We spoke to sex educators about teaching consent to kids, and how to get involved with “Consent Week” on Twitter
When the AMAZE initiative launched in September 2016, the goal was to provide comprehensive sex ed videos to children between the ages of 10 and 14. The short, animated videos are accessible and age-appropriate — and they prove that it’s never too early to start talking with children about consent. Although the videos were initially intended to be a supplemental resource for kids, parents, and educators, AMAZE has shifted tactics since the 2016 election.
Consent Week launched on February 20th, and it’s a response to what we all heard during the 2016 presidential campaign.
AMAZE is committed to ensuring that Trump’s so-called “locker room” talk about sexual assault is never normalized, and children are keenly aware that what they heard was not okay.
The cornerstone of Consent Week is two Twitter town halls — Dan Rice, M.Ed, hosted the first on February 20th, and 17-year-old Ashley Fowler of New Jersey will host the second on February 23rd. Rice has 15 years of experience training educators about how to tackle sexual assault, and Fowler (aka one of the most impressive 17-year-olds ever) began writing for AMAZE partner Sex, Etc. last summer when she saw room for improvement in the conversation about consent.
The town halls are aimed at parents and educators who are looking for tips about how to teach consent to the children in their lives.
Both Rice and Fowler stress that it’s never too early to begin speaking with kids about consent — and the conversation is about more than just sex, especially with young children.
In fact, one mom periscoped the February 20th Twitter town hall with her 7- and 4-year-old boys, proving that parents are eager to begin the consent conversation at an early age.
"It’s important what AMAZE does because it relates it to things kids can understand. You can teach a 7-year-old, 'If you don’t want a hug, say that' and then respect that boundary," Fowler says. "If you’re tickling your child and they say no, you have to foster the idea of consent by respecting that and giving them bodily autonomy. Knowing they can say no and expect that will be listened to is important when you’re teaching a child."
Rice also emphasizes that consent is a lifelong conversation, and it’s not overtly sexual in nature — it starts out with respectful questions like “Can I please borrow your pencil?” and “Can I hold your hand?” He says these conversations are a key foundation when it’s time to discuss sexual consent with pre-teens and teenagers.
"We want to make sure that in the 10-14 age group, which is where AMAZE focuses, those young people are getting a strong foundation to really be able to talk about consent as they get older in the context of sexual relationships," Rice says. "Consent is all about respect — for both themselves and others, and they have the right to make decisions about their bodies."
When I spoke with Rice, he had just completed his Twitter Town Hall — and he was encouraged by the number of people who brought up issues that are often overlooked when sexual assault is discussed. For example, conversations about consent need to include male victims, and what consent looks like in a same-sex relationship.
Both Rice and Fowler say they’ve felt encouraged by conversations surrounding sexual assault over the past year, citing the Brock Turner case as an example. Fowler’s in charge of her school newspaper, and says that four girls immediately approached her because they wanted to write about it. “Although there are obviously still huge issues, the idea that [speaking about] sexual assault is taboo seems to be going away a little bit,” she says.
But, as Rice says, it’s often “two steps forward and one step back.”
When the Trump tapes didn’t turn into a dealbreaker for many voters, Fowler describes it as an example of the far-too-common “laissez-faire attitude” about sexual assault and consent.
And, that makes it all the more important to have ongoing conversations with kids about consent.
"It can be done in an age-appropriate manner with children as young as 3," Rice says. "Be direct. Talk early and often. It's important to give kids concrete, age-appropriate examples. Young people don't understand the abstract, so you've got to be direct."
He has an important reminder for people who don’t think consent is an important issue: “Not only is it the law, but it has emotional and legal consequences,” Rice says, noting that sexual assault happens frequently but many survivors keep it a secret.
And that’s why this isn’t a one-time conversation that a parent or educator should have with a child — as Consent Week emphasizes, it’s an ongoing dialogue that evolves as a child gets older. And the conversation needs to include everyone — it’s not about warning girls to dress modestly and never leave their drinks unintended.
“Consent is really the root of sex ed,” Rice says.
Adults don’t have to wait until their kids are in high school to address the issue of consent — rather, it’s an ongoing, lifelong conversation that focuses on respect, boundaries, and the undeniable fact that we all deserve to be in charge of our own bodies.
For highlights from the February 20th Town Hall, visit the #IHeartConsent Q&A Twitter moment. Ashley Fowler’s Twitter Town Hall is scheduled for February 23rd at 5 p.m. ET.