Affirmative consent education better option to influence teen behavior

Sean Kennedy

If there’s anything most of us can remember from our high school days, it’s that teenagers don’t like being told how to behave by adults. So why do schools so often turn to punishment as a way to influence student behavior when chances to teach a lesson remain? 

Take the issue of sexuality, for example. In reaction to recent trends in pop culture, a punishment that is growing more common among high schools around the country is the practice of banning grinding at school dances. Grinding, of course, is the latest provocative style of dance to become ingrained in American culture that most anyone who has graduated high school in the past decade is familiar with.

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The issue with these bans comes down to the ineffectiveness of these rules set by school administrators, and the matter of grinding as a means of expression.

Using rules to discourage against grinding simply has not been proven to be very effective. When a principal at a high school in Montana announced at the beginning of a Homecoming dance in 2011 that grinding would not be tolerated, half the students left the event. A high school in Washington had to cancel its prom in 2010 after banning grinding because not enough students were purchasing tickets. A high school principal in Maine canceled all of the school’s dances in protest of “grinding culture,” only to receive widespread protest from upper-class students that grinding should be allowed. 

While educators may have valid concerns over student behavior, attempting to control the situation by banning grinding and canceling events as punishment is not the way to do it, and can even open the door to slut-shaming. A chaperone at a Manitou Springs High School dance in 2012 was charged with misdemeanor harassment after she sprayed couples in the eyes with air freshener, saying, “You are not whores, you are ladies. Stand up when you dance.” Teens aren’t always going to give much weight to rules trying to limit their behavior, especially when they are enforced in such an immature and abrasive manner. 

Now this isn’t to say that behaviors like grinding should be ignored by school officials, just that a different approach needs to be taken. Grinding is an activity that can make other students at dances feel uncomfortable. 

Personally, I have never been a fan or participant in grinding, which was very popular at the high school I attended. Being in that type of hyper-sexualized environment felt very awkward, and I avoided most school dances because of it. My school’s leadership did actively try to discourage grinding, but anyone attending school functions wouldn’t have been able to tell. The rules simply didn’t work. 

What schools should instead do if they wish to deter the suggestive behavior of students is teach affirmative consent in their sex education courses. California recently became the first state to mandate education on consent in their high schools, and adopting this approach to tackle the issue would have much greater impact than any threat of punishment schools could give students. Affirmative consent frames sexual activity as an affirmative, conscious, voluntarily agreed-upon experience between two people. 

The act of grinding is a product of all the sexuality teens are exposed to through culture and media, two influences educators can never hope to control. However, by teaching affirmative consent, schools would get students to open their minds to how their behavior affects other people and reflect on the consequences of their actions.

While some may consider it vulgar, grinding is just a mode through which some teens choose to explore their sexuality. Instead of trying to control students’ sexuality, schools would be better off doing what they do best — teaching them about it. 

Collegian Senior Columnist Sean Kennedy can be reached at letters@collegian.com or on Twitter @seanskenn.