With Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s televised testimony against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and the #metoo movement that swept through Hollywood and social media, this past year, the topic of consent has been a dominant topic of discussion for parents and kids alike.
When it comes to dating girls, safe touches, comfort, and more, where do you even begin this discussion with your boys? How do you explain to boys that when a girl says no to your advances, she means N-O? And is five years old too young to start the said talk?
Two experts weigh in on this important topic, and answer the question: How do we teach our boys about consent, especially when it comes to dating?
What is consent?
First, be sure your sons and daughters know the definitions of consent vs. sexual misconduct.
“Consent is acquiring permission before you move forward with getting in the space of someone else, either sexually or with your conversation or intentions,” says Katie Leikam, LCSW, a Georgia and South Carolina-based therapist. Sexual misconduct is when you make someone feel sexually uncomfortable with either physical space, conversations or touch.
Broaching the subject with young children
When bringing up the topic of consent with young kids—even as young as five—teach them to ask for permission to touch or be touched, says Leikam. “As an example of teaching children about asking permission to be touched, you can use giving hugs to your family. Ask your child to ask their aunt or uncle if it’s alright if they give them a hug first.”
But, it’s deeper than sexuality, Leikam stresses. Parents should be teaching their children that it’s okay if they don’t want a hug from their aunt or uncle or they just want to “high-five” today.
Torrence, CA-based therapist Christine MacInnis, MS, LMFT says, “All children should be taught from birth that their bodies are their own and no one has the right to touch them without their permission.”
Talking to teenagers
The biggest misconception about consent, says MacInnis, is that it follows an upward pattern throughout the course of a date. “In other words, it’s a misconception that because things are going ‘good’ that it’s automatically okay to move to the next step of intimacy.”
“Teenagers are old enough to know about intimate activities such as kissing and sex and it’s okay to be a little more forthright with them,” adds Leikam. “Teach your boys that women have a choice to say ‘no’ to their advances and that they should be asking permission in the first place.”
Also, teach your girls that it’s okay to ask for intimacy from others and it’s okay to say no, stresses Leikam. “Educate your children the basics of self-esteem and self-worth so they know they can say ‘no’ without ramifications to their self-worth.”
What boy parents should focus on
Many parents of teenage boys worry that one day their child will be accused of sexual assault—what happens in a case where their teenage son swears he had no idea his actions made a girl feel violated?
“I can see how this would be scary for parents,” says Leikam. “I would caution parents to remember what a person or girl is subjected to when there is an accusation of rape and ask yourself--who would purposely subject themselves to that scrutiny? Another thing to consider is that if a boy is acting with integrity and proceeding cautiously with consent, they will generally not be accused of assault by others.”
Adds MacInnis: “Open and honest communication about sexuality and your values are the best way to protect your son from such claims. Have your son protect himself by always being clear about the female’s intention before initiating sexual contact.”
Remind kids consent is not just between boy/girl
Discuss with your children that consent between two people that are part of the LGBTQ community stands for all people as well. “Let your child know that you understand they may have the want or desire to be welcome and accepted, but that doesn’t mean they need to sacrifice any of their values about consent and how far they want to go with anyone.”
MacInnis concurs, and reminds parents to make sure their kids acknowledge ‘no means no’ regardless of one’s gender identity. “The same rules apply, regardless of gender. Consent is about communication and being clear about your partner’s feelings.”
The impact of drinking
According to MacInnis, it’s also very important to have a conversation with your kids about how alcohol changes our perceptions and makes communication more difficult. “The dangers should be outlined and discussed.”
Moving past the awkwardness
Obviously, all this consent and sex talk can be way awkward for both parents, and for their children. But it doesn’t have to be.
“Parents should start normalizing conversations about sex early with their children,” advises Leikam. “When your child asks how babies are made, be honest with them about the anatomy of each partner. Don’t keep sex as a shameful secret in the house. Talk openly about it in the manner most suitable to the age of your child, but never as a secret.”
Honesty and upfront discussions about sexuality and being sure of other’s intentions are important for both boys and girls, stresses MacInnis.
“Make it clear to your child that ‘no’ can be conveyed in an unspoken way, such as pulling away or pushing off a person. The conversations about sexual actions should be occurring from a very early age so that you can impart your family values in the conversation. It also makes it less uncomfortable if talked about frequently.”
The role of media
According to Leikam, boys are inundated with misinformation about what it means to have a sexual intimate relationship with another person. “They are shown expectations throughout the media and even in video games. It’s important to let your child know that they and their partner make the rules about what is ‘okay’ and ‘not okay’ or expected or not expected in their own relationship. Not what TV or anime tells them.”