Teaching teens about consent

It is important for parents to discuss consent with their adolescents no matter what their gender and well before they begin dating.

A girl and a boy embracing in a hug while he kisses her on the cheek.
Photo by Sevil Yeva: https://www.pexels.com/photo/young-couple-embracing-and-kissing-17557144/.

Adolescents (teens) are developing relationships as part of their normal growth and development. During these times of growth, some of those relationships may be peer friendships or more intimate relationships with partners. As adolescents develop friendships and start dating, it is important for them to understand what consent is, feel comfortable asking for consent, giving or not giving consent, and respecting the right of others to say “no.” Teaching the concept of body boundaries and consent can begin in early childhood and evolve into a conversation about sexual consent as children move into adolescence.

So, what is consent? According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) consent is an agreement between participants to engage in sexual activity. Consent is about communication and it should happen every time individuals are engaged in sexual activity. Teens can change their mind and withdraw consent at any time. If a youth doesn’t feel comfortable about something, they can say “no” or “stop.” Asking for consent or giving consent is the responsibility of every person in the relationship and does not depend on factors such as gender.

It is important for teens to understand that legally, consent cannot be given by individuals who are underage, intoxicated or incapacitated by drugs or alcohol, or asleep or unconscious. In addition, just because consent was given in the past does mean that consent is given for future activity. If an individual does not engage or respond, that is not consent.

In Michigan, the minimum age of consent is 16. Laws regarding consent are different in different states. It is important for parents and teens to understand the laws in your individual state. RAINN has a compilation of all the different laws in different states.

Michigan State University Extension teaches about consent in their parenting education curriculum called Building Strong Adolescents, which is designed for parents with adolescents. This asset-based curriculum helps provide tools and knowledge related to raising teens. MSU Extension recommends parents have discussions with teens about consent.

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