INFORMATION FOR adults
who care about teens
Maybe you’ve dreaded the teen years since the kid in your life was three years old and you referred to them as a threenager. Maybe you’re excited about what kind of person they are turning out to be. Maybe you’re feeling a bit of both!
One thing is quite clear - teens still need your love, support, and connection, even if they might not want to give you the time of day. We’ve pulled together some tips and language you can use to help you keep the teens in your life safe, strong, and connected.
We separated out topics below - but they are all connected! You may talk about one of these topics and then find yourself also talking about feelings, healthy sexuality, bullying, and more. So much of this kind of prevention work is about establishing these protective skills and supports that help across all facets of life. The bonus is they also happen to be protective factors when it comes to sexual violence!
CONSENT & BOUNDARIES
By the time your kid hits their teen years, maybe you’ve been modeling and
talking about consent for their whole lives. Good job you!
If you haven’t - that’s okay! There’s no time like the present to start.
Everyone has a role to play in modeling, encouraging, and teaching boundaries and consent. Consent and boundaries aren’t just about sex. They are the basis for all healthy, safe relationships. And of course - consent is also about sex. Talking with your teen about sex and consent is important.
Here are a few things you can do to help your teen.
Encourage healthy boundary setting and respect in all relationships.
Talk with your teen about setting and respecting boundaries. This could be between family members, with their friends, with romantic partners, or with folks at school. Healthy boundary work includes noticing when you may have crossed someone else’s boundary and talking about it, respecting others even if what they need or want is different, and clearly communicating what they want and need.
Continue to define consent and use everyday examples.
The easiest way to define consent is a willing, excited yes. It’s important to be super clear that this doesn’t just mean that someone didn't say no. Make it clear that you only have someone’s consent when they have said yes and they really seem good with it. Encourage them to talk with you about reading other people’s cues. You could use a non-sexual scenario to help clarify:
Say we’re heading out on a trip for school vacation and your laptop is broken. You want to borrow your best friend’s laptop for the week we are gone. If you ask them and they don’t respond, do you have their permission? What if they said, “Ummm. Ugh. I mean…I don’t know. I guess maybe…?” How is that different from a response like, “Oh yeah, of course!”
Talk about sex/hooking up and substance use.
Chances are, your teen will attend a party or two where alcohol and drugs are present. It’s important to talk about substance use and how sometimes that can lead to sexual encounters that can range from embarrassing to assault. You might quote Heather Corrina mentions on her site Scarleteen, “If you're feeling the sexy vibes and want to pursue some kind of sex with someone in that situation, the better bet is to just trade numbers then, and connect again later when you're both sober. Not only does that help keep you safe, it also helps you avoid choosing to be sexual with someone who seems awesome and amazing when you're blitzed, but in the light of day, without the beer goggles, is the last person on earth you'd want to get down with.”
Healthy sexuality is part of what it takes to prevent sexual violence. Healthy sexuality is the ability to freely and responsibly understand, enjoy, and control your sexual and reproductive experiences. It relates to body image and a person’s sense of self. A culture that encourages healthy sexuality is a culture that helps reduce risk factors and increase protective factors associated with sexual violence perpetration and victimization.
Here are a few things you can do — and some
resources to check out — to help your teen in
their journey toward healthy sexuality.
Talk about sex as reciprocal, responsible, and enjoyable.
Many parents - if they talk about sex at all - stop at the basics of consent and contraceptive use. However, if we are going to have a truly sexually healthy culture, we have to expand our conversations beyond risk and danger. We need to talk about sex as joyful and something people mutually enjoy. A key goal here is that your child gets to adulthood able to have sexual relationships that encourage mutuality, care, and joy.
Advocate for comprehensive, age-appropriate, medically accurate, inclusive sex education.
It is important for all trusted adults in a teen's life to model healthy boundaries and a healthy approach to sex. The quality of sex education at school is also important. Approaches to sex ed vary widely. Learn about what kind of sex-ed curriculum your school district uses. You can use this resource to help you figure out what a good sex-ed curriculum should look like. If your district’s policy isn’t up to snuff, you can take steps to change it!
Talk about what porn is – and what it isn’t.
It’s important to have open conversations about porn. The reality is that teens are curious about bodies and sex and talking with them about sex generally can help demystify porn. However, it’s also important to talk about how mainstream porn is not made for people their age and often includes unhealthy, unsafe, and confusing messages about sex. AMAZE.org has a helpful video about porn and the link includes information for youth and parents. This article also offers some helpful perspectives on talking with your kid about sex.
Body Image & Changes
Body image and puberty-related changes can be really challenging for teens. It’s important to provide them with solid facts about what’s happening with their bodies and provide them with resources they can explore on their own. Healthy body image is not only critical for self-esteem, it is also linked to healthy sexuality and sexual violence prevention. Here are some helpful tips.
Remember you and other adults around your teen set an example about body image.
Teens hear what we are saying when we criticize our own or others’ bodies. What is your relationship to your own body? How do you take care of and nurture your body? Talk about society’s expectations about bodies - both women's and men’s - and why they’re not realistic.
Read up on teen body changes so you can provide helpful information.
Talk to your teen about what changes puberty could (continue to) bring. This includes physical, mental, and emotional changes and experiences beyond their own. Normalize that puberty comes at different times and looks different for different people.
Compliment your teen on things other than what they look like.
