Why sexual consent chats with your kids don’t have to be weird
No matter how awkward you feel, talking to your child about consent is an essential part of sex education. Here’s how to tackle it at every age.
Talking to your child about sex is enough to make most parents break out in a cold sweat – let alone tackling the tricky topic of consent.
But if you think you can put it off until their teens, think again.
Experts say sexual consent discussions need to happen early – and often.
Here’s how to dial down the cringe factor and empower your child at every age.
Talking to children under 5
Raising Children Network director Derek McCormack says for younger children, parents can introduce consent without relating it to sex.
“You could show your child that you respect their choice about touch — letting them know it is OK if they choose not to kiss, cuddle or sit on someone’s knee,” Derek says.
“You could also teach your child about respecting other people’s boundaries and draw their attention to nonverbal ‘consent cues’.”
- Respect your child’s choices about touch and privacy
- Teach your child to respect others’ boundaries
- Draw your child’s attention to nonverbal consent cues
- The chat: Why you need to talk about sex early
Talking to children 5-12
Deanne Carson from Body Safe Australia says at this age you should be talking more directly about consent.
“Help your child understand that they have the right to decide whether they share touch, but they also have a responsibility to check,” Deanne says.
“A lot of children this age assume that just because they like something – tickles, wrestles, having their hair played with – that other children will like it too.”
- Teach your child it’s OK to say no
- Respect your child’s feelings if they want privacy undressing or in the bathroom
- If your child has a social media account, talk with them about sharing images
- Digital danger: How to talk to your teenager about sexting
Talking to teens
In the teenage years, conversations about sexual consent can be more direct, says Derek.
“Consent isn’t always as simple or easy as ‘yes’ or ‘no’, so it’s important for teenagers to understand that consent is essential to healthy, respectful and safe sexual experiences,” he says.
Derek says encourage your teen to think about how their behaviour affects others.
And don’t forget to talk about digital technology, says Deanne.
“When delivering consent education in schools, we see how frequently young people are blackmailed or manipulated into sending sexual images,” she says.
- Keep the lines of communication open and listen without judgement
- Talk to your teen about how to give and receive sexual consent
- Use everyday moments or TV shows, movies or books as conversation starters
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Talking to autistic children and teens
Derek says while autistic children develop sexually in the same way as other children, it can be more complicated for them to understand concepts of sexual consent.
“Depending on a child’s strengths, introduce ideas about consent and boundaries long before these issues are related to sex,” he says.
“This can include asking for a child’s consent during personal care activities, like giving a bath.”
Derek says for teenagers, set clear rules, explain social cues and use stories to open conversations.
What are the laws around consent?
Silence can no longer be interpreted as consent, and if a person says yes to one thing that doesn’t mean they consent to another, so you must check that they want to keep going.
- Healthy boundaries: Do you need to set relationship limits?
Written by Dimity Barber.