Respectful Relationships and the Hard Conversations We All Need to Have

By Emily Price, St Leonard’s College Head of Wellbeing

Last week on the drive home after a busy week at school I rang my older brother. However, this particular conversation wouldn’t be about the usual things we discuss, like what time my niece’s basketball game was, how I could buy tickets for my nephew’s school production, or what we should buy mum for her birthday. I was ringing to ask whether he had discussed consent and pornography with his kids. Just as I suspected he had thought about it and felt that it was time to have the conversation, but felt totally unequipped to start.

He isn’t alone in this. Research by the eSafety commissioner shows that 77% of parents see themselves as responsible for providing education in the home around consent and pornography, yet less than half that figure reported actually having the conversation.

For young children in our care, conversations around consent and respectful relationships go hand in hand with supporting wellbeing. Talking about consent with children when they are young, lays the groundwork for more positive social behaviours and helps them to make safe, responsible decisions.

This week the government launched an important campaign called ‘Consent Can’t Wait’. It aims to promote healthy relationships with a suite of practical resources to help everyone talk about consent. You can find the consent conversation guides here, which give practical advice for talking about consent with people of all different ages, but most importantly, young people.

Starting early with these conversations, however small they may be, can work to positively shape the attitudes of young people, and influence how they conduct themselves when faced with challenging situations. Below is a list of practical tips from the website around how to have those difficult conversations;

  • Plan for the conversation – what do you want to say? How do you want to say it?
  • Check that the time is right – do you or they have to be anywhere? Is anyone tired or distracted?
  • Ensure you have privacy – can you be overheard or interrupted?
  • Some kids prefer not to be looking at you, so going for a drive, sitting side by side on the couch, or taking a walk may be appropriate.
  • Approach without judgment and ask questions – the discussion will be more successful if you listen, show empathy, and relate to what they are saying.
  • Ask your child questions – what do they already know about consent? How do they feel about it?
  • Provide feedback – gently correct any misinformation and pose alternative views.
  • Answer their questions as best you can and get back to them if you don’t know something.
  • Use books, movies and TV shows as examples.
  • Keep discussions short and frequent rather than one or two long sessions.

This is a shared responsibility for all community members, parents and schools together. Currently, a key area of focus in my role as Head of Wellbeing is to understand all of the work being done in this space across the College, and to explore further ways to support the young people in our care.

Here are some further resources to assist with having hard conversations with young people at home;