Sexual Harassment is any unwelcome sexual advances, sexual innuendos, request for sexual favors, sexually degrading words or jokes, or verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment is NOT flirting. This is information that most adults/parents know and we need to be talking to our adolescents openly and honestly about sexual harrassment and what it is. I remember asking my daughter when she was about 11 or 12 if she understood what it meant to be sexually harrassed, “yeah, of course, it’s when someone touches you in a way that you are uncomfortable with and won’t stop when you ask them to”. OK I thought we’re on the right path now let’s get a little more specific. Of course being in this field I am privy to much more information than most adults/parents so I felt prepared and comfortable having this conversation. I know from talking with other parents that most don’t feel comfortable. Below are some tips and guidelines for talking with your kids about sexual harrassment.
Suggestions for Parents
- Research school and workplace policies on sexual harassment and discuss these with your teen. Make the definition of sexual harassment clear to your teen. He or she may have unknowingly witnessed or experienced sexual harassment.
- Don’t be afraid to bring up the topic of sexual harassment in your teens life. Its okay if he or she isn’t comfortable talking about their own experiences with you. Provide them with a mentor or knowledgeable peer that both you and your teen trust to talk with. Your teen may be willing to discuss such incidents happening in the lives of their friends and peers. This opens up conversation about preventative steps to take and how to handle it when it happens.
- Take advantage of teachable moments in your adolescent’s life, doing role plays and providing them with resistance skills (For example practice saying, “I am not going to allow you to talk to me that way”., “I don’t think thats funny.” Teach them how to get out of a bad interaction in a chat room or among peers).
- Share the suggestions for teens with your teen, reinforcing that when they experience sexual harassment, it is not their fault and that something can be done about it.
Suggestions for Teens
- Don’t ignore what is happening. Do not let behaviors that seem small keep happening, because they most likely will get worse instead of better. Tell the offender that you don’t like their behavior and that you want them to stop immediately.
- Don’t let someone accuse you of not having a sense of humor, you are simply asking to be treated with respect.
- Don’t blame yourself for what is happening (for example, what you were wearing when the incident happened). It is the harasser who is responsible for what is happening.
- Know your rights for a harassment-free environment. Sexual harassment is illegal and you have the right to talk to the proper authorities when it happens. Tell a parent, teacher, counselor, or other trusted adult immediately.
- Keep records of your experiences (list incidents, dates, behaviors and people involved, including witnesses). A calendar is helpful for keeping track of problem behaviors.
- Ask for help. Talk to a parent or knowledgeable person about how the harassment bothers you and come up with ways to deal with it. Role play a potential scenario.
- Even if you are not the victim, don’t be afraid to speak up when you see it happening. . Tell someone when you think his or her sexual behavior or jokes are inappropriate.
- Keep your instant messaging (IM) within a circle of friends that you know in person and avoid responding to e-mails or IMs from strangers.
These tips may help you to open up the lines of communication with your teen and have this very important conversation. Always remember that these are suggestions and your conversation with your child will be very individual to you and your family. Showing your willingness to talk about these tough topics openly with your teens is a huge step in the right direction.