A few weeks ago, I sat at the local McDonald’s getting my Diet Coke fix while a middle school field trip stopped in for lunch. There was a girl sitting near me, and unbeknownst to her, I knew who she was. She was talking about how one of my son’s friends sent her a (very private) picture, and she sent it to all her friends. It must be mentioned this girl is 13-years old and is getting, and sending, naked pictures.
And after a tough conversation– one I never would have had if I didn’t hear her talking—I learned from my teenager this is normal for a lot of kids. After hearing this, I realized it was time for another conversation with my son about consent. It sounded like she didn’t consent to that picture being sent to her, so she plastered it all over. And the boy who sent it didn’t consent to that happening, so in the end, they both lost something. Which is incredibly sad.
The conversation about consent starts at an early age when we teach them how to say the word “no” when something doesn’t feel right, or is uncomfortable; how no one should put their hands on them in a way that makes them feel unsafe, and they need to tell a trusted adult if that ever happens.
Then they go through puberty and you realize your constant talk is a much broader topic, and really, a much easier task when they were younger.
Because at the age where they are so curious, full of hormones, and craving new experiences, they constantly need to be reminded what true consent really means.
I’ve talked to my teenage son about consent. I’ve told him the person he is intimate with needs to say yes when it comes to sex. And that doesn’t include just a nod, or a previous conversation– people are allowed to change their mind, and they will.
Saying yes to touching and kissing needs to happen in the moment, and he needs to ask again if he’s not sure, and if he still isn’t clear after that, the answer is absolutely no.
And I have to remind myself to talk to him about how consent isn’t exclusively for sexual intercourse. He needs to pay attention to signs he is given, and realize if someone is pulling away from him while they are being intimate, that is a good indication they want it to stop, even if they’ve already said yes.
I want him to have confidence to know when someone might want to kiss him-– he still needs permission when it comes to this, even if he feels it shouldn’t be that big of a deal. I think this is where consent can become confusing for our teenagers.
It a known fact sex has become diluted these days because of our teens’ access to social media and the things they can see and share with each other. This can lead them to thinking things like touching and kissing, or sending a “harmless” picture aren’t a big deal. My kids have friends over, I’ve heard their conversations which proved this is clearly a thing, not to mention what I overheard that day in McDonald’s.
But these things our teens may think are “tiny” lead them to believe they don’t need to check in with the anyone but themselves, or say no if they don’t want to be touched a certain way. I think many times they think it’s no big deal, so they will just do it instead of saying no because, what harm will it do?
I’m trying to teach my teen that each time we give in and do something we don’t want to do, or compromise our integrity, we may be more likely to do it again, and again. We may say yes just to please the person and get them to like us, or because we believe it’s easier than saying no or walking away. This can start a vicious cycle, because when we stop setting boundaries for ourselves, it can be hard to build them up again. I know because I’ve been there just like so many other people have.
It easy to say things like “boys will be boys” and accept locker room talk by thinking it’s just words, but it’s not. It’s disrespectful to the person you are talking about, and promotes that type of behavior around other guys.
I’ve told my son that once you say something about someone, especially after you’ve been intimate with them, people remember and yes, they do spread it around.
The conversation is ongoing. It’s hard work for the both of us. I not only need him to know he needs consent, but he has to give it and shouldn’t feel he should be acting a certain way and doing things he doesn’t want to do simply because he’s a male.
And I won’t stop no matter how many times he tells me he already knows, or says I’m just repeating myself because I don’t think we can ever talk about this too much.