Teaching teens about healthy relationships

Would you believe conversations around consent don’t need to be awkward? Shelby Maunder does and she’s sharing the message with youth. Maunder is the executive director of Bringing Youth Towards Equality (BYTE), a for-youth-by-youth organization that’s leading conversations around healthy relationships and consent. Understanding that discomfort and a lack of tools can keep us from having these important conversations in life, the organization has developed programs that break down barriers and help young people laugh their way into learning.

Since last April, BYTE has made over 12 trips to communities and led a number of workshops in Whitehorse on consent and healthy relationships. Each workshop differs depending on the needs of the community BYTE is visiting. BYTE tailors programming by working with the youth or youth worker in the community who requested the workshop. This way, the organization can understand key needs and issues.

“We don’t give them the answers. We are there to remind them they have all the answers already,” said Maunder. “(It’s) small-scale, but has a ripple effect that they know how to support each other and many people are reinforcing this message that their boundaries are important.”

The workshops use games such as “Green, Yellow, Red” and “Can I Blank Your Blank” to make lessons accessible and fun. “Green, Yellow, Red” leads to some of the challenging conversations around the grey areas that can surround consent, which offers opportunities “to reinforce that this might be an ok boundary for you, but it’s not ok for someone else,” said Maunder.

“Can I Blank Your Blank” has led to some of Maunder’s favourite memories of the programs. In the game, participants write nouns and verbs on pieces of paper and pair them together as a sort of Mad Libs version of consent.

“That game is always a standout moment,” said Maunder. “Because people are awkward at first, but then there is a lot of laughter.”

It’s important for youth to talk about consent and relationships and to do so often. These games give youth the opportunity to practice and have those conversations.

“The more youth practice their boundaries and hear those messages, (the more) they reduce the risk of sexualized assault,” said Maunder. 

BYTE plans to expand its program this summer by building on its Healthy Relationships workshop. Part two of the workshop will focus on breakups and rejections and how to handle those in a healthy and respectful way.

“We talk to people about talking about their own boundaries, but we don’t often talk to young people about how to hear a no and accept a no and how to have a healthy breakup,” said Maunder. “There are ways to end relationships that aren’t toxic and that’s really important. There is so much frightening news about women who are hurt because they have said no to someone. We can talk to everyone about ‘it’s ok to say no’ and ‘your boundaries,’ but if people don’t respect them it’s only one side of the coin. You need to be building both sets of tools. You can say no and you might also hear no and this is how you should respond.”

If you want to start a conversation with the young people or friends in your life that are in unhealthy relationships, Maunder recommends approaching the conversation with no judgement.

“I think it can be really hard when we hear about people in unhealthy relationships to fight the urge to be, like, ‘get out!’” said Maunder. “You want to protect your friends, but sometimes you just need to listen. And sometimes it’s going to take someone more than one try to get out of an unhealthy relationship. It’s really important that you’re still there for them because it can be even harder to leave an unhealthy relationship if you feel like you don’t have support.”

Workshop games help navigate conversations around the grey areas that can surround consent

This article is part of a series of stories for Sexualized Assault Prevention Month, an annual inter-agency campaign designed to engage all folks as allies to prevent sexualized violence in our community. The series features the people, projects and organizations across the Yukon who are working to reduce the incidence and impacts of sexualized assault in our community. Visit EndViolenceYukon.com for more information about the campaign.

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