Teaching Kids Consent

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By Delvene Neilson

As of 2023, the Australian school curriculum will incorporate consent education, including an understanding of gender stereotypes, coercion and power imbalances. Topics which should have been a part of education a long time ago. 
The changes have come about after Chantel Contos polled her Instagram followers in February 2021, asking them if they or someone close to them had been sexually assaulted by someone when they were at school. After more than 200 people responded with “yes” in the space of 24 hours, Contos launched an online petition calling for greater holistically and earlier education on these topics in Australia. 
Teaching young people how to have respectful relationships is one of the most important things we can do as educators. But without a comprehensive understanding and nuanced approach to the issue, conversations around consent, respect, and relationships can become fraught with apprehension and misunderstanding.  

What else are we overlooking?

The online petition now has over 44,500 signatures, and 6,600 individual stories of sexual assault which suggest that while these changes are a step in the right direction, they are sadly too late for some. This huge change has been made possible by these thousands of victims coming forward to support one movement, for similar issues. Which begs the question, what else could we be educating our children about, that isn’t in the existing curriculum? 
ClickView understands that teaching topics that haven’t traditionally fallen within the curriculum, or at least yet, encourages critical thinking, creativity, mental agility and the recognition and regulation of emotions. ClickView believes that teaching students about wellbeing, consent, respect, financial literacy – including bitcoin and climate change for example, encourages students to be open to new ways of seeing the world.

The importance of educators

Educators are in a unique position of being able to facilitate these often challenging conversations with their students. Teaching students about these issues shouldn’t be difficult, but up until now, the educational response has been filled with overbearing metaphors and unnecessary allegory. Part of the solution will involve teaching students the skills required to sort fact from fiction, including understanding reality versus what children today are seeing online. Parents and teachers might not want to believe it, but stats show a staggering 70 per cent of children aged 7-18 years old have accidentally encountered pornographic material online, often through a web search while doing homework. A figure that has likely been exacerbated in the last two years with thousands of children remote learning online during the pandemic, and using their own devices. 

Porn has become the norm

Porn is no longer the magazine on the top shelf of the newsagents. Nor does it require payment or any form of identification process, it is readily available on most social media platforms being used by children of all ages – TikTok, Instagram and Twitter included – it is readily accessible to all.  As of February this year, German Twitter made moves to start blocking pornographic profiles, removing a number of accounts to make it harder for children to find adult content, and as part of a larger crackdown on porn in Germany. This is a great start, but as the majority age of Twitter users are over 18 – there are other platforms that are putting children at risk of viewing inappropriate content while 25 percent of TikTok’s audience, for example, are aged 10-19. In July 2021, TikTok began automatically removing videos showing nudity, sexual activity, violence, and other content that violates its safety policy for minors, but that doesn’t mean to say it isn’t still on there.  Unfortunately, porn has become a default source of sex education for many young adults. Unless educators can step in a provide a better solution, pupils will continue to learn lessons from pornography that may prove difficult to unlearn. 

Having ‘that’ conversation

Discussing pornography openly and honestly can be one of the most important things we do as educators to help young people navigate their way into adulthood. Young people need our help to contextualise what they see online and build their critical thinking skills.
These critical thinking skills go beyond the world of pornography and can help in other areas of our pupils’ lives, too. In a world where fake news is high on the agenda, teaching pupils to understand the reality of the world around them is more important than ever before. 
Building a strong emotional intelligence will help prepare children for the human economy of tomorrow. During the industrial revolution, people were hired because of their hands. In the knowledge economy, they were hired because of their brains. In the future global economy, our kids will be hired because of their hearts. 
Teaching students to regulate their emotions, communicate with others, build relationships and use compassion and empathy to understand the needs of others will be paramount in their development.Education ministers are due to meet in April to finalise the new curriculum, which is set to be taught from the 2023 school year onwards.

About the author: Delvene Neilson (pictured above) is the head of customer success at ClickView, an online education company that provides over 5,000 schools, colleges and universities with access to high-quality, relevant, and interactive curriculum-aligned video resources. This is an opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this publication.

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