Informed Consent: A Guide for Parents and Teens

When we think of “consent,” our minds often jump to images of intimate moments or sexual encounters. However, consent is a crucial aspect of all relationships, extending beyond physical intimacy to everyday interactions like borrowing a phone, sharing personal information, taking a picture, or sexual intimacy. Seeking consent demonstrates respect for the other person’s autonomy while honoring their personal boundaries, emotions, and choices. For teens, understanding and practicing consent is essential for fostering healthy connections and navigating the complexities of relationships in today’s onlife world.

Informed consent is like a mutual agreement where both parties willingly agree without feeling pressured, similar to seeking permission and allowing the other person the freedom to say “yes” or “no” without coercion. Genuine consent involves a deep understanding and mutual respect for each other’s choices, free from any form of coercion. Respect forms the foundation of consent, highlighting the importance of valuing oneself and others. It creates an environment where individuals can openly express their desires and emotions while respecting each other’s boundaries and decisions, nurturing healthy relationships.

In any relationship, there are rights and responsibilities. Everyone has the right to honestly express their feelings and have them acknowledged and respected by their partner. Conversely, they have the responsibility to accept and respect the response, whether it’s positive or negative. Effective communication is crucial for navigating consent, requiring teenagers to develop the ability to express their feelings and desires assertively while also gracefully accepting rejection.

Negotiation and compromise may be part of the consent process, but manipulation or coercion should never be involved. It’s vital for teenagers to understand that it’s perfectly acceptable to say “NO” and set boundaries that make them feel safe and comfortable. They should not feel responsible for how others react to their verbal, non-verbal, and physical boundaries.

Practical Strategies for Asserting Boundaries

When faced with situations where consent is challenged, teens can employ practical strategies to assert their boundaries effectively. Here are some strategies to share with teens that we recommend:

  • Maintain a confident posture and assert your boundaries clearly. Remember, you have the right to say “NO” without feeling guilty.
  • Express your feelings using simple and direct language. Avoid ambiguity to ensure your message is understood. Remember, “NO” is a complete sentence, and there is no room for negotiation.
  • Consent can be withdrawn at any time. You might think you are okay with something, and then once you are in the moment, it may not feel right.
  • Refrain from providing unnecessary explanations or justifications. Repeat your boundary if necessary, emphasizing your decision. Remember – you do not have to justify your reasons.
  • Focus on expressing your own feelings and wishes without blaming the other person. Acknowledge their perspective while standing firm in your own.
  • Prepare for conversations about consent, by engaging in “what if” scenarios. Proper preplanning can empower teenagers to assert their boundaries confidently when the time comes to do so. However, this needs to be an ongoing strategy as your child matures to meet the situations they could face if their consent is challenged. 

 

It is important to accept the fact that teens may encounter situations where they feel pressured to say “yes” despite their discomfort. It’s crucial for teens to recognize such instances and assertively communicate and set their boundaries. A quote that we love from Paulo Coelho:

“When you are saying ‘yes’ to someone else, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself.”

 

Informed Consent Specific To Healthy Human Sexuality

Having conversations about respecting boundaries in healthy human sexuality is crucial for parents to have with their teens. It’s essential for our kids to grasp the concept of “Informed Consent,” especially concerning sexual intimacy, as an ongoing process that requires explicit agreement at every stage. They need to understand that informed consent cannot be given if the other person is under the influence of drugs, alcohol, sleeping, or unconscious due to substances. Teens should recognize that informed consent is not ambiguous or coerced, it’s not a “maybe,” a pressured “yes,” a hesitant “sure,” an uncertain “I guess so,” or even silence.

Planned Parenthood in the United States developed something they called “Consent Fries” to help explain informed consent, with “Fries” being an acronym that stands for:

Freely Given – consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol

Reversible – anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime. Even if you’ve done it before, and even if you’re both naked in bed

Informed – You can only consent to something if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent.

Enthusiastic – when it comes to sex, you should only do stuff you want to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do.

Specific – Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom at a party to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (like having sex)

Please share Planned Parenthood’s “Consent Fries” analogy with your teens, and take the time to integrate it with your ongoing talks with your kids about relationships and healthy human sexuality.

A french fries in a container

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It is important for our youth understand that consent cannot be given when:

  • It is a person in authority who is abusing their power,
  • If you are being pressured, threatened, or coerced,
  • You are unconscious or sleeping, or
  • You are incapacitated by Alcohol or Drug

 

Also teach your kids to be aware of “red flags” that can indicate that the other person is not respecting your boundaries and informed consent such as:

  • Trying to pressure or guilt your teen in doing things they don’t want to do such as saying, “come on, I’ve been waiting for this all day” or “what, you don’t love me, if you did you would do this for me” or “you have been coming on to me all night.”
  • Attempt to make your teen feel like they owe them sex by saying things like, “I took you out for dinner and a movie and now you want to ignore me”
  • Reacting negatively when your teen says “no” and shows anger and resentment in their reaction to them saying “no”, and
  • Completely ignore it when your teen verbally says “no” but also ignore their non-verbal physical reactions such as pushing them away.

 

Remember, teach your teen that “NO” is a complete sentence and there is no room for negotiation.  If a person is not respecting your boundaries and informed consent specific to healthy human sexuality, teach your teen to leave the situation if they can.  If they can’t remove themselves, then let the other person know that if they continue what they are doing is “rape” – a term that can often bring the reality of a situation to the offender’s attention which can often stop further escalation. 

Here’s a FREE video we did on the “legalities” of informed consent that we did for teens, parents, and educators here in Canada specific to sexual intimacy:

 

Understanding consent is an ongoing process that evolves with experience and maturity. It’s essential for teens to engage in conversations and activities that deepen their understanding of consent and empower them to navigate relationships confidently. By fostering a culture of respect, communication, and mutual understanding, teens can cultivate healthy relationships grounded in consent and empathy. Remember, consent is not just about saying “yes” or “no”; it’s about honoring each other’s autonomy, boundaries, and choices.

As teens embark on their journey of self-discovery and relationship-building in today’s onlife world, let’s equip them with the knowledge, skills, and values they need to navigate the complexities of informed consent with confidence and integrity. Together, we can create a safer and more respectful world for all.

Digital Food For Thought 

The White Hatter

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