How do I talk to my teenager about healthy relationships and consent?

As your teen grows, you can be there to help them work through different situations or challenges. Talking to them about relationships and consent will help them understand how to take care of themselves and others.

Remember that your child may not always feel like talking or opening up. Be patient and make sure they know they can speak to you about anything.

Create a safe space for conversation

Start with an informal chat. Avoid putting pressure on your teenager to talk to you. Remember what it was like to be that age, and how you felt about speaking to your parent or carer.

  • Find a space that feels comfortable for you both. This could be on the sofa, playing a game, going for a walk or in the car.
  • If they decide to share their experiences with you, react in a calm and understanding way.
  • If they don’t seem open to talking, but you think they may need to communicate something to you, ask what suits them. Do they prefer video or text, for example?

If you find it hard to talk to your child, read our advice on talking about difficult topics.

Help them understand what a healthy relationship looks like

Give your child some examples of healthy and unhealthy behaviours.

A relationship is healthy when both people are:

  • Caring.
  • Considerate.
  • Kind.
  • Encouraging.
  • Sharing tasks.

An relationship is unhealthy when someone is:

  • Controlling.
  • Isolating the other person (they might discourage them from seeing friends).
  • Passive-aggressive.
  • Unkind.
  • Self-centred, not considering the other’s needs.

Talk to your child about respect. Speak about gender equality and spotting sexual harassment. It can also help to understand what behaviour is involved in emotional abuse, as it’s not always easy to spot the signs.

If your child isn’t open to talking with you, make them aware of services like The Mix. The site offers advice articles for under-25s on lots of issues, a helpline, counselling and an online community. It also has an ‘Is my relationship healthy?’ quiz.

Help them understand what consent means

Find ways to help your child understand sex and consent. You could:

  • Use a video, like Tea and Consent, to start a conversation
  • Chat with them about how consent comes across in words and body language. If someone seems uncomfortable with something or says no, it’s important to listen.
  • Notice moments or storylines on TV that could help you talk about respect and consent. This could be something like the Sheldon and Amy storyline in the The Big Bang Theory.

When reflecting on TV, books or music together, ask them what they think about actions or words. Are the characters’ actions OK? Are there signs of unhealthy behaviour or lack of consent?

You might also want to talk to your child about safe sex. It’s worth making sure they feel supported to talk about STIs, pregnancy and contraception. Provide opportunities for them to lead the conversation.

Know the law

  • The age of consent, or the legal age to have sex, in the UK is 16.
  • By law, children under 13 cannot consent to any type of sexual activity.
  • Any of sexual contact without consent is illegal. This is regardless of the age of those involved.
  • Sending and receiving naked images and videos is illegal for anyone under the age of 18. The law also applies to sexual chat or requests for pictures or images of a sexual nature. This is even if a young person consented to them being sent.

Encourage your child to let someone else know if they’ve received any images, or feel pressure to send any. The law is there to keep them safe and protect them.

Sexual harassment and abuse

  • If you’re worried your child has been sexually harassed, encourage them to speak to you or the school. Text services like Shout can also offer support.
  • If you think your child has been sexually assaulted or raped, the NHS has some guidance.
  • The NSPCC has some advice on what to do if your child tells you they’ve experienced abuse.
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This advice was written by our experienced Parent Talk coaches. Parent Talk is a free online service for parents and carers, provided by the charity Action for Children. For more advice, message our parenting coaches with our online chat.

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