Parent and Family Prevention Resources

Talking to your Student about Relationships and Consent

Research shows that individuals who are taught about healthy relationships, boundaries and consent can help serve as a protective factor. Having these conversations with your children can help teach them about what positive, healthy relationships look like and empower them to recognize if something is not right for themselves or their peers (Basille, 2018). Here are a few things to consider as you discuss relationships and consent with you student.

Sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking are prevalent issues globally, below are some statistics about the prevalence of sexual and relationship violence.

  • 20-25% of college women and 15% of college men are victims of forced sex during their time in college (Cullen, 2000)
  • More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault (Cullen, 2000)
  • Nearly two thirds of college students experience sexual harassment (Hill, 2005)
  • Nearly half (43%) of all college women and one third (28%) of college men report having experienced either abuse or controlling behaviors in a dating relationship (Fifth & Pacific Companies, 2011)
  • Nearly 1 in 6 women and 1 in 17 men have experienced stalking victimization at some point in their lifetime
  • About half of all victims of stalking indicated that they were stalked before the age of 25 (Smith, 2018)
  • Please note, data suggests that transgender or gender non-conforming individuals are at higher risk of being targeted for sexual harassment and sexual violence (Smith, 2018).

Talk about your student’s values and what they would want in an intimate relationship. Below are some conversation starters or questions you can explore with your student:

  • “What are the positive qualities that you would like to have in a relationship or in a significant other?”
  • “How would you like your intimate relationships to impact your life? What should be your significant other’s role with your friends, family, academics etc.?”
  • “What would be some deal breakers for relationships, things that would not be acceptable for you?”

Empower your student to communicate their boundaries with their friends, roommate, classmates, significant other, family and others.

Boundaries are personal limits that you can set with others including physical, emotional, or digital based guidelines. Part of empowering your student could be letting them set boundaries with you about how you will communicate while they are at school, for example how many times you will talk on the phone to each other in a month. Below are some conversation starters or questions you can explore with your student:

  • “I want to talk with you about how we can stay in touch while you are at school, what do you think will work best with your school schedule? How will you communicate with me if things change?”
  • “How will you communicate with your roommate(s) about your shared living space expectations? What will you do if your roommate(s) are not respecting your boundaries?”
  • “How will you communicate with a significant other(s) what you need in a relationship and ask about their relationship expectations?”

Reinforce that it is important for you to respect the boundaries of others, which sometimes means that you will not agree or be rejected.

It can be helpful to talk about how rejection is a normal and natural part of life. Even though in the moment the rejection might be really painful, remind them that you are there as a resource to help them get through that. Below are some conversation starters or questions you can explore with your student:

  • “How do you let your friends, family, or significant other know that you respect them and their choices – even when you do not agree with them?”
  • “How will you respect someone else’s boundaries – even if you do not agree or do not like the boundary that was set?”
  •  If your student shares with you that they have been rejected, “I am really sorry to hear about this- sometimes relationships do not work out, how cn I help support you?”
  •   Consent is clear, enthusiastic permission from all parties involved.
  •   Consent is an ongoing process and must be received throughout the entire interaction.
  •   Anyone involved can change their mind at any time and this must be respected.
  •   If the initiator is ever unsure then they need to stop.

Below are some conversation starters or questions you can explore with your student:

  • “How would you ask for consent if you were initiating?”
  • “What are some things you are worried about when it comes to consent?”
  • “How would you know if someone is not interested?”
  • “How would you respond if someone is not clear when you are asking for consent?”

 Correct any misperceptions that your student might have about consent.

Consent cannot be implied based on previous interactions, relationship status or clothing. Consent needs to happen in the moment. Silence, lack of resistance or passiveness is not consent. Consent cannot be given if someone is threatened, coerced, or does not have power in the situation to say no.

Coercion is define as using intimidation, threats or force to persuade a person to do something that they do not want to do. This is different than compromise because when someone is coercing another then they are not really giving that person the option to say no. Coercion can look like this:

  • “If you really loved me you would do this…”
  • “If you do not do this then I am going to tell people a secret of yours…”
  • “If you ever left me I would hurt myself…”

Talk with your student about how alcohol or other substance might impact someone’s ability to consent.

If someone is incapacitated, then they are not able to give consent. Incapacitation means that the individual does not have the capacity or clear state of mind to give consent. This can look different for different people, what is important to communicate, is that if the initiator is not sure then they need to stop. Encourage your student to look out for their peers and if they see individuals that look like they are incapacitated to try and get them home safely. Your student can help protect their peers by being a prosocial bystander and intervening if they witness a potentially dangerous or risky situation. Below are some conversation starters or questions you can explore with your student:

  • “How do you think alcohol or other substances can impact someone’s ability to consent?”
  • “Would you feel comfortable engaging in sexual activities with someone that has been drinking? How would you know if they were incapacitated and unable to consent?”
  • “What are some plans that you and your friends will put in place before going to parties to make sure that everyone stays safe?”
  • “How will you look out for your friends, roommate(s) and peers when there is alcohol or other substances being used?”
  • “How would you safely intervene if you thought that an individual was trying to take advantage of another person that was incapacitated?”

 Avoid making assumptions and use language that is open and inclusive.

Try to be open during your discussion and not make assumptions about your child and their friend’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Successful conversations come from an open perspective.

  • Some language tips or tricks:
  • Instead of asking “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend” try asking, “Do you have a sweetheart or significant others?”
  • If your student is talking to you about a friend, roommate, or significant other and has not used gender pronouns (he/him/his, she/her/hers, them/them/theirs etc,) , you can ask your student what pronouns that individual uses. For example, “You have been talking a lot about Alex, can you tell me what pronouns Alex uses?”
  • Let your student know that you are there for them when they start dating or if they would like to talk about anything.

  • Center for Disease Control Violence Prevention website
  • Love Is Respect
  • For Goodness Sex: Changing the Way We Talk to Teens About Sexuality, Values, and Health by Al Vernacchio
  • Living In Liberation: Boundary Setting, Self-Care and Social Change by Cristien Storm
  • Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus by Jennifer S. Hirsch and Shamus Khan
  • For more information about how to support your student who has experienced sexual or relationship violence, visit Resources for Family.

Cullen, F., Fisher, B., & Turner, M., The sexual victimization of college women (NCJ 182369). (2000). Retrieved from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice:

Hill, C., & Silva, E. (2005). Drawing the line: Sexual harassment on campus. Retrieved from the American Association of University Women:

Fifth & Pacific Companies, Inc. (Formerly: Liz Claiborne, Inc.), Conducted by Knowledge Networks. (June 2011). College Dating Violence and Abuse Poll. Retrieved from,” Available at:

Smith, S.G., Zhang, X., Basile, K.C., Merrick, M.T., Wang, J., Kresnow, M., Chen, J. (2018). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2015 Data Brief. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from:

Basile, K. C., Rostad, W. L., Leemis, R. W., Espelage, D. L., & Davis, J. P. (2018). Protective Factors for Sexual Violence: Understanding How Trajectories Relate to Perpetration in High School. Prevention science : the official journal of the Society for Prevention Research, 19(8), 1123–1132.