Over the years in our work with young people, one of the most prevalent challenges that we have continued to see evident in the lives of teens has been navigating the topic of consent. We have found that amongst young people, there has been a lot of misunderstanding about not only the definition but the laws around this imperative topic. We have seen how the lack of conversation and the presence of confusion has prevented young people from being equipped to decipher what is and isn’t appropriate in the broader relationship space and more specifically when it comes to sexual behaviour.
So, for the purpose of this article, let’s take a look at the definition of sexual consent:
“The free, enthusiastic and active agreement to engage in sexual activity.”
Whilst we often spend a lot of time talking to teens about sexual consent, we also emphasise the need to understand that consent is not just limited to the physical space, romantic relationships or face-to-face exchanges. This means that the conversation around consent needs to thread through a broader range of issues like friendship, group chats, sexting, coercion, image-based abuse and peer pressure, just to name a few. No matter the issue at hand, the most important message we can deliver to teens is that consent is about having an awareness and desire to treat people in our world with the value, worth and dignity that every human deserves.
We believe that consent matters in every relationship, every situation and every circumstance.
We also believe that by empowering parents to deliver this important message to their teens around consent, they will be at the forefront of combating the issues that stem from a misunderstanding about what consent truly is.
So here are three fundamentals that every parent should know when navigating this conversation with their teens about consent:
1. Consent must be given consciously
Consent can only be given by someone who is in their right mind
When having conversations with teens around consent, one of the most important aspects for parents to cover is that consent can not be given by someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, asleep or unconscious. Whilst this may seem obvious, the abundance of issues stemming from the misunderstandings around this means it needs to be clarified.
2. Consent must be given freely
Consent can only be given by someone who is free and able to give it
Another crucial aspect of consent is that it must be given freely and willingly. This means that if someone has been pressured, forced, coerced, blackmailed or threatened to engage in any behaviour, sexual or otherwise, they have not given their consent.
It would also prove beneficial for parents to clarify that in order for young people to have healthy relationships, they need to understand the importance of responding to and accepting somebody’s void of consent with respect. This means not guilt-tripping, lashing out, pressuring or making someone feel bad when they don’t give consent.
3. Consent must be enthusiastic
True consent should always be given enthusiastically without reservations
After working with hundreds of thousands of teens, we have found that there are a lot of scenarios where young people share they are hesitant to give their consent and are not wanting to engage, but give a verbal ‘yes’ anyway. This might be for a number of reasons; wanting to please their partner, fear of their partner breaking up with them, fear of negative repercussions from their partner, insecurities, peer pressure, misconceptions about what’s ‘normal’ and the list goes on.
It is imperative for parents to discuss with their teens the value of enthusiastic consent. This means that if there has not been an expressed enthusiasm and willingness for the activity, consent has not been given.
Consent needs to be given consciously, freely and enthusiastically.
We understand that having conversations around sexuality and relationships, particularly around complex topics like consent, can be difficult even at the best of times. However, we truly believe that parents can lead these kinds of conversations with their teens…. conversations that every young person deserves to have.
If you want us to help in having these discussions with your teen visit brave parenting conversations.