The language of love

Embarrassment is to be expected when you are learning a new language. I learned that when I inadvertently had an entire conversation in French about my liver once.

But that embarrassment can transform into shame or worse if you get thrown into a foreign country long before you even have the basic down.

Especially if the country is beautiful, but very, very dangerous.

Everybody knows that. So I can’t understand why, when it comes to the language our bodies speak, we are so keen to throw our children into the lions’ den.

This week Terryann Clark, the lead researcher for a report on school children, made headlines calling for “an explicit conversation about consent”.

That was because the research (which used data from 2012) found that 15 per cent of high school children had experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact, and mostly this was from a boyfriend or girlfriend.

It had me terribly confused. After all, the law tells us that a person is considered mature enough to understand consent, and how to give or withhold it, when they reach 16.

And most of the unwanted physical contact was for children under the age of 14.

So from what I could gather Clark was suggesting we teach children to use something they can’t understand yet.

And worse, Clark is suggesting we teach those kids only one little bit of what they need to know about the thing they can’t really understand, before patting them on the back and sending them off anyway.

It seems to me that we are teaching young people that it is ok to walk into the lion’s den, and dangle red meat in front of it, so long as we say “no” very loudly at the same time if we don’t want to be eaten.

That is about as helpful as setting the lion on them ourselves.

Are we really surprised at such statistics given what we are doing to our kids?

So we can follow Clark’s suggestion and have an “explicit conversation about consent” then, or we can have an explicit conversation about sex, and when a person is really mature enough to wield it wisely.

We can talk about consent, or we can talk about alcohol, hormones and their effect on decisions and communication.

We can talk about consent, or we can talk about the importance of who you choose. After all, the character of the character you decide to take home as an adult is critical, let alone the lad or lady you select as a special someone when you are 14.

Basically, I’m suggesting that keeping young people out of lion’s dens in the first place is the very best way to make sure their “no” is respected.

But suggesting it is ok for them to get drunk, take a stranger home or date anyone at all is the very best way to make sure their “no” is put most at risk.

Am I saying that unwanted touch is the young persons’ fault? No. I’m saying it is ours, because, quite simply, we are lying to them.

We are throwing our young people into a beautiful, but very, very dangerous country and told them to talk at the top of the lungs before they understand what any of the words mean.

We have told them to explore before giving them the map that points out the minefields, or even telling them the minefields exist.

And we have told them that so long as they can say “no” it will turn out just fine in the end.

This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz

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