Posted on: March 10, 2020 at 11:47 am

The #metoo movement, which started in 2006, was founded to support survivors of sexual violence. The hashtag went viral in less than six months, and started an important conversation about the prevalence of sexual violence in our society which has since then dominated the national dialogue [1].

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With all the attention surrounding the rape culture that has become so prevalent in our society, you would expect that schools would make it a top priority to educate their students about consent and create an environment wherein all students feel comfortable and safe.

One parent recently discovered that this is not necessarily the case.

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Azlyn’s Story

Eleven-year-old Azlyn could not have been more excited about her school’s Valentine’s Day dance. She had picked out her outfit a week ahead of time and was expecting it to be the best day of the entire school year.

Her experience, unfortunately, did not match her expectations. When she returned home from school that day, she was very upset. Apparently, a boy who makes her feel uncomfortable asked her to dance, and she politely declined. 

The principal reportedly intervened and forced the young girl to dance with the boy because it is against the school’s rules to say ‘no’ to a dance.

Azlyn’s mother, Alicia Hobson, was very disturbed by the school’s policy and reached out to school officials for an explanation. The school principal responded in a letter with the following statement:

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“We do ask all students to dance. It is the nice thing to do and this will continue to be our policy,” he wrote on Feb. 15. “There have been similar situations in the past where some students have felt uncomfortable with others, and, as stated prior, the issues were discreetly handled. This allowed all students to feel welcome, comfortable, safe, and included.” [2]

Hobson, of course, was not satisfied with this response and wrote a statement on Facebook about her feelings toward the policy.

“Girls HAVE to learn that they have the right to say no and that those around them have to respect that,” she wrote. “I’m not going to quietly stand by while my daughter and all of her classmates are being wrapped up in rape culture. No way.”  [2]

The Importance of Consent

“Policies like this one not only overlook, but completely fly in the face of, what we need to be teaching young children — of all gender identities — about the importance of consent,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Rebecca Schrag Hershberg [2].

She cites that telling children they have to say ‘yes’, no matter how they’re feeling, is a dangerous lesson to be teaching, since it is very much in alignment with rape culture.

Natalie Hinchcliffe, D.O., explains that talking about consent is one of the most important ways we can affect the rape culture in our society. She explains that talking to our young people about consent before they become sexually active is crucial [3].

Programs in Kenya have found that the most important place to start in reducing the incidence of rape was to educate young boys. These programs have all shown that helping and empowering boys to speak out against actions and language that lead to sexual violence, as well as teaching them that rape is never justifiable, reduces the instance of rape [4].

Not surprisingly, researchers who were studying and evaluating these programs discovered that teaching girls and women self-defense and safety was not nearly as effective at reducing the incidence of sexual violence [3].

How to Talk to Kids About Consent

Most teenagers find the concept of consent a very easy thing to grasp, however, they can often feel awkward or find it difficult to ask for it, or grant or withhold it. For this reason, it is important to get them to start practicing when they’re younger and then talk about within the context of sex when they reach their teenage years [5].

Dr. David Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, explains that teaching children consent starts with teaching empathy, which can be difficult during adolescence, a rather self-centered time in a person’s life.

“One of the big lessons we want to be sending to kids at any age is that there are two people to consider here. So often when sexual assault or any kind of unwanted attention occurs it’s because the person applying the pressure is so focused on their own wants,” he says [5].

He also talks about pressure, and that when both parties are feeling some kind of pressure, they may end up doing something they both regret.

Teaching Young Kids About Consent

Teaching consent looks different for kids of different ages, but should start as early as possible. For young kids, it is important to teach them to ask for permission before giving someone a hug, taking someone’s toy, or even joining them on the swings. As adults, it is crucial that we model this behavior by also asking our children permission in instances like this as well [6].

You can also teach kids how to listen to their own feelings and verbalize what they want and don’t want by asking them simple questions like “do they want to wear the blue shirt or the green shirt?” or “would they like toast or cereal for breakfast?”. It is important to teach kids to feel comfortable expressing their opinions and desires [6].

It is also never too early to teach the child that “no means no”, and that they need to ask for consent every time. Just because Suzy said yes to a hug yesterday doesn’t mean she wants a hug today. 

You should also never force your child to show affection. If they would rather simply say goodbye to relatives or friends without hugs and kisses, you must respect their wishes. That will subtly teach them that it is their decision and no one else’s if, when, and how their bodies are touched [6].

Teaching Adolescents and Teens About Consent

Once your child reaches their teenage years, you can start talking about consent more explicitly in terms of sex. There are a few main points that teens absolutely need to understand:

  • What consent means
  • In which situations can someone never give consent. For example, when someone is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or in group situations when they might feel social pressure.
  • How to properly give, withhold, and ask for consent from others.
  • What to do is their right to consent violated.
  • What kinds of consequences there are when someone does not respect consent.

It is important that teenagers understand that consent is more complicated than simply saying “yes”, and that there are circumstances in which a “yes” may not be valid.

How to Talk About Consent with Teenagers

There are a number of ways you bring up this topic and talk to them about it in a way that is comfortable for everyone:

  • Talk about the sexual messages you hear in songs on the radio. 
  • Find some books that talk about these topics to give to your teens. This way, you at least know they have some accurate information in their hands rather than the less-than-reliable sources they might find on the internet.
  • Talk with them about what they see in movies and T.V. shows. Ask them questions like “do you think she gave proper consent? Why or why not?”
  • Talk about the news. It seems there is a new sexual assault story making headlines every other day. This is a great opportunity to talk with a teenager about the consequences of poor decisions.
  • Just. Keep. Talking. Talk about the parties they go to, talk about the parties you used to go to- do your best to keep the conversation going. It may not feel like they’re always listening, but your message will get through to them [6].

You can never start talking about consent too early. If we want to have a real impact on the rape culture in our society, it starts with educating our youth and empowering them to stand up for themselves and speak out when they see something going on that they don’t think is right.

Keep Reading: Strong Mothers Raise Strong Daughters

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Brittany Hambleton
Team Writer
Brittany is a freelance writer and editor with a Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition and a writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario. She enjoyed a stint as a personal trainer and is an avid runner. Brittany loves to combine running and traveling, and has run numerous races across North America and Europe. She also loves chocolate more than anything else… the darker, the better!

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