How to Talk About Consent, Boundaries, Privacy, and Safety Online
This year’s back-to-school season has some unique challenges in store for families. Many schools are offering virtual instruction or hybrid models for students this fall and as young people move to computers for their learning, they will inevitably spend even more time online talking to their friends and using social media.
We know that it’s beyond critical to talk early and often about all things sex, love, and relationships with the young people in your life. Here’s how you can use back-to-school planning as an opportunity to open up the conversation about how they are communicating online.
Consent usually refers to people mutually agreeing that they want to engage in sexual activity. Even though your children might still be physically under your roof, they could be in a situation where they need to give or get consent.
It’s important that your young person knows that they have agency in all aspects of their life. Whether your young person is in a relationship and trying to navigate digital intimacy or needs to know how to turn down solicitations for nudes, being informed about what active, positive consent is can give them what they need to make the right choice for them. Remind your kids that getting consent isn’t just for in-person sex. And while sexting is healthy and normal, it can also be against the law.
Preparing your child to communicate what they do and don’t like can also help them build a foundation to understand and respect the consent of others. Only eight states require discussions of consent as part of the sex ed curriculum. Often these talks focus more on how students (predominantly young women) can avoid being assaulted or raped than a more integrated and proactive discussion that frames consent as a necessary life skill applied to more than simply sexual situations.
The Internet makes it so that young people can stay in constant contact with one another. While technology has done a lot to fulfill the need for social interaction despite being quarantined, it can also be overwhelming at times.
Your young person will probably spend more time than usual online due to virtual learning. If they’re staying online after school hours to socialize, that could be an entire day spent on the internet. Discuss setting personal boundaries with your teen so that they aren’t spending too much time on their computer or phone. Apps such as Screen Time can help them track their time and set goals. Even with social distancing orders, there is plenty to do that doesn’t involve a screen. Encourage them to take breaks from their phone or ask them a genuine question about their lives if you see their thumbs tapping for too long.
Just because they can talk to someone 24/7, doesn’t mean they have to. Whether it’s a romantic partner or a friendship, encourage your young person to speak up about what they are comfortable with. Learning to proactively set boundaries in their personal relationships is a skill that a young person will use for the rest of their life.
Safety & Privacy
No matter their age or level of experience online, it’s crucial that you cover online safety with your young person. Teaching your children the basics of internet safety, such as making strong, unique passwords and never giving out identifying information, early on to best set them up for success. For children that are new to the internet, you can also set up parental controls. Even though it may seem intimidating, familiarizing yourself with the social media platforms that your young person uses can also be an excellent way to stay on top of what your person is experiencing for themselves.
It’s important to have regular check-ins with your children about what they’re posting online, but these conversations can be tricky to start. Having your young person review the Digital Reputation Checklist can not only be a tool to help them start thinking critically about what they post and who can see, but it can also be an easy guide for you as a champion to kick start these conversations.
For teens who have been online for years, it could be even more difficult to begin a conversation about protecting yourself online. Check out these tips to get started.
Parents and champions are the #1 resource young people look to for information on sex, love, and relationships. You’re in a unique position to talk to your children about issues that can have significant life consequences. This year’s back-to-school season may look a lot different than years past, but you can use this time as an opportunity to start the conversations that will help them make good choices. And the conversation doesn’t end there! Every October we celebrate the special relationship between young people and their champions with Let’s Talk Month. Sign up for our monthly Power Pulse newsletter for updates!