Five tips on addressing sexual harassment among children

NEW YORK • Sexual harassment is happening among kids and parents are doing shockingly little about it. Here are five tips to address it.

Define the problem: Many teenagers do not know the range of behaviours that constitute misogyny and sexual harassment.

Start by asking your teenager to define misogyny and sexual harassment and give you examples. Clarify any misunderstandings and provide common examples, such as commenting on someone's clothes or appearance when those comments might be unwanted.

While many men think cat-calling is flattering, many women are frightened and angered by it.

Make it clear that boys and girls can harass and that even if the act is intended as a joke, they risk scaring and offending others.

Teach your child to be a critical consumer of media and culture: Many young people are raised on a steady diet of misogyny and sexual degradation in popular culture, but have never critically examined the media they consume.

You may be with your teenager in the car and hear sexually degrading song lyrics or be together when you learn about an episode of sexual harassment.

It is vital that parents help their children become mindful, critical consumers of this information.

Ask how your teenager interprets something you are hearing or watching that you find sexually degrading. Does your teenager find it degrading? If you disagree, explain why you think the portrayal is harmful.

Point out how misogyny and gender-based degradation in popular culture can be so common that they seem normal and can begin affecting relationships in harmful ways.

Talk to your children about what they should do if sexually harassed or degraded: Many teenagers do not know what to do if they are harassed or degraded with gender-based slurs.

Ask your kids if they have ever been harassed or degraded with sexualised words or actions and how they have responded.

If they have not had these experiences, ask them what they think they would do. Does this differ from what they think they should do?

Discuss how they can get from "would" to "should" by exploring the pros and cons of various strategies.

Would they feel comfortable confronting the person harassing them, confronting the harasser with a friend, talking to a teacher or a school counsellor or talking to you or another respected adult?

Encourage and expect upstanding: Parents should expect their teenagers to protect one another because they understand peer dynamics, are more likely to witness harassing behaviour and often have more weight than adults in intervening with peers. Young people are often in the best position to prevent and stop sexual harassment and misogyny among their peers.

Learning to be an "upstander" is also a vital part of becoming an ethical, courageous person.

Yet, perpetrators can turn on upstanders. That is why it is important to brainstorm strategies for actions that protect them and the victim.

Provide multiple sources of recognition and self-worth: Young people can be especially vulnerable to degradation and harassment if they are highly dependent on romantic and sexual attention and peer approval.

Encourage your teenager to engage in activities that build confidence and do not involve romantic or sexual attention or approval from peers.

These activities might involve the arts, sports or service to others.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 22, 2017, with the headline 'Five tips on addressing sexual harassment among children'. Subscribe