Dealing with sexual harassment and your teens

June 10, 2008 5:09:24 PM PDT
Does your teenage daughter know when she's being sexually harassed? It's far more prevalent than you might think. Courtney Macavinta, co-author of "Respect: A Girl's Guide to Getting Respect & Dealing," has some tips on talking to your children.

A recent UC Santa Cruz study that polled 600 girls in California and Georgia found that sexual harassment is extremely prevalent amongst the teen set-from unwanted physical contact to derogatory comments to inappropriate teasing/bullying. It also explored the idea of whether girls actually view these types of behavior as sexual harassment; the study found that parents play a major role in whether girls make this determination. For more on the study, you can check out Courtney's blog post at: http://www.respectrx.com/archives/girls/

After talking to 600 girls in California and Georgia, researchers found that they'd experienced sexual harassment in the following forms:

  • Inappropriate and unwanted romantic advances
  • Demeaning gender-related comments
  • Teasing about appearance
  • Being bullied or threatened with harm by males

    Not only can sexual and other forms of harassment have a harrowing effect on girls, but they can also cause long-term damage to a girls self-esteem. After all, many of the derogatory comments are geared at girls' performance in school and sports, which can often lead to a case of serious self-doubt.

    What parents can do:

    Step 1: Explain Harassment
    Define harassment for girls--and boys. Use the above list as a starting point. Also explain that harassment is unwanted sexual comments, gestures touching, jokes, rumors or threats. It can also be teasing or being exposed to sexual content. It's being intimidated or demeaned because of your gender. Girls can harass other girls and boys too--so explain that no matter who is doing it, it's wrong.

    Step 2: Teach Girls to Set Boundaries
    Another integral part of "RESPECT"-and warding off sexual harassment--is teaching girls how to set boundaries. Girls need to be aware of their own personal boundaries to know when their line has been crossed-whether it's being the subject of lewd comments or teased about their math abilities. When girls are clear with others about their boundaries, others will be less likely to test those limits. Ask girls how they'd set a boundary. For example, they could set a simple boundary, like: "That's not OK--please stop" or "You're making me uncomfortable, please stop." And if she's already asked someone to stop and he continues, if she feels safe, she can give him a warning like, "I've already asked you to stop. I'll have to report you if this happens again." Click here for other ideas on boundary-setting: http://www.respectrx.com/archives/boundaries/boundaries_please.html

    Step 3: Tell Girls to Get Help
    If setting a boundary doesn't work, tell your girls to stay strong and report it--especially to you. Encourage teens to always create a support network of adults, family members or teachers who can help them in any tough situation. Tell them to tell you what's going on and how it's affecting them. Listen and don't ignore it. If you choose to file a complaint, your school should immediately take steps to stop the harassment and prevent it from happening again.

    Step 4: Inspire Girls to Spread Respect
    Talk with girls about how sexism or harassment makes them feel; feel free to share your own experiences. Explore together how these forms of violence-and that's what they are-hurt girls, guys, parents and girl advocates alike.

    Buy the book on Amazon: "Respect: A Girl's Guide to Getting Respect and Dealing When Your Line is Crossed"


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