The #MeToo campaign has become a viral sensation on social media, with women sharing their stories of sexual harassment and assault. These posts provide a deeper insight into how widespread sexual harassment is. Even though many of these incidents may have occurred in the past, sexual abuse and harassment are still prevalent today and can happen to anyone, including children. Shockingly, a 2016 study by Science Daily revealed that one in four middle school students reported experiencing verbal or physical sexual harassment while at school.
Recent findings from the Making Caring Common Project at Harvard Graduate School of Education are even more concerning. Despite the prevalence of sexual harassment among young adults, a study of over 3,000 young adults conducted by the project revealed that 76 percent of them had never discussed sexual harassment, misogyny, or mature relationships with their parents.
Here are some expert tips on approaching the subject if your child has asked about the #metoo campaign or if you’re unsure how to start the conversation.
1. Include Your Daughters and Your Sons in the Conversation
Dr. Diane C. Pomerantz, a psychologist with extensive experience working with trauma and child abuse, stresses that parents should recognize that this is a universal child-rearing concern that should apply to their daughters and sons.
She emphasizes that it is not a matter of gender but rather a human issue, and both boys and girls should be educated on how to respond when they encounter or observe sexual harassment.
2. Keep It Developmentally Appropriate
Considering your child’s age and cognitive and emotional development is crucial. Dr. Pomerantz suggests shifting the conversation to encompass how to respond to harassment or bullying.
This approach can be introduced at a young age and instills in your child a general appreciation for human values and how to treat others.
3. Teach Healthy Romantic Relationships
According to Dr. Pomerantz, educating young teenagers about healthy romantic relationships is important before discussing sexual harassment. As teenagers are still learning about relationships, they require guidance to determine whether a relationship is healthy.
Dr. Pomerantz recommends emphasizing that a healthy relationship should not cause discomfort, fear, intimidation, shame, or embarrassment and must always include mutual respect and compromise. Sharing personal experiences, whether from your own life or that of someone you know, can assist your child in forming their own perspective on what constitutes a loving relationship.
4. Define Sexual Harassment
Dr. Pomerantz suggests it’s crucial to define sexual harassment explicitly. Teenagers often fail to realize that sexual harassment applies to both genders and is not just limited to unwanted touching.
Sexual harassment can take several forms, including verbal harassment, such as making jokes, cat-calling, spreading rumors, or passing comments, cyber harassment involving social media posts, text messages, and emails, physical harassment comprising unwanted touching, kissing, or sexual acts, nonverbal harassment through gestures or sexually explicit writing about someone, and unwanted behavior like stalking or receiving persistent phone calls.
5. Teach Your Child to Report It
Dr. Pomerantz recommends guiding your child to take action in case they or someone they know experience sexual harassment. Firstly, they should identify and label it correctly as sexual harassment and not mistake it for bullying.
Secondly, it’s essential to document all the details of the event. Lastly, they should confide in a trusted adult and report it to the school or authorities. Dr. Pomerantz emphasizes the importance of empowering children to use their voices and speak up against sexual harassment to put a stop to it. By taking action and standing up for themselves and others, we can make significant strides in ending sexual harassment and abuse.
6. Teach your child about consent
Children must understand that they have the right to say no to anything that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. As parents, it’s our responsibility to teach our children to assert themselves and stand up for their own boundaries. Doing so empowers them to set boundaries and communicate their needs effectively.
At the same time, it’s equally important to teach them to respect other people’s boundaries and understand the importance of consent. They should understand that just as they have the right to say no, others have the right to do the same. This helps children develop healthy relationships built on mutual respect and understanding. By instilling these values in our children from a young age, we help them navigate the complexities of relationships and interactions with others as they grow older.
7. Encourage your child to trust their instincts
Inform them that trusting their instincts is crucial, and if they ever feel uneasy or in danger in any situation, they should take action to protect themselves. This could mean leaving a party or event, declining an invitation or offer, or asking for help from a trusted friend or authority figure. It’s essential to emphasize that their safety and well-being should always be their top priority, and it’s okay to prioritize themselves over social pressures or expectations.
Encourage them to seek support and help if needed and remind them that they don’t have to go through any uncomfortable or unsafe situations alone.
8. Model healthy relationships in your own life
As a parent, modeling healthy relationships in your own life is one of the most effective ways to teach your children about the importance of healthy relationships. This includes being aware of your own behavior, avoiding abusive or manipulative tactics, and treating your partner with kindness and respect. By doing so, your children will better understand what a healthy relationship looks like and will be more likely to develop healthy communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and empathy toward others.
It’s also important to be mindful of the media your child is exposed to and to encourage critical analysis of the relationships they see in popular culture. By having open discussions and modeling healthy behaviors, you can help your child develop a well-rounded understanding of healthy relationships.
9. Talk to your child about the importance of speaking up when mistreated
“Teaching children about consent is crucial to helping them develop healthy relationships. It’s important to teach them that they have the right to say no to any unwanted physical or sexual contact and that they should always respect others’ boundaries. This means asking for permission before engaging in any physical contact, listening and respecting if someone says “no,” and never pressuring or manipulating someone into doing something they don’t want to do.
It’s also important to teach children to recognize signs of non-consensual behavior, such as ignoring someone’s “no,” using coercion or threats, or taking advantage of someone who is unable to give consent. Teaching children about consent can help prevent sexual assault and create a safer, more respectful society.”
10. Create an open and safe environment for your child to come to you with any questions
It also means being available and approachable, making time for one-on-one conversations, and creating opportunities for open communication. By creating a safe and supportive environment, you can empower your child to speak up about any issues they may be facing and help them navigate the challenges of growing up.