Even though sex seems to be everywhere in our culture, talking about consent and sex can still be challenging for most parents. Reports of sexual assault and sexual violence are prevalent, and teaching kids about consent is vital. For younger kids, a parent’s focus will be on bodily consent. For teens, a parent’s focus shifts to sexual consent. Read on for age appropriate ways to talk about consent with your kids.
- Teach kids the correct, scientific words for genitals—including vagina, vulva, penis, testicles, and anus. This helps children learn to communicate openly and without shame about their bodies. It also can help children communicate any sort of inappropriate touching clearly to any adult. Teach children to wash their own genitals and that genitals are private and we are responsible for taking care of them.
- Teach to ask permission before touching or showing physical affection. “Ask Joe if he wants a hug right now. If not, let’s wave to him instead!” And never force them to hug, touch, or kiss anyone—even grandma or another family member. Help kids learn to recognize if they want to be touched or not right now. This involves teaching bodily autonomy. Learn more about bodily autonomy here.
- Help kids develop social skills and emotional intelligence. This includes learning about empathy, identifying and expressing feelings, and learning about other’s perspectives. These encourage respect for others feelings and their own. Teach children that secrets are for presents and surprises. They should not keep secrets about their bodies or private parts.
- Openly talk with kids about their changing bodies. Validate how confusing it might be, and share scientific and direct answers to their questions. Do so without shame or embarrassment. Practice with your partner if you are feeling embarrassed.
- Continue teaching kids about boundaries and consent, though this doesn’t need to include conversations about sex for younger kids. What is consent, what does consent sound like, how do you give consent and how to communicate you do not want to consent. In middle school, you can talk to them more directly about what sexual harassment is.
- As kids get older and move into middle school, let kids know how important it is to talk to a trusted adult about consent, sex, relationships, or interactions they’ve had. Kids will hear a lot of confusing information from various sources like the internet or other kids. Therefore, having someone to talk to is essential. This is especially helpful as some kids may start dating in middle school.
- Books about bodily consent include My Body! What I Say Goes! (and the indigenous version), Personal Space Camp, and Miles in the Boss of His Body.
Teens and young adults
- Continue talking with teens about consent and sexual consent. Include alcohol and drugs in this discussion, and how these could affect consent. This doesn’t mean you are encouraging any of these behaviors. You can discuss different scenarios with your teen about what to do if their friend is in a situation involving alcohol and consent.
- When teaching kids about consent, discuss verbal and non-verbal consent. Figure out questions your teen can ask their partner, like if they are going too fast, do they feel okay with doing this, are you comfortable with me touching you in this place, and are you enjoying yourself. Anything besides a clear ‘yes’ is not consent. Teach your kids to tune in to verbal cues. Some people might say “I’m okay” but feel too awkward or embarrassed to let you know they’re actually uncomfortable. Look out to see if their partner is pulling away, how they’re responding to touch, if they seem relaxed, and if both partners are engaged or if it seems to just be one of them.
- When talking to adolescent boys about consent and sex, let them know that consent is everyone’s responsibility. Boys can help keep their friend’s accountable and watch out for friends that may be too intoxicated to give consent. Stereotypes in media and culture portray sex as associated with confidence and being in control and being manly. Teach boys that girl’s boundaries and preferences are essential and important, and call out negative behavior in media and real-life when you see it. Be clear about the consequences of sexual misconduct—legally, socially, emotionally, and personally. Teach your son that confidence involves listening to and respecting your partner’s desires, and being pushy or not asking for consent is creepy and unsafe.
Are you looking for more support for your child or yourself? Please reach out to us. Our team of therapists is here to provide support and guidance. We look forward to connecting with you.
Kate is the Founder and Clinical Director of Sage House Counseling & Art Therapy. With nearly ten years of clinical experience, I partner with you to connect back to your authentic, true self. The self that desires happiness, abundance and greater self-compassion. I work with clients just like you because I believe we all have the innate ability to heal and grow when we are heard and supported.