In the heat of the moment, consent can be a murky area. It’s a common story; a boy and girl are at a party, the alcohol is flowing, and things get a little lovey-dovey. Soon they end up smooching in the back room and he gets it into his head that this will go further than she intends. Before you know it, he leaves with a great story to tell his mates, while she leaves with bruises, an aching groin and a guilty conscience.
This, by reasonable standards, is sexual assault. However, the problem with the scenario is that the girl did not actually utter the word “no.” Whether owing to fear, or the unfortunate notion that she was obligated to succumb, that oh-so-significant two letter word did not leave her lips. Any guy with a booze-addled brain and a questionable personality would take that as a guilt free pass.
Unfortunately, a frighteningly large number of people assume that because the girl didn’t vocalise “no,” it isn’t assault and she should have known better than to be with the guy in the first place. This attitude of slut shaming, victim blaming and the ridiculous idea that girls are more in control of their sexual urges than boys is inherent to our societal makeup. It’s a problem because, aside from the blatant double standard, it leads to these horrific incidents.
I’m not saying that all guys have a ‘rape gene’. That’s a terrible, misandrous assumption. Most guys are lovely. I have seen inebriated boys take even more inebriated girls to a couch, clean up the vomit, find a blanket, leave out some water, stay until the poor thing falls asleep and then return to the party. The thought of taking advantage of her wouldn’t even enter their heads, because they are GOOD PEOPLE. However, #notallmen does not change the fact that there are too many young guys who would, without question, handle that situation somewhat differently.
In summary, these particular guys are nasty little shits who watch too much porn. The attitude of male entitlement/privilege has been bashed into them from the age of about 10, when they accidently stumbled across their big brother’s dirty magazines. However, even the nastiest little shit can be educated and I don’t mean being beaten about the head with the phrase: “Respect women!” What should be taught is this simple principle; consent is not the absence of “no.” True consent is a clear and resounding “yes” from both individuals involved.
Clarifying this shouldn’t be limited to boys. More sexual assaults would be reported and perhaps avoided, if young women were taught what consent is, and when/how to give it. However, in high school this seems to be severely lacking. My memory of year 11 is that girls were taught how not to get raped and boys were taught how not to get arrested for it. That was 10 years ago, but the attitude hasn’t changed. As a result, both genders grow up believing that victim-blaming is acceptable and have no understanding of the psychology of sex.
Look, we can’t change all the nasty little shits in the world. But if the definition of consent was made clear from adolescence, maybe we could (to a degree) nip sexual assault in the bud. Perhaps, if this idea is firmly asserted long before the booze-fuelled house parties start, boys would think twice before barrelling in when the moment feels good. Perhaps girls will learn to define their sexuality not by the whims of men, but by their own needs and desires. You can beat the vocabulary of sex education into teenagers until the cows come home, but if consent isn’t part of the dialogue, it’s a lost cause.
Today’s teens live their struggles, mood swings and relationship crushes under the glare of their social media connections. Teen popularity contests have extended beyond lunchtime gatherings and now include online ‘likes’, questions and comments. When all of your friends are on Facebook and run ask.fm question sessions, could you miss out on these ways of communicating with your peers? Having no access to social media poses a fate worst that death for most teens – isolation, at a time they are the most desperate to fit in and be accepted.
As a parent, you want to protect your children from the risks of being online. You hear enough stories of online sexual predators, cyber bullying and teen suicides to warrant blocking some websites until your kids are at least 21. Unfortunately, bubble wrap is not a long term solution, for any scary stage of their lives. You need to equip your kids with the skills to become great adults, but that’s a delicate balancing act with their still immature teen brains. So, what’s the answer? Here are some strategies for keeping your teens safe online.
The minimum age for an account on Ask.FM or Facebook is 13, but no proof of age is required. Within minutes of creating a fake email account, your kids can be signed up to social media too. At 13, you’d never let a stranger take photos of them or ask them questions, so enforce this online too. If it’s not appropriate for them in real life, it’s not appropriate online either.
You’d be careful about what movies they watched, so parental control settings are an effective way of blocking some of the stronger objectionable materials online. Start with any settings built-in to their computer, phone or tablet and add third-party software if you think it’s needed. Some parental controls can even block websites etc on a time schedule, so they can get in some online homework time before being distracted by Facebook.
Facebook privacy settings are different for 13-17-year-olds and change to standard adult settings once they turn 18. As confusing as they seem, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the privacy settings in any of your child’s social media accounts, ensuring they are set as tightly as possible. Because it’s not your account, the privacy laws will prevent you from getting Facebook to delete inappropriate photos of your child. On their smartphones, try the AVG PrivacyFix app which will make setting change recommendations in plain English. For younger teens, know their account passwords to reinforce that online access is a privilege, not a right and it’s still your job to know what’s going on in their lives.
My house, my online rules
When they get a social media account, set some house rules. These can include: real life friends & family only as connections online, no posting personal details (including school name, home suburb etc), parents are friend connections too. Set consequences for breaking the rules and spot-check them occasionally. To retain some form of family time and to curb any online obsession, set a curfew for electronic devices prior to bedtime (including the parents’ phones too!) and don’t allow technology to be charged in bedrooms. It’s better for them to have a cheap alarm clock than to find out they were on Facebook at 1am.
Don’t put cyber safety in the too hard basket. There are numerous resources online to help parents and teens with cyber safety and cyber bulling. Do some searching and see what you can find. Check with your local school for any resources they use or any presentations you could attend. As technology evolves, parents need to keep up with the latest trends, research and advice. Share what you’ve learnt with other parents and involve your school if you pick up on concerning chatter within your child’s peer group.
The points above still seem very controlling but with young teenagers they still need a high level of protection. As they get older, they are going to want more freedom and control of their own, so you have to keep the lines of communication open. Talk to your teen about what’s going on it their world. Talk to them about teen suicide headlines. Talk about what they’ve seen and heard online. This will be the hardest thing in this article to achieve, as teenagers are not always known for disclosing every detail of their lives. But it’s also the most important.
Talking gives you the opportunity for ‘how would you handle that’ discussions. It reinforces that you do have their back when they are feeling hurt or upset by something they read or saw online. It helps you sow into their lives positive words that they are good enough, they are valuable, they are unique and that they are unconditionally loved. The sad, common truth in the latest cyber bullying suicides is that the parents had no idea their kids were being subjected to online. Don’t let your parental guard down for the sake of their privacy.
How do you tach your teenage kids about cyber safety?