3 Ways to Get Started Talking About Consent With Your Teen

Any good sex talk between a parent and a teen must include a discussion about sexual consent. If it makes you feel uncomfortable to bring up this topic, remember that you may be protecting them from sexual violence — as either a victim or perpetrator.

1. Talk about bodily autonomy first

Tell them that they have complete control over their body, and they get to decide what they want to do and for how long. Your teen should feel comfortable saying “No” to any unwanted touch, even if they are in a relationship or have previously consented. Although body language can hint that someone is into an activity, affirmative and enthusiastic consent should be obtained before initiating any intimate activity, and that means every time.

2. Giving consent is not a “girl thing

It’s crucial to debunk gender expectations with your teen. They cannot assume that a male partner will always consent to sex because it is seen as gender expectation. On the other hand, women should not passively wait for their partner to ask them to consent. It is totally ok for guys to say “No,” and it’s totally ok for young women to ask first.

3. Start the conversation early

Don’t wait until your teen is having sex to start talking about consent. Talk to your child about consenting to touch other children’s bodies when they are playing tag, tickling each other or before giving them a hug. Most importantly, reinforce that they can say no to being touched in any way by friends or adults. The next time Aunt Mathilda comes to visit, do not force them to hug and kiss her goodbye if it makes them uncomfortable.

Source: Genevieve Martínez-García, Ph.D., Director of Innovation and Research, Healthy Teen Network

Learning how to have healthy relationships — of all sorts, with adults, peers, or romantic partners — is an important part of growing up. Relationships are critical in the transition to adulthood because relationships help us form a sense of self, nurture our mental and physical health, meet our needs, learn about different cultures and navigate the systems of society (education, workforce, health care, etc.).

Often, when we talk about healthy relationships, we tend to actually focus on unhealthy relationships. And while it is certainly necessary to talk about what is unhealthy, there’s so much to learn in how to cultivate healthy relationships, too.

Healthy relationship characteristics include mutual respect, trust, understanding, honesty, individuality and self-confidence, good communication, problem solving and positive conflict resolution. These are some ways you can help teens learn how to have healthy relationships:

1. Encourage the process

Relationships are hard; it takes work from all parties to have a healthy relationship. Know that this learning is a typical part of adolescent development. Talk often and openly with your teen about their relationships and help them come to their own understandings and decisions.

2. Affirm them

Make sure your teen knows they have a right to be their own person and maintain their individuality in a relationship. Be firm that mutual respect, trust and understanding are not optional, and any kind of abuse is not okay.

3. Problem solve together

Teens face so many pressures as part of growing up. Solving problems, communicating effectively and exercising positive conflict resolution and negotiation are skills that must be learned. Be involved in your teen’s life — know their friends and what is going on, so that when they have a problem, you can help them develop these skills.

4. Ask for help

You don’t have to have all the answers — just talking to your teen and helping them to find the answer is supportive.

5. Model healthy relationships

Your relationship with the young person you care about is a great opportunity to model the characteristics of healthy relationships.

Forming positive social connections with peers and partners promotes physical, social and emotional health and well-being — and you can help the young people you care about mature into adults who enjoy healthy relationships and thrive. For more resources, check out the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Adolescent Health, Love Is Respect and Futures Without Violence.