Tips for parents on discussing sexual harassment with teens & tweens

Tips for parents on discussing sexual harassment with teens & tweens

The news about Harvey Weinstein and the “#MeToo” campaign on social media have generated much conversation about the topic of sexual harassment.

In both instances, many victims say that they were first harassed as children, and that is in keeping with the findings reported by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN). Their data shows that every two minutes, an American is sexually assaulted and of the victims, 44%  are under the age of 18.

In fact, research out of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign shows that  1 in 4 middle school students say they’ve experienced verbal or physical sexual harassment at school. One in ten girls is catcalled before her 11th birthday, according to the Girl Scouts.

That’s a startling and sobering statistic. And it underscores the need to talk with our kids about sexual harassment when they’re young. Those discussions are far from easy.

I’m gratified to see posts recognizing that harassment happens to both male and females and that parents need to make it clear to both boys and girls that harassment is never, ever acceptable. Those are two important point to make with our kids, but of course there’s more to say. Here are some tips for parents on discussing sexual harassment with teens I’ve seen in articles online that I found helpful.

Tell kids that it is never, ever their “fault”

“When you talk about catcalling and other gender-based harassment, emphasize that no girl or woman is ever ‘asking for’ or ‘doing anything to deserve’ an objectifying comment or threats. Girls and women should feel free—just as boys and men do!—to go where they want, when they want, wearing what makes them comfortable, without fear of intimidation or abuse. Sadly, many girls and women of all ages blame themselves when they’re harassed, so make sure she knows that unwanted attention in the form of prolonged stares, lewd comments, or touching of any kind without her express consent is never, ever her fault—and not something she should feel ashamed telling you or another adult about.” – From “One in Ten Girls is Catcalled Before Her 11th Birthday. Here Are 6 Things Parents Can Do About It” from the Girl Scouts 

Identify for kids what behaviors constitute harassment

Parents should talk to kids about what sexual harassment looks like, feels like. Explain the difference between flirting and sexual harassment. Flirting, Rosenbluth says, is mutual and it builds the relationship. Sexual harassment is not mutual, it doesn’t build the relationship. It makes you feel uncomfortable, scared or intimidated.” – From “How to talk to your kids about sexual harassment in wake of Harvey Weinstein scandal” by Nicole Villalpando on My Statesman

Discuss (and of course, model) healthy relationships

“Teens are under a lot of pressure, and romantic relationships come with a learning curve. Without proper guidance and information, teens might not know whether or not they’re in a healthy relationship.

Talk to your teen about the meaning of mutual respect and the fact that it’s perfectly normal for relationships to ebb and flow. Teen dating is often romanticized or dramatized in the media, and that makes it difficult to understand what’s healthy versus what’s unhealthy. A simple question to start the conversation might be, ‘Does this relationship make you feel better or worse, happier or more stressed?’ It’s important to teach teens that romantic relationships can be empowering, loving and caring, but they can also cause stress and lead to arguments.” – From “How to Talk to Kids About Sexual Harassment” by Katie Hurley on US News

Talk with kids about how to react if they are ever harassed

“Ask your child if they have ever been harassed or degraded with sexualized words or actions and how they’ve responded. If they haven’t had these experiences, ask them what they think they would do in different situations. Does this differ from what they think they should do? We don’t always do what we should. Discuss how they can get from “would” to “should” by exploring the pros and cons of various strategies for responding. Would they feel comfortable confronting the person harassing them, confronting the harasser with a friend, talking to a teacher or a school counselor, or talking to you or another respected adult? Consider role playing so they can explore strategies. Brainstorm with your child ways of responding in various contexts.” – From “Sexual harassment among teens is pervasive. Here’s how parents can help change it.” by Alison Cashin and Richard Weissbourd on Washington Post

Talk about how to react if they witness someone else being sexually harassed

“Bystanders play an important role in stopping bullying and sexual harassment. If you see someone who is being harassed, take action. If it feels safe and natural to speak up, say, “Come on, let’s get out of here” to the person you see getting bullied or bothered. You probably shouldn’t try to change the bully’s behavior by yourself, but it is OK to let the bully know people are watching and will be getting involved.If you don’t feel you can say something at the time you see the incident, report the event to a teacher or principal. This isn’t snitching. It’s standing up for what’s right. No one deserves to be harassed. You could also talk to the victim afterward and offer support. Say that you think what happened is not OK and offer some ideas for dealing with harassment.” – From Kids Health

Of course, this is an on going conversation with many different aspects that parents need to cover with their kids but this is a solid start. I have hope that parents having these discussions will make the world better and safer for all our kids moving forward.

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Tips for parents on discussing  sexual harassment with teens & tweens

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