This year, my teenage son overstepped boundaries while texting a girl his age. He didn’t send anything inappropriate, per se: when I read the texts myself, they seemed a rather banal sequence of “hey there” and “how r u?” messages, interspersed with nonsensical emojis.
Still, the girl’s mom was upset. And, when I talked with my son, I was too. Even though the girl requested he stop texting, that she needed to go to bed, that he was bombarding her with silly notes, my son continued to send them, certain that she wanted him to continue—that she was, in his words, “just kidding around.” Finally, her mother stepped in and sent a text, telling him to stop, and that’s when he came to show the messages to me.
This incident might have seemed harmless, just two eighth graders learning to navigate electronic communication. Yet he and I spent a long time processing what had happened, concerned that he didn’t understand that when a girl told him to stop, she really meant it. As he matures and begins dating, I wanted him to know that no always means no, even when the interaction seems relatively benign.
I have become finely attuned to the issue of consent lately, in some part because my boys are too quickly turning into men. As a college professor, I am also aware of conversations on campuses across the United States about sexual assault and about the lack of clear institutional policies protecting students from nonconsensual sexual behavior.
Faced with surveys showing that one in four college-aged women have experienced unwanted sexual contact and 11 percent of them have experience a form of sexual assault, Vice President Joe Biden promoted last week a nationwide ...1
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