The problem of sexual assault on campus continues to persist and make headlines in the news. But if you have a child and you think, “they don’t care what I say,” or “they don’t want to hear me talk about that,” you’re wrong. Whether your teen is still choosing which school they’ll go to in the fall, is a freshman at college in their spring semester, or is a freshman in high school just beginning to navigate how to get into college, one of the best things you do for your child is open up the line of communication before anything could happen. It may be a difficult conversation for you to have, but it’s necessary for the safety and health of your child.
Here are some tips to help you ease into this important conversation:
- Use something in the media, like a news story or a scene from a film or a TV show, to start talking. Has your child ever thought about sexual assault on campus? Do they feel safe? Have they ever thought about what consent means, or the differences between healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors?
- Talk about healthy relationships and the hallmarks of healthy relationship behaviors, such as respect for each other, trusting a partner, and feeling comfortable setting boundaries.
- While talking about consent might seem harder to tackle, it’s important for your child to know the basics of consent. 40 percent of grads in a recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey said they believe unspoken action can indicate consent. Talk to them about what is consent, and how to check in with their partner at each step of sexual activity.
- Your child is in charge of their body. At any point during any sexual activity with whoever they are with, they are allowed to say no and change their mind. If a partner continues to perform sexual activity after someone has said “no” or expressed they are uncomfortable continuing, then it is considered sexual abuse. Additionally, if someone has consumed too much alcohol or taken drugs, that individual cannot consent because they are impaired.
- Let them know it’s never the fault of the person who was sexually assaulted. It is always the fault of the person who does the assaulting. And anyone can be sexually assaulted, whether they’re male or female.
- Avoid lecturing. Instead of launching into a speech, ask questions and listen to what your child says. The more you ask, the more they might tell you about their own experiences, how they feel about dating, or what their peers may be experiencing.
- Tell them to go with their gut. If a situation feels uncomfortable or dangerous, they should feel okay leaving. For example, if they’re at a party and have been drinking, but want to leave, it’s okay to lie and make up an excuse for leaving rather than staying and feeling uncomfortable. Likewise, if they see something, they can do something. In the same hypothetical party scenario, they can help a friend in need by redirecting the conversation or having their friend join them outside.
- Keep the line of communication open. Let them know if they ever want to talk to you about these kinds of issues at any point, they are always welcome to do so.