How Consent Can Help You Become More YOU: An Essay by YA Author Rayne Lacko
So much has happened since last semester. You’ve changed. Maybe you started hanging with new friends or had to say goodbye to someone you used to trust. Or maybe you decided to go vegan. Along the way, your view changed, and you along with it. And that’s OK. You’re growing, moving forward, becoming more you.
“Becoming more you” is harder than it sounds. Sometimes it feels like everyone has an opinion about who you ought to be, how you ought to look, what you ought to wear, or what you should study.
But there is a simple tool you can use for managing these dilemmas. The tool is consent, and mindfulness can help you use it. Mindfulness is a practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of awareness of your thoughts, emotions, or experiences from one moment to another. Emphasis on the word nonjudgmental.
We often think of “consent” in terms of setting limits in dating. Practicing consent with your partner is essential. Consent empowers you with a safe boundary to choose what is right for you, your body, and your peace of mind.
It’s also respectful of your partner; when you set healthy limits for what works for you, it shows you’ve thought about what you want in life, and it makes you better able to share what really matters to you.
I’m going to give Consent a capital C now because it’s a powerful tool for every aspect of your life — particularly during your high school years.
Let’s look at the top five stressors of high school students. Mindfully giving or refusing your Consent allows you to choose how to live your life and helps you become more you. Let’s look at how:
1. Body Issues
Your body is in a growth period and changing all the time. How you look is unique to your development. However, there is a barrage of images and opinions about what “perfect” should look like.
Think About It: Am I receiving messages about body appearance that have nothing to do with me as an individual?
Mindful Consent: I can choose to have gratitude for my body and to accept that I am changing and growing. I can make healthy choices and allow myself the freedom to look exactly as I do.
When we feel isolated, are worried about the future, or are concerned about our place in the world, depression can follow.
Think About It: Am I allowing other people to choose how I should live or what I should want? Am I receiving negative warnings about what the future might hold?
Mindful Consent: I can explore what brings me joy, and whatever that is, it’s unique to me. I can choose to find friends who share my interests, but I don’t need others’ approval to like the things I like.
3. Dating/Sex/Teen Pregnancy
In high school, having a partner may become extremely important to you — or to your circle of friends. You may feel pressured to be in a relationship or to choose how and when to share your body. You may be worried about unwanted pregnancy.
Think About It: Am I feeling pressured about who I should date or about having sex? Am I being told it’s not OK to be without a partner?
Mindful Consent: I can set whatever boundaries feel comfortable for me. How I express affection and love is my personal choice. Who I choose for a partner is a decision only I can make. I can choose not to date right now because I’m happy just hanging with friends. I’m able to gain access to birth control, and I can use it if it’s right for me.
4. Drinking and Narcotics
What you put in your body requires your consent. Others may try to influence your choices based on the boundaries they’ve given themselves. What makes sense for one person or group doesn’t necessarily apply to you, your life, or what you want.
Think About It: Does my friend’s lifestyle choice match what I ultimately want for my own health and well-being? Does it match what my parents (or my coach/or other caring adult) would want for me?
Mindful Consent: I can commit to a lifestyle that reflects my values, fitness, and health goals. Personal safety matters to me. My future is important. I respect myself, and I am safe-guarding my body, brain, and self-esteem.
5. Peer Pressure
Who you choose to hang with and how your circle likes to entertain itself has an enormous influence on you during high school. You are a reflection of your circle.
Think About It: How do I feel about my closest friends: Are we there for each other? Do we trust one another? Do we share the same interests or goals? Do we bring out the best in one another?
Mindful Consent: I choose to connect with people who encourage and support one another. My friendships are important, and they have the power to inspire me to be my best self. I try to bring out the best in others. I am building a tight circle of trusted friends.
Setting a boundary doesn’t mean you’ve made up your mind forever. Consent can be refused now and given later, after you’ve gathered more knowledge about who you are — and who you want to be. The more closely you examine what you want and what feels right for you, the better you know yourself.
Consent builds self-esteem as well as closeness with others. When you know yourself, you’re better able to share who you truly are with the people who matter most.
You aren’t the same person. You’re stronger now. When you mindfully consent to what you want and set boundaries for what you don’t, you become more YOU.
Rayne Lacko believes music, language, and art connect us, and she explores those themes in her novel A SONG FOR THE ROAD (SparkPress, August 2019) and guided journal DREAM UP NOW (Free Spirit Publishing 2020)