#MeToo: How to Talk to Your Child About Sexual Harassment

In light of the recent #MeToo campaign going viral, here are some tips on how to talk to your child about this sensitive topic.

It’s gone viral. Across social media, women are sharing their stories of sexual harassment and assault. When you read those social media posts, you get a deeper understanding of how prevalent sexual harassment is. Even though many of these stories might have been from many years ago, sexual abuse and harassment are still happening today and it can happen anywhere and to anyone – including children. In fact, one in four middle school students say that they have experienced verbal or physical sexual harassment at school, according to a 2016 study by Science Daily.

More shocking, recent findings from the Making Caring Common Project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education show that despite the pervasiveness of sexual harassment among young adults, 76 percent of the over 3,000 young adults researchers interviewed had never had a conversation with their parents about sexual harassment, misogyny or mature relationships.

If your child has asked about the #metoo campaign, or if you’re not sure how to broach the subject, here are some tips from experts.

1. Include Your Daughters and Your Sons in the Conversation

According to Dr. Diane C. Pomerantz, a psychologist who has done extensive work in the areas of trauma and child abuse, one of the most important thing parents can do is keep in mind that this is a broad child-raising issue that is not only to be directed to their daughters, but to their sons as well. “This is not a male or female issue, it is a human issue. Both boys and girls need to be taught what to say and what to do when they experience or witness sexual harassment happening.”

2. Keep It Developmentally Appropriate

At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind the age and cognitive/emotional development of your child. Dr. Pomerantz recommends re-framing the discussion so it addresses what to do when confronted with harassment or bullying of any kind. This can be broached from a very young age and provides your child with a broad respect for human values in relation to others.

3. Teach Healthy Romantic Relationships

When broaching the topic of sexual harassment with young teenagers, first discuss what it means to have a healthy romantic relationship. “Teenagers are just at the beginning of their learning about relationships. They need assistance to know whether or not what they are dealing with is a healthy or not a healthy relationship,” says Dr. Pomerantz. Stress the fact that a healthy relationship should not make you feel uncomfortable, scared, intimidated, ashamed or embarrassed and should always include mutual respect and compromise. Share some examples from your own experiences — whether it be your own or that of someone in your family or social circle — to help your child begin to define their own ideas about the meaning of a loving relationship.

4. Define Sexual Harassment

It’s also important to go over the actual definition of sexual harassment. According to Dr. Pomertanz, most teenagers don’t understand that both boys and girls can be sexually harassed and that sexual harassment is not just unwanted touching. Sexual harassment can be

  • Verbal harassment: jokes, cat-calls, rumors or comments
  • Cyber harassment: posts on social media, texting and emails
  • Physical harassment: unwanted touching, kissing or sexual acts
  • Nonverbal harassment: gestures or writing sexually explicit things about someone
  • Unwanted Behavior: stalking or phone calls

5. Teach Your Child to Report It

Once your child understands what sexual harassment looks like, encourage your child to take action if it occurs to them or someone they know. First, name it. “Sexual harassment NOT bullying! It must be called what it is,” says Dr. Pomerantz. Next, write down all the details of the event. Finally, tell a trusted adult and report it to the school or to the authorities.

“It is essential that kids know that they have a voice and they need to speak up and use their voice when they experience or see sexual harassment occur,” says Dr. Pomerantz. When kids stand up for themselves and one another, we take great strides in putting an end to sexual harassment and abuse.