If we want teens and young adults to be able to navigate consent and boundaries in sexual situations, we need to teach the building blocks starting in toddlerhood. Here are things you can do to support your kid’s ability to navigate consent and boundaries.
In preschool, you can:
- Teach your toddler to set their own boundaries and help other people respect them. For example, if your kid doesn’t want someone to hug them, you can tell the other person (whether another kid or a grandparent) that your kid doesn’t want to hug right now, and that’s OK.
- Teach your toddler to ask for consent and respect other people’s boundaries. So if your kid hugs another kid without asking and they’re clearly not happy about it, you can tell them to ask before giving someone a hug, and that if they say “no” that it’s not OK to hug them.
In elementary school, you can:
- Teach them how to use assertive communication to hold a boundary. Let them practice how they might say “no” to something they don’t want to do, and offer feedback.
- Teach them how to be good listeners. This could look like positive reinforcement when you notice they respected someone else’s boundary. Or if you see them disregard a friend’s boundary, remind them about listening to and respecting their friends.
In middle school, you can:
- Talk about consent and boundaries in relationship to friendships and peer pressure. This includes how to resist peer pressure and hold their boundaries, as well as why it’s not OK to pressure others.
- Have conversations about power and privilege, and how they can impact people’s ability to consent. If someone has less power in a relationship, whether due to social status, race, gender, etc., it can feel really hard to set a boundary or say no to the person with more power. With more power comes more responsibility to check in and make sure those around you are fully able to consent and set boundaries.
In high school, you can:
- Have conversations about what consent can and should look like when it comes to sex. You can show them videos that provide language they can use in a range of different scenarios, and then talk with them after watching to see what questions they have.
- Talk about how power and privilege (due to gender, race, social status, etc.) impact someone’s ability to navigate consent and hold boundaries. Your teen may have more or less power in their relationship, depending on who they’re with. Ask them what they think about that, and what the person with more power in the relationship can do to ensure the other person is able to freely say “no” or hold a boundary.
- Talk about alcohol and drugs in relation to consent. Alcohol and drugs can make someone less able to say no or make safe decisions. But more importantly and more often forgotten, being under the influence can make someone more aggressive and less attuned to someone’s discomfort, body language, or verbal “no.”