When I was a Freshman, I dreaded going to my locker between classes. There was a Senior named, “Mike”, who always made comments about how “sexy” or “hot” I looked. He also would come up behind me and rub my shoulders and hug me, which made me feel really uncomfortable. I remember how much I disliked this attention and how it would make my skin crawl when he touched me. I tried to communicate non-verbally how much I didn’t like this, by squirming away from him and rolling my eyes, but he didn’t seem to catch on or if he did, didn’t care. I didn’t have the skills to tell him directly how much I wanted him to stop and I never told anyone about it. Instead I dealt with a lot of uncomfortable and stressful moments at my locker.
Many parents are surprised to learn that Sexual Harassment is very common in middle school. Almost half of all middle school boys and girls have experienced sexual harassment. This includes anything from unwelcome sexual comments, jokes and gestures to unwelcome physical contact, like my experiences with Mike. Today’s technology has added another layer to this problem. Kids often times say things in the cyberworld that they would never say in-person and the harassment can be even worse since it is so public.
As parents, it’s really important that we talk to our kids about what sexual harassment is so they know what to do if it happens to them. We also need to make it clear to them what sexual harassment looks like so they aren’t guilty of making someone else uncomfortable.
Sexual harassment can be tricky since people react differently to the same joke, comment or touch What makes it sexual harassment is that it is unwanted attention and it is against the law. With Mike, his attention was definitely unwanted, but I did not have the skills to make it crystal clear to him that I didn’t like it. It would have helped me a lot to talk it all through with my mom or dad and brainstorm ways to get it stopped.
It can be really helpful to role play with your son or daughter different sexual harassment scenarios so they can think about what they would do. Thinking about problems ahead of time can really help prepare our kids for tough situations.
If your child is begin harassed:
- Help your child brainstorm ways to confront the harasser.
- Practice communicating clearly.
- If it is happening in the cyberworld (via email, text Facebook, etc.) be sure to SAVE the evidence. Print off all messages and keep as a record of the harassment.
Letting your kids know that they do not need to put up with unwanted sexual attention and that you are there to help them if they need it, can give them peace of mind.
Have you or your kids dealt with Sexual Harassment? How did it get resolved? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.