialogue open
As your teenager starts engaging in relationships, continue to bring up the topics of consent, healthy boundaries and respect. By talking about it regularly, the topic of consent will become normalised and your teen will have a much better chance of enjoying healthy, respectful relationships.

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