Consent, Why it matters!
I am very open with my children, I’ve always welcomed talking to them openly about sex, drugs, puberty, all those topics that may seem embarrassing as a teenager, topics that my parents didn’t always talk to me about when I was a teenager.
I’ve always told my teenagers to come and talk to me or their mum if there’s something bothering them, not to be embarrassed, I was young once, you know, I try to be a ‘cool’ dad, but if I’m honest I’ve never thought about discussing the issue of consent until recently.
My teenage sons and I have talked about respect, it’s a big thing for me, we’ve talked about contraception, about treating girls in a “gentlemanly” way, I really do thinks that’s important, I have a daughter! But the word consent, when referring to sex or relationships with the opposite sex never entered my head. I guess I just thought it would come naturally to my teenagers, as we always talk about respect for themselves and others. After watching “Consent Matters” on Rte 2 recently and speaking to many teenagers I feel it’s a vital conversation that’s got to be had.
So whilst out for a drive recently we had “that” conversation. I asked “What does the word consent mean to you?”
And so the conversation began….
We had a frank and honest chat about:
We talked about the fact that consent can be taken away at any time, we talked about how the effects of alcohol can have an impact on consent. I talked to him about the cases of sexual assault and rape that have been in the media recently, he was visibly shocked by the behaviour of the males in these cases. Maybe I have been doing a good job when talking about respect and anti-social behaviour.
We talked about consent in everyday life, its not only important in personal relationships. I was trying to explain that if you have an understanding of consent in general then life becomes so much easier as a young person. So the chat continued, but I didn’t want to make it sound like a lecture, then he’d just switch off! We talked about rows that occur at home, taking things that belong to someone else in the house, not stealing but “borrowing” something that belongs to his brother or sister, clothing from his brother is a big one, like in most households I suppose, but if he asked first it wouldn’t cause the argument when he’s found out, and he always is!! Communication is the key, I told him, most times if you show respect to a family member, with the right attitude then you get what you want if the request is reasonable. Of course this has to go both ways, he reminded me, but if you set out to give respect to others feelings and property you’ll more than likely get it back.
Boundaries are important, it’s a really big thing in my view, having the courage not to give in to peer pressure is extremely important. We’ve all been there, tagging along with the crowd, not wanting to be left out, wanting to fit in, but sometimes you have to step up and say “NO”. It’s not easy, I remember being young and being bullied, but I was lucky I had 3 older brothers to look out for me! Be proud to say no to alcohol, you don’t have to drink to fit in, say no to behaviour that deep down you know is wrong. My son looks at me and says “dad I know all this, we talk about it a lot, I do set myself boundaries, I don’t drink, I know I can talk to you or mum if something’s bothering me” I’m waiting for the “so stop going on” line…..but it doesn’t come.
The conversation goes back to personal relationships and I give him one last piece of fatherly advise, treat any girl you meet with the same respect you would want your mum and your sister to receive. Think of your younger sister, how would you like someone to treat her? What would you think and feel if someone was disrespectful to her? What’s acceptable behaviour around your sister? Every girl you meet is someones daughter, Give respect gain respect.
This conversation about consent shouldn’t only be had with young men, girls need to think about it too, many young men have said that they have had girls grab them in discos when they haven’t wanted to be grabbed, they’ve felt pressure to “shift” when they really didn’t want to. It’s a chat that should be had with all young people. Knowledge is power if you ask me!
So, a few points to think about:
- Consent does matter in all area of our lives
- Set boundaries for yourself before you go out
- Respect yourself
- Remember, alcohol does alter your views on consent and boundaries
- Have the confidence to say no if something doesn’t feel right
- Always telephone someone if you feel vulnerable or afraid no matter how worried you are about getting into trouble, parents would always want to know and to help