I always said “I want boys, I remember what I was like as a teenager and I DO NOT want a girl”. What I did not realize was that 11-12 year old boys, are just as emotional as the girls. It probably happens a little later but there is still door slamming, blasting music and mean words. Puberty snuck up on me, I thought I had until the actual “teens” before I had to explain body changes and consent to our oldest.
When my son was in the fifth grade I had a conversation with him about girls that had already started puberty. I informed him that puberty for anyone was hard, uncomfortable and challenging. If given the chance to make someone’s day easier or harder, you should always try to make it easier. We discussed menstrual cycles and how when you are going through puberty some times it happens without a girl knowing or being prepared. It’s hard enough being a girl (woman) and that should not be made worse because you weren’t prepared for your period and because of your clothing choice, everyone now knows. I explained that if he sees this, and someone starts saying things to not be part of it, better, if he knows the girl it may be nicer to quietly approach her and let her know. I know that latter could be very awkward for boys, but I wanted to give him multiple approaches so he can make the decision should he need to.
Consent in these times seems so much more difficult then when I was growing up. There were no cells phones or social media when I was in middle school and high school. No way to be easily harassed by people. Mean notes could be turned in to teachers, there was physical evidence that could be confiscated at any point in time. I remember when I was in grade school I wore denim skirts (it was the 80s), there was this boy who would drop his pencil by my feet and look up my skirt. One day, I had enough and I put his head in a vice grip with my knees until the teacher came over. That boy never did that again.
These days there are so many ways of being bullied or harassed, it’s hard to keep up. There are apps that allow messaging that I didn’t even realize like Instagram. I knew Snapchat was something I had to keep an eye on so we had a rule; there is only texting through the texting app. Any other texts happening and the app would be blocked. Instagram was blocked because profiles claiming to be grown women (who really knows these days) were sending messages to my child and then messages between friends started happening. Snapchat was removed as it was a different offense. The parental app we use to monitor our “minor” has been call the “privacy invader” by our son. “Yes, yes it is”, we say, you are not 18 so we are responsible for everything you do and we need to know what’s happening.
Consent isn’t just for physical touch though, it’s also for conversations you don’t want to continue. We’ve been discussing how continuing a conversation with negotiations once someone says the conversation is over is also a consent issue. It is not OK to keep forcing someone to keep talking once you have indicated the discussion is over or to follow people into another room when they are trying to leave the topic. Same thing for discussions with friends, potential romantic partners, parents, teachers. Consent is something we need to be teaching all of our children, and in every form of the word. Forcing people into something, physical, mental, whatever, is not OK.
I am interested, have you had to have these conversations with your children? What is your view on the topic?