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What is Consent and How to Talk About it With Kids

September 17, 2021

It is important to have sex with children, but it is equally important to make sure that they understand consent. This has been the case since before the #MeToo movement brought the horrific history of sexual assault to the forefront. How can we help our children understand consent, sexual orientation and respect others’ boundaries? And how can they advocate for their rights?

What is consent?

RAINN, an anti-sexual violence organization, defines consent broadly as “an ongoing discussion of boundaries and what you are comfortable with.” It also notes that inequal power dynamics can hinder one’s ability to freely give consent.

Legal considerations also need to look upon regarding consent age. The age at which consent is granted in the US can vary from one state to the next, but it ranges between 16 and 18. Dr. Laurie Hollman, Psychoanalyst, says that parents are placed in an odd situation as if their legislator were an adolescent psychology. They can’t rely on the state to guide them. It might seem natural to determine the age they can give consent, but that is not the guideline. Child development is the guideline.

How do I talk to my teen about consent?

Dr. Hollman acknowledges that these can be difficult conversations for parents to have. It’s a delicate topic that should be discussed with great respect. She says, “I would emphasize that 100 times.” “The child must feel respected.”

Parents will have to work together to understand the meaning of different words. Hollman says that when discussing harassment and consent, parents may respond by saying “Oh, I already know,” Hollman says. Ask them what that means. You don’t need to be critical, but you should ask them respectfully so that they can tell you what language they use and how much they know about it.

It can be difficult for parents to have these conversations with their children. However, it can also be hard for them to give space for their child to speak. Hollman suggests that teens listen for as long as they need before voicing their opinions. This will allow them to think through these complex questions. While it’s tempting to interrupt to ensure your faith, interruptions can actually increase anxiety.

Hollman recommends that parents view these topics as ongoing conversations through the teenage years, due to how intense and complex they can be. These are some conversation starters for those who have difficulty deciding where to begin.

Dr. Hollman suggests that parents use these conversations as an opportunity for their children to explore difficult situations in a safe setting. Teenagers can navigate more complex problems but their brains won’t mature fully until they turn 25.

Hollman states, “Thus in the preteen years, before kids can handle more mature conversations, it’s possible for them to lay a foundation by having conversations about what they can and can’t do when they feel stressed or pressured.” You want them to be able to plan ahead and know what to do if they are under stress.

Parents of teenagers might find it useful to practice preparing for stressful situations and practicing them before they occur. These conversations are especially helpful for teens who get a little agitated at the idea of sharing them with their children.