Virtual teenage house parties: Why consent still matters

Ngā huihuinga taiohi o te ao mariko: He mea nui tonu te tuku whakaae
house party person

Despite bubble life, young people keep gathering at house parties – on their phones. Kōrero with them about healthy relationships to keep them safe everywhere.

Screen time has shot up dramatically for most people in Aoteaora in the last few weeks. We're doing everything online. And so are our young people.

Our digital age means that adult content is just a tap away, and not just on pornography websites. Adult material can be viewed, produced, and shared through apps like Snapchat and TikTok. Lines are blurred with what's consensual, and what's not.

Sadly, things go wrong for too many people in Aotearoa. In 2019 we supported over 10,000 claims relating to sexual assault or abuse. That's an increase of 100% since 2015. Helping kids to understand consent can make a big difference in preventing sexual violence.

You could take the easier approach and just pull the plug on your wi-fi. But taking internet access away isn't the answer. This can drive any harmful or risky behaviour out of sight. But it's possible to encourage healthy habits online by staying positive about the internet.

Having conversations with young people about sex is difficult at the best of times, let alone in this isolated environment where mobile devices are their only connection with their peers. But the COVID-19 lockdown is an opportunity to remind them about healthy relationship skills and the need for enthusiastic consent for all activities – whether at a virtual house party or a real one.

In 2019, we supported over

claims relating to sexual assault or abuse.

Since 2015, there's been a

increase in claims relating to sexual assault or abuse.

Talking makes all the difference

Talking early about healthy relationships can make a huge difference in your child's life. It's not just a one-off talk – the conversations should be ongoing. And if you're worried talking about sex will encourage your teen to do it, don't be. Experts say talking about sex and relationships regularly won't encourage sexual behaviour. Instead, you'll know they're aware and they'll know that you're there to talk anytime they need you.

Having conversations about healthy relationships is the opportunity to make positive changes in the future of young relationships. It may not be easy, but having these conversations with our young ones can make all the difference in their lives, both now and at future house parties.

By funding the Mates & Dates programme in high schools, we're helping young people understand about consent and healthy relationships. And even though schools aren't fully back, it's important to be having these conversations at home too.

Having 'that' conversation – where to start?

Ease into the convo by checking in with your young people about how they're doing in lockdown. Getting connected to their online activities can help prevent them from hiding what they're doing. It shows them you're interested in their lives in a positive way.

You could ask:

  • what do you like about your favourite apps?
  • what sort of content do you like?
  • can you share something you found funny or interesting?
  • if they're using video chat services such as Houseparty - who are you using them with? Have a two-way conversation about how they can stay safe while using them
  • what they've seen. Perhaps get their opinions about a movie you've just watched together, and the issues it has brought up on topics such as aggression and consent.

Helping children understand what healthy relationships look and feel like sets them up for success in experiencing and living healthy relationships as adults. This has the potential to reduce the incidence of sexual and relationship violence.

Some topics to discuss

  1. Sending of sexual messages to each other: Commenting on other people's pictures or sharing photos of their own, consent and respect are needed in any relationship. Consent is needed for any sexual activity whether it's online or offline.
  2. If they don't have consent to send a nude, don't send it. And if they don't want to send a nude photo, they don't have to. It's also important to let your kids know how harmful it can be to send on someone else's nude photo. Not only can this cause distress but sending on a nude photo without consent can be against the law.
  3. Talk through how to get consent. There are four steps to getting consent to do something together:
    • thinking about what I want
    • thinking about what they want
    • checking it out (verbally)
    • then thinking about it afterwards to make sure it was what everyone wanted to happen (and if you would want to do it again or not). This is as important online while messaging as offline at a party.

Encouraging positive ideas and behaviours

While consent is a key issue to discuss, it's important to talk about pornography too.

Research suggests that young people's pornography use is linked to:

  • unrealistic attitudes about sex
  • harmful ideas about relationships
  • sexual uncertainty
  • a belief that women are sex objects.

Talking about it can help young people learn the difference between real sex and pornography.

Research into teens' use of pornography has also found that pornography reinforces stereotypical ideas of masculinity and femininity. It can lead to distorted views of active consent and consent-seeking. These ideas are strongly linked to dating and sexual violence.

It's a good idea to make sure teens have good quality sex education so they're not relying on pornography to learn about sex. You could use resources such as Scarleteen or Family Planning.

Scarleteen website – sex ed for the real world

Family Planning NZ website

Talk calmly and openly about pornography and sex. This can help open the lines of communication so young people know they can come to their caregivers about sexual things that are worrying them.

It's important to talk about emotional wellbeing as well. Let your child know that in a relationship they should feel like they matter and feel safe to be themselves. In a relationship, what they think and feel is important.

More info

Could talking with your kids during lockdown about sex improve NZ's sexual violence record?

Mates & Dates is our healthy relationships programme for secondary school students that covers topics such as consent:

Mates & Dates website

The Light Project is a resource about pornography for young people and whānau.

The Light Project website

The Classification Office has helpful information about how to talk to young people about pornography.

Classification Office: how to talk with young people about pornography

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