It’s Time To Talk
May 14, 2021
Open discussion around consent and the role of Schools in informing and supporting young people in this area has been encouraging in the main and on occasions distressing. Some of the experiences that victims are now feeling able to share demonstrate clearly that open discussions with our young people are absolutely essential both at School and at home…
At our School, we have specific and intentional wellbeing programmes, the support of expert providers, TIGS psychologists and Deans to have these discussions in class as well as one to one. This is important work and supports the unique and powerful role of parents and trusted adults in these conversations. I am frequently asked how to commence conversations of this nature by parents as well as how to keep our precious young people safe in this particular context.
To keep them safe there are two primary actions that I encourage parents to take. The first is practical and it is to keep all electronic devices out of bedrooms – especially overnight. This is a safety routine, not only for inappropriate online sexual behaviour including requesting or sending nudes, but also for the prevention of online bullying, predatory behaviour, gaming addiction and just good sleep hygiene. All of us, even the adults, are well served if we keep our electronic devices in the study or shared lounge room and out of our bedrooms. One of the simplest and most effective routines I have observed for this is the “device station” or basket. It is in a common area and everyone charges their devices in this place. Parents can easily see that all devices are out of bedrooms, devices all get charged ready for the following day and it takes some effort and intention to go and retrieve a device when the expectations and household processes are so clearly arranged and understood. I recommend this strategy to our families; it’s like wearing a seatbelt in the car – it’s a habitual, simple and effective safety action, every time you drive. The same is needed for technology in the home, especially for children and young people.
The second action parents need to feel confident and able to take is to talk to your children about sexting, “nudes” and online sexual activity. It is important that you understand the context and prevalence of sexting in our society and particularly that it is occurring from a young age. Some experts in this area state that they are regularly seeing this commencing from Year 5 and Year 6 students, so the conversations need to start early with our children.
There are some excellent resources available to parents and I recommend that you spend a little bit of time online understanding the nature and extent of this phenomenon so you can speak with confidence and from a place of knowledge. In terms of the actual conversations, this is an ongoing process and will need to be revisited over time as your child matures and grows. One helpful approach is to start these conversations in a general sense. So, rather than asking your children outright whether they have been asked for nudes, which would tend to shut down a potential conversation, parents could ask whether they know of people at school who’ve sent or received a nude/nearly nude. This third-person approach is low risk, you aren’t asking who it was, just opening up a conversation about whether your child is aware of this type of behaviour.
Amongst my reading, I have come across the term “enthusiastic consent”. I think it makes it very clear to young people the concept that if they feel any unease or reluctance about what they are being asked to do, send or view this is not enthusiastic consent. It also makes it very clear to both parties that pressuring another person into behaviour that they do not feel happy about doing, is not consent. We teach our youngest students about listening to their feelings and bodies when we are teaching child protection and safety. I think the idea of enthusiastic consent can be discussed by parents with very young children around their choices and actions long before discussions around sex or realtionships are relevant. This builds foundational understanding that will assist them as relationships and choices become more complicated.
This area of discussion also provides an opportunity for you as a family to discuss your values as well as matters of self-esteem and respect. It may be the case that people can enthusiastically participate in behaviour that does not align with these values and which we can later come to regret. This is a specific and very beneficial conversation that can be had within the family unit and not just in the context of sexting or consent, but also with regard to alcohol and drug consumption, risky social behaviour, honesty, inclusion and bullying.
Our young people are navigating the sometimes turbulent waters of growing up in really complex times and we need to make the most of every possible opportunity to come alongside them and hear their perspective as well as speak wisdom and encouragement into their lives. It is our responsibility and pleasure to partner with our parents in this task.
Provided are just a few links to reputable and helpful websites to start your reading in this area. I have read each and recommend them to our community as a starting point in your thinking and conversations.
To aid in these discussions and to be informed, here are some helpful resources you can use…