Mommie Dearest: Your Kids Need To Know About Consent Long Before They Head To College

Talking about sexual assault is never an easy thing. But as a parent, it’s crucial to find ways to talk to your children about it. Lately, there’s been a lot of attention focused on campus rape and sexual assault, and with good reason. Many colleges have been called out (and even sued) for not taking the right steps in handling sexual assaults that take place on campus, which has sparked the Campus Accountability and Safety Act bipartisan bill that could improve the way colleges deal with sexual violence.

What’s a parent to do? It can be difficult to figure out where to start with all of this, especially in talking about it to our own children. Recently, there have been a few resources that parents may want to look into. In hopes of providing a jumping off point for folks to discuss sexual assault,the White House recently unveiled their It’s On Us campaign, using videos of celebrities taking the pledge to keep women and men safe from sexual assault. The idea sounds really great and revolutionary at first glance — celebs like Jon Hamm, Connie Britton, and Questlove all standing up against sexual assault. The heart of the campaign is in the right place. But the execution leaves a bit to be desired.

The campaign seems to default to intervention by providing tips to help young adults not be a product of the bystander effect. And the tips aren’t bad ones. They suggest keeping an eye on your friends, especially if they’ve had too much to drink. They also encourage young adults should speak up or check in if a situation doesn’t feel right. All of these are great tips, and parents can certainly share these suggestions with their high school and college age students. But it shouldn’t stop there. Intervention isn’t the only or most pressing way to prevent rape and sexual assault.

And how about, along with pledging to speak up and do something, we also encourage people to pledge to not rape? I’ve talked before about teaching boys not to rape, which always tends to get some people’s defenses up. But is it really wrong to talk about consent and why it’s so important? Let’s focus on all aspects of rape culture, not just the bystander effect.

The anti-sexual assault organization, RAINN recently come out with an illustrated guide on how to talk to teens about campus sexual assault. Like the It’s On Us campaign, RAINN offers some good suggestions and scripts for parents to follow. The main talking points are to:

● Start the conversation

● Talk about real risks, not myths

● Offer your vote of confidence

● Intervene

● Get consent

● Identify campus resources and support systems

● Establish an open line of communication

In RAINN’s part piece about consent, the cartoon dad reminds the cartoon boy to “Ask first. Having sex with someone who says no or can’t verbally consent is rape.” All of their points together do seems to be a good entry point for parents to talk about sexual assault. Alas, my one hope is that parents aren’t just “starting the conversation” in the high school years, but rather building upon one that started when their children were much younger. If the first time you even broach the concept of consent is right before you send Junior off to college, you might be sending them off woefully prepared.

Discussing these topics with kids can be uncomfortable for everyone, but it’s a hell of a lot better than talking about it now than after the fact.

[Image of a college student via Shutterstock]