In light of recent rape allegations from a number of girls who attended private schools, a tweens educator is urging parents to teach their kids about consent – and she has the tools to get you started.
With door shut, and through floods of tears, Emily relived sketchy memories of being sexually abused at a party only weeks earlier.
Although the topic of consent and our teens has only come to light in the media this last week, it is not new news.
Over the past 25 years in my work as an educator and mentor, sexual assault has been commonplace, and one I have dealt with on a weekly basis.
It frustrates me that it has taken 3,000 girls (and counting) to sign a petition to get our attention. What saddens me the most is that at the heart of this petition is a generation of girls who feel the adults in their lives have not done enough.
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Melissa Mitchell speaks about the importance of talking to your kids about consent. Source: Supplied to Kidspot
“So often children hide mistakes and failures from us”
Going back to my story – Emily’s story was like most girls I have spoken to – complicated, full of regret and absent of a trusted adult.
She’d woken up to find her ex-boyfriend’s fingers inside of her. Rumours about ‘what happened’ were circulating throughout the school. Her own recollections were vague, so these rumours formed much of her understanding of the evening.
Being a ‘good girl’ and having little experience with alcohol and boys, she sadly did what many girls do – blame themselves.
Shame had gripped her capacity to connect with those who loved her.
She had chosen not to tell the school in fear of her reputation being ruined. She had chosen not to tell her family in fear of being a disappointment to her parents.
So often our children hide little mistakes and failures from us (a bad mark on an exam, a detention, stealing food or tuckshop money). They may be afraid that we will judge, misunderstand, freak out, condemn or lock them up.
It’s a fair assumption. Transparency does come with potential risks.
RELATED: Simple trick to teach kids about consent
“I have sat with many teens and young adults who have struggled to talk to adults when faced with a crisis.” Source: Supplied to Kidspot
“Teens need safe communication based in deep trust”
Over the years, I have sat with many teens and young adults who have struggled to talk to adults when faced with a crisis.
I have also sat with parents who have desperately wanted a road “in”, regardless of the heartache or the cost. This one thing I know – we don’t choose vulnerability in the big moments unless we have experienced the benefit of vulnerability in the little moments.
This type of safe communication is based in deep trust and can only be created, intentionally, over time. This is what our girls are calling for.
One way we can practically build trust is to have conversations that aim to predict our response in the event of a crisis. They need us to create safe, predictable pathways.
They need to know exactly how we would respond and where our priorities would be.
RELATED: ‘We need to teach consent to our kids from as young as three-years-old’
Try asking your kids: “How do you think I’d react if…”
Try asking “How do you think I’d react if… you were caught sexting, I found out you took drugs, you told me something you know would break my heart, you went out with someone I didn’t like, you were sexually assaulted at a party while you were drinking
“How do you think I’d react” conversations aim to dispel assumptions, and reassure our children that regardless of the circumstances, we will always put our hand up to be the biggest, stronger and safest person in their lives.
Words like these will go a long way in reassuring teenagers that your response will be safe and predictable:
- “My heart would break for you, but my job would be to…”
- “You need to know that there is nothing we couldn’t work through together.”
- “If something unexpected happened, don’t think for a second I wouldn’t want to be a part of it.”
- “If that happened I expect you’d need us more than ever.”
- “We always stick together, no matter what.”
“Please don’t ever be afraid to step up and be the big, safe person you were meant to be in a teen’s life.” Source: Supplied to Kidspot
“Mum would kill me. I wasn’t supposed to be drinking”
When I asked Emily why she hadn’t spoken to her parents she said, “Mum would kill me. I wasn’t supposed to be drinking.”
“Yeah, I get that. It’s possible. She might kill you,” I agreed.
That response made her smile.
“I’d expect that a parent who loved you lots might have a big reaction. A parent’s love is strong and real and fiercely protective. But once mum ‘kills you’, she will love you a lot. That’s what good parents do. She’s on your team. She’s got your back.”
Truth? I wish Emily’s mum had the “How do you think I’d react conversation…” with her prior to this event.
It could have been a game changer. It’s so important that our girls know we are present in their reality, and that we don’t have our heads in the sand, or work… or our phones.
For parents and schools reading this article, please don’t ever be afraid to step up and be the big, safe person you were meant to be in a teen’s life. That starts with education, but is ultimately fulfilled in relationship.
Melissa Mitchell is an educator, author and speaker, with a special interest in tweens and teens. Click here for more on her published books.