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Why It’s Never Too Soon to Talk to Your Teen About Consent

Parents with teens coming today, in the unprecedented public dialogue surrounding #MeToo, have a unique opportunity to shape how their children understand and deal with sexual harassment and assault.

Whether your teen is starting their first job, going off to college, or heading to a big-city internship — sexual harassment and abuse are issues they will to encounter.

According to a recent national survey, over 76 percent of females and 35 percent of males ages 18-24 have been sexually harassed. The study also found half of all people sexually harassed or assaulted first experienced victimization by age 17. The statistics can be overwhelming, but they underscore why it’s crucial for parents to feel prepared and equipped to talk with teens.

Parents can play an essential role in preparing teens to deal with these issues in an informed way by opening the lines of communication about the role of consent and respect, modeling healthy attitudes and behaviors, and addressing key topics like sexual harassment at work.  

Start with consent

When someone gives consent, they’re giving permission for something to happen or agreeing to do something. It’s important your teen knows consent is needed before engaging in any type of sexual activity, whether it is kissing, touching, or sex.

Make sure your teen understands the basics of consent, and that each of us has the right to choose what we are comfortable with, set boundaries, and have others respect those boundaries.

Teach them to ask

Demonstrate that asking for consent is a healthy, normal, and necessary part of everyday interactions. It’s important that we all think of how our actions may affect others and to ask questions if we don’t know.

Whether it’s asking to hold someone’s hand, for permission to share personal information with others, or if a partner is interested in sex, teach your teen that asking for consent is important in all relationships and shows respect for other’s choices.

What is not consent?

Consent is voluntary and can be withdrawn at any time. Pressuring someone to do something they don’t want to do or making them feel guilty for saying no is not consent. It’s always OK to say no, and pressure and coercion are signs a relationship is not healthy. As a parent, it’s important for you to recognize the many pressures your teen faces in their face-to-face relationships and online.

Talk about sexual harassment at work

These conversations about consent and respect don’t just apply to relationships. In the workplace, young workers are particularly vulnerable as they may be unaware of what constitutes sexual harassment, and are less aware of laws and their rights.

Young workers and interns need to be informed about their rights to work in an environment free from harassment and discrimination, and how to report harassment if they witness or experience it.

Get educated

Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual contact, including verbal and physical harassment, unwelcome sexual advances, explicit jokes, and inappropriate comments, messages, or images.  Sexual harassment at work is illegal. It’s important for your teen to know what constitutes harassment and to assure them this behavior is never acceptable whether it is their peer, supervisor, or manager.

If your teen experiences or witnesses sexual harassment at work, let them know to report it to someone they trust like a supervisor or human resources. Many teens fear they may get in trouble or face repercussions for reporting harassment or abuse, and it’s important to acknowledge those fears and to assure them that their report should be taken seriously.   

Show support

Whether your teen is heading away for college, into the workplace, or doesn’t know their next steps yet, it’s important for them to know how to support someone who tells them about an experience of sexual harassment or assault — and what to do if they are ever in need of support themselves.

It’s crucial to stress that sexual assault is never the victim’s fault, and that help is always available. The most important step is to let the survivor know you believe them and are there if they need support. Model this response by regularly approaching these topics with your teen and letting them know you are always available if they need to talk.

Learn more

Every April, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center leads Sexual Assault Awareness Month, a campaign to educate and engage the public in addressing this widespread issue. This year’s campaign theme, “I Ask,” champions asking for consent. Learn more at www.nsvrc.org/saam.

Laura Palumbo, M.A., Communications Director, National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC), [email protected]

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