Kids and the Consent Conversation

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Every 92 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted. Every 9 minutes, that victim is a child. In the U.S., one in three women and one in six men experience some form of sexual violence in
their lifetime. Females make up 91 percent of those who are sexually assaulted or raped.

When it comes to consent, there is no single legal definition, and each state has its own designation, through laws or court cases. Generally, three things determine how states analyze consent in acts of sex.

Affirmative Consent: Do actions or words indicate agreement for sexual acts?

Freely Given Consent: Is consent given by the person’s own free will, without being induced by coercion, fraud, violence, or threat of violence?

Capacity to Consent: Does the individual have the capacity or legal ability to consent?

In the United States, “age of consent” is the age at which an individual is considered mature enough to agree to sex. This varies from state to state but is generally from 16 to 18 years old.

Talking with Children
Conversations are already uncomfortable when we’re talking about what we see and hear on the news, let alone talking about it with our kids. But most experts recommend discussing sex with children at an early age and continuing those conversations as they get older.

Research shows that knowing the correct anatomical terms enhances kids’ body image, self-confidence and openness. One of the first points experts suggest is to tell children the names of their body parts. “Saying the words ‘vagina’ and ‘penis’ is okay,” says Celeste Viciere, a licensed mental health counselor. “We often feel awkward about using the actual language and make up names instead, but teaching them in advance will enable them to use the correct language to talk about what has happened, if something should happen.”

For elementary school-age children, reading books together can help start the conversations. Choosing a book or books that feel like a good fit for both child and parent can introduce the topic of body boundaries and inappropriate touch.

Helping children understand it is always okay to say “No” and that their body is theirs is important. Let them know that keeping secrets is not normal and they can always come to you, even if someone has told them to keep a secret.

Talking with Teens
Teenagers may be more susceptible to unhealthy behavior. In a 2017 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, researchers found that 8 percent of high school students reported physical violence and 7 percent said that they experienced sexual violence from someone they dated.

Teens who experience dating violence are more likely to experience symptoms of depression, anxiety and anti-social behaviors. Tobacco, drug and alcohol abuse are also common in teens who have had sexual assault experiences. And given their history, kids who experience dating violence in high school are at higher risk for victimization during college.

Azizi Marshall, a licensed clinical professional counselor and founder/CEO of Center for Creative Arts Therapy, Artful Wellness & Psychology Arts, says communication from parents is key. “Explore and educate children on what it means to be in a healthy relationship, warning signs of an unhealthy relationship, and how to help yourself and/or a friend involved in a toxic relationship. Through these conversations, children learn about mutual respect, good communication, honesty, support, trust and being your own person within a relationship.”

Kids learn from what’s directly in front of them. When parents model healthy behavior in their own relationships, it gives kids the opportunity to see what normal and constructive behavior is like. Single parents can show how relationships work by talking with their kids about the positives or negatives of past experiences and demonstrating caring and healthy behavior in friendships and family connections.

Parent Resources
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can talk to someone who has been trained to help by calling the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or chat online at For additional information on talking with your child about safety from sexual abuse, visit Darkness to Light at ■

Sources:,,, and


Recognizing Warning Signs
Sexual abuse or assault isn’t easy to spot. Children or teens who have been sexually harmed will demonstrate some noticeable behaviors both physically and verbally. Knowing warning signs such as these could save their life.
– Being noticeably frightened by physical contact
– Having nightmares or sleep issues
– Changing hygiene routines such as refusing to bathe or showering excessively
– Showing inappropriate sexual behavior for their age
– Bruising or swelling near their genitals
– Blood on sheets or undergarments
– Using language that is “too adult”
– Being less talkative or even silent

If you suspect your child is being sexually abused, encourage them to talk about it. Being supportive and telling them you believe them will help keep them from becoming consumed with negativity.