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Teaching Consent in Middle School

At Power Up, Speak Out!, we believe that one key to preventing sexual assault is teaching students what consent is. And we believe that the sooner we can reach our youth, the better. Our consent lesson is geared at 7th and 8th graders – a good age to start talking about these issues as many middle schoolers are on the cusp of thinking about dating. We want students to think about what a healthy relationship looks like before they get involved in unhealthy ones.

Talking about healthy dating relationships and consent might sound like a scary idea, but the truth is that if we don’t teach our youth what a healthy dating relationship looks like, who will? Imagine taking someone who has never skied before to the top of a mountain and expecting them to be able to ski down. Without lessons, they might make it down, but it won’t be a pretty ride or an enjoyable experience. We can’t expect young people to know what a healthy dating relationship looks like if they’re never taught what one looks like.

We understand that the word “consent” is most often associated with sexual intimacy in our culture. However, we feel that students need to learn the logic of consent by realizing it applies to many things besides sex. That’s why our lesson doesn’t use the word “sex” and our lesson allows teachers to decide what’s the best conversation for their classroom.

In its simplest form, consent is permission to cross someone’s boundary. Our activities emphasize that students already know how to look for both verbal and nonverbal signs of consent. And we provide four guidelines to help students define consent when faced with real-world examples.

We want students to engage with the idea of consent in every area of their life. Want to have a drink of someone’s pop? You should ask first. Want to borrow someone’s car? You should talk to them about it. Want to post a picture of someone else on your social media site? You really should find out if they are okay with that.

Consent comes down to people respecting each other’s boundaries and making sure that both people involved are comfortable. The better you know someone, perhaps the less you have to explicitly ask. For example, you might already know that your sister doesn’t mind if you take French fries off of her plate. But, for someone you don’t know well, you might have to ask first. You also might be able to tell your brother doesn’t want you to borrow his car from the look he gives you. But, again, for someone you don’t know well, you might need to ask what they’re thinking to help you interpret their body language.

While it might be tricky to have a conversation in the classroom, we find that youth are very interested to discuss dating. They don’t know always know the answers to questions like, how do you know if someone wants to hug you? Hold your hand? Kiss? Too often, young people are left on their own to figure these things out.

While we don’t believe that there is an absolute “right” answer to all dating questions, we DO believe that students need advice and guidance. If we engage our youth and teach them a foundation for building healthy relationships, we believe that we can make sexual assault a thing of the past.

If you want to teach consent the Power Up, Speak Out! way, click here to purchase our lessons!

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