Many of the compliments people get (especially girls and women) relate to how they look and not who they are. Compliment your teen to things other than what others look like: things they’re good at, traits you admire, how hard they studied for that test, how hard you know they’re working on that one hobby or sport. This not only boosts their confidence but also models great behavior for them to hopefully integrate as well. Encourage other adults to do the same.
Bullying & Harassment
It makes sense that bullying prevention helps keep kids (and adults!) of all ages safe. Did you know that helping your teen understand and respond to bullying is also part of preventing sexual violence? It sure is! Studies show that there are connections between bullying and sexual violence. This is especially the case when bullying is homophobic or about someone’s perceived masculinity or femininity.
As always, it’s important to remember that adults are first and foremost responsible for keeping teens safe. And, we know that bullying happens when adults aren’t around so supporting them however we can is important.
Model working through conflict
Families who calmly and respectfully work through conflict are part of what it takes to prevent bullying and sexual violence. It is considered a protective factor in sexual violence prevention. There are many different styles to work through conflict. Important pieces include accepting others’ emotions, making sure everyone is heard, and encouraging everyone to use kind words and body language.
Although the teen years make it hard to maintain a connection, it’s important to let youth know you’re there for them. Strong connections with trusted adults and support for emotional health are protective factors against sexual violence victimization and perpetration.
Gender, Sexual Orientation
Youth today are generally quite accepting of a range of gender and sexuality expressions. What we hear from parents is that they want to be supportive, but have no idea how or even what some terms mean. Respecting and supporting your teen’s gender and sexuality expression is part of sexual violence prevention.
Here are a few ideas that may help.
Get to know the basics.
If you’re not sure what cisgender means or are new to the idea that gender isn’t just limited to male and female, take some time to learn a bit more! Even if you are aware of different terms/perspectives, it doesn’t hurt to do a little digging. Gender Spectrum is a great resource that provides some solid information and has links to support groups for tweens, teens, parents, and others. Planned Parenthood also has some great resources for talking with youth about gender.
All teens need their parents' support, no matter what. Talking to your child about accepting and loving people no matter who they are, who they love, and how they identify is a great step toward supporting your child no matter what their gender or sexual orientation might be. Then follow through. If your child uses certain terms to describe their gender or sexual orientation, use those terms, too.
Sexting & Photo Sharing
When it comes to teens and tech, many parents have serious concerns about sexting - and more specifically, sharing nude or sexual photos and videos. The reality is that, like so many topics, it’s important to talk with your teen about sexting before they start using devices unmonitored.
Here are a few ideas and resources to help.
Talk about how sexting relates to peer pressure, sharing personal information.
Research shows that many tweens and teens ask for or share photos or videos because they felt pressured to do so. Talk with your teen about ways they could respond if they were asked to share a photo or video of themselves. Planned Parenthood has some great responses here. You can also talk about sexting in the context of not sharing any personal information online and related safety issues.
Talk about consequences.
We aren’t into the idea that you can (or should) scare youth into behaving a certain way. And, it’s important for you to talk with your teen about the potential risks of sexting a photo or video. This includes the fact that once a photo or video is sent, they have no control over who sees it or who it is sent to from there - including other people at school, teachers, family members, and others. Depending on where you are, there could also be serious legal issues with sending or receiving sexually explicit photos or videos especially if the subject is a minor.
Talk with them about what to do if they get a photo or video.
How they react may differ depending on who sends them a photo or video: if it’s from someone they don’t know, they should not delete the photo and need to tell a trusted adult immediately. If it is from a friend or someone they are dating, they need to delete it and talk about why sexting or sharing photos might not be a good idea. If they’re worried someone is being bullied or abused, they should tell an adult. Reinforce that it is never okay to share anyone’s photo or video.
College Search: What to Look For
Working with a young adult to find a school that respects everyone’s bodies may seem overwhelming. One way to be proactive about preventing sexual violence and ensuring a young adult attends a school where everyone shares responsibility for ending sexual violence is by scheduling a campus visit. Asking about sexual violence awareness and prevention on campus gives you helpful information.
These ideas may be useful even if your teen will
not live at school or when attending a
Check out the school’s sexual violence prevention and awareness work.
Quality prevention and awareness materials talk about the responsibility to not rape or sexually violate others, and do not blame the survivor. Materials addressing sexual violence use gender-inclusive language to ensure relevance for male survivors. Bystanders are given resources and training to intervene when they see a situation that may lead to a sexual assault.
Check out what kind of support survivors have on campus.
Sexual violence survivors are given many options for getting support. Sexual violence survivors are not forced to report their assault to law enforcement in order to access resources for healing.
Ask about how to report an assault, and ask where students should look for that information.
Schools should have easy-to-understand, easy-to-find information about how to report a sexual assault, and what the process can look like after reporting.
In general, the easier it is for students and administrators to answer your questions, the better they are doing at creating a culture where sexual violence is openly talked about and addressed.
Questions to ask current students:
What does sexual assault awareness or prevention look like at this school?
What can you tell me about the process for reporting sexual assault at this school?
Where is the Title IX office on campus? Who would I talk to at that office to get more information?
Questions to ask faculty and administrators:
Who handles reports of sexual assault at this school?
What happens when sexual assault is reported?
Are students required to report their assault to law enforcement to access support services?
Does the school have Title IX policies? How is information about the school's Title IX policies communicated to students?
How are penalties for sexual assault or misconduct determined? Is the process different if the assault is perpetrated by a fellow student? Administrator? Non-student?