Ways to Help Kids Understand Consent

As a parent of a pre-teen, a director of a summer camp, and as a person who wishes he could have done even more to stop bad things from happening to good people, events of the past few years have in my mind, served to normalize sexual assault. As a parent of a pre-teen, a director of a summer camp, and as a person who wishes he could have done even more to stop bad things from happening to good people, events of the past few years have in my mind, served to normalize sexual assault.  Indeed, sexual assault has a variety of complex causes; it is clear however, that one distinct factor is that young people (and older adults too) are confused about what constitutes appropriate, consensual sex.  From way back in my day, I remember watching the show L.A. Law, where the episode focused on an assault that had taken place and where both the perpetrator and the victim passed lie detector tests.  The show later resolved when the perpetrator realized that what he had done was in fact rape.  Unfortunately, times have not changed much in the 20 years or so since that was an episode; confusion continues.  Young folks are not going to get a clearer understanding of assault unless we actively engage them in candid discussions about sex and consent.

Let’s please please please empower our children (and ourselves) to be part of a forward solution instead of continuing to contribute to the problem.  A recent Washington Post article by Richard Weissbourd and Alison Cashin has some excellent guideposts to help parents have important conversations with their children.  Please check out the article for more details.

1. Clearly define assault and provide concrete examples.

2. Talk about — and keep talking about — consent.

3. Give boys permission to talk about strong emotions.

4. Encourage young people to be allies and upstanders.

5. Share the stories of survivors.

Richard Weissbourd is a senior lecturer and co-director of the human development and psychology program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the faculty Director of Making Caring Common. Alison Cashin is the director of Making Caring Common.

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