Our Upper School peer mentors tackled an important topic with their 8th grade friends this week: consent and boundaries. They wanted to ensure the younger students came away with a clearer and deeper understanding of consent, what to do if you’re in a high-pressure situation, and how to get help for yourself or a friend.
Not Easy, But Important
The older teens addressed the delicate nature of the conversation up front: consent and boundaries are not always easy to discuss, but it’s important to cover so students are prepared in case they encounter these experiences. Mentors said, “We know that this is a difficult and sometimes uncomfortable topic, so we would appreciate your full attention and seriousness. We also know that some of you are dating or thinking about deeper relationships with others while some of you are not ready for this yet. Wherever you are, that is okay. But this is still an important topic for us to cover so you know this when you are ready to date or get involved with someone.” They also shared if they have not dated and/or are not interested in dating or relationships.
The advisories began by discussing what the 8th graders know about consent already. They talked about an example such as if a person asks to borrow something such as a book, you do not say “no,” and the person takes the book. Was that consent? Why or why not? Mentors stressed that silence does not equal consent, and that a verbal “yes” is needed. A lack of consent involves unequal relationships, where one person has authority, power, or status over the other person. Sometimes a situation might appear consensual, but when all the facts are reviewed it becomes clear there is no consent.
Consent is Like a…Sandwich?
The groups then watched this video that clearly explains consent and boundaries using something innocuous, like a sandwich.
The mentors reinforced these main points:
- When asking for consent, ask only once, nicely and politely.
- Ask for consent every time.
- Remember that no means no.
- If you want to say yes, make sure it is a clear, enthusiastic yes.
- Even if you say yes, you can change your mind.
- Saying yes to one activity does not mean saying yes to another.
- Saying yes one day does not mean you have to say yes the next day.
- Once you say no, that should be it. If the person becomes aggressive or threatens to break up with you, that is not the person for you.
The 8th graders now have a helpful anagram to remind them about the main points of consent: Consent is FRIES!
- Freely given. Doing something sexual with someone is a decision that should be made without pressure, force, manipulation, or while drunk or high.
- Reversible. Anyone can change their mind about what they want to do, at any time. Even if you’ve done it before or are in the middle of sexual contact.
- Informed. Be honest. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, that’s not consent.
- Enthusiastic. If someone isn’t excited, or really into it, that’s not consent.
- Specific. Saying yes to one thing doesn’t mean they’ve said yes to others.
Sometimes it’s easier for younger students to understand the complexities of a topic when they hear specific examples from their older peers. Peer mentors, after clearing their story with Vicki Thurman, Director of Student Support Services, shared their experiences with the 8th graders, or shared an example from another mentor (with that person’s consent, of course). The younger students then discussed whether they thought consent was given, whether each person handled the situation well, and what each person’s responsibility was.
Social Media and Cell Phones
In the age of social media and cell phones, consent and boundaries can sometimes be confusing. Talking on Snapchat or virtual versus in-person can give you more “false” signals, and texting or talking on Snapchat doesn’t directly transfer to real life. Someone could say something on Snapchat and be too scared or uncomfortable in real life, which can actually be pretty common. Talking on the phone or over social media often helps you feel more comfortable talking to someone you like. On TikTok, there is a line on what you should share publicly. How a person dresses or presents themselves on social media/TikTok does not always translate to in-person: you cannot take that as to really be who they are or how they will act when in a 1:1 situation. Texting intimate details or photos can be harmful because it’s the sharing of information that, once it’s sent, can’t be pulled back. It’s important to be careful and choose to only partake in this with someone you trust.
All of these topics might be difficult to discuss with friends and classmates, because some people might make jokes if they feel uncomfortable or uneducated, and not everyone is on the same page with relationships. Despite these obstacles, it’s vital to talk about consent openly, watch out for each other when in public or at parties, and believe victims when they come forward. All of these can help reduce the chances of sexual assault or lack of consent happening.
Mentors stressed that “the main thing is communication and trust in a relationship and making sure you both are on the same page. You should not feel guilty about your decision, whether it be yes or no. Just make sure you feel comfortable and trust the person you are with.”
Consent in Relationships
What if they break up with me because I am not comfortable with something?
Communication is key! Talk with them first about it, and if they don’t respect that, just remember you have the right to go at your own pace. If they push back, they are not your person.
What if we are in a relationship? Is that consent for everything?
No, you have to communicate!
What do you do if this happens to you or to someone you know?
Tell the person to stop again and get out of the situation as soon as possible. How can you get out of the situation?
- Fake getting sick.
- Always keep your phone on you so you can text or call for help.
- Find any way you can to leave the situation.
Find a person you trust (preferably an adult) to tell immediately.
If a friend tells you something that happened to them:
- Show you care.
- Tell them you believe them.
- Encourage them to tell an adult or you find an adult to tell who can help, such as parent(s), counselor, nurse or other Student Support Services person, advisor, teacher, dean, or older sibling.
- Continue to support your friend as they go through feelings and memories associated with the situation.
- Support them in the way they need to be supported. Some people need to talk about it a lot while others do not. Many can’t talk about it right away, so ask what they need from you right then. Some are okay with hugs and affection, while others do not want to be touched.
Finally, and as usual, the mentors allowed time for their young friends to ask questions. Thank you to these brave Upper School students for talking about difficult topics and inviting the 8th graders to learn how they can be better prepared for both healthy relationships and uncomfortable situations.