How to Discuss Sexual Harassment with Your Children

Article excerpt

Did you know fear of sexual harassment is one of the major reasons female junior high and high school students miss school?

Let that sink in for a minute: Young women at the most vulnerable stage of their sexual development, who are experiencing an almost overwhelming number of physical and emotional changes and trying to sort out an increasingly complex social world, must consider the daily possibility that someone may, through word or deed, sexually harass them. And it will happen in an environment that is supposed to be at least relatively safe -- the school they are required to attend.

To their credit, most schools have strict policies against such harassment that usually are aggressively publicized and enforced.

However, as most of us remember from our own growing up, an awful lot goes on in school that teachers and administrators never get wind of; that, sadly, includes a lot of behaviors that fall into the sexual harassment category.

Often, sexual harassment is not brought to the attention of adults -- including parents -- because adolescent peer culture so strongly discourages it. The teen who violates the adolescent code of silence risks being ostracized at the very least; at a time when belonging is so important, such a cost can simply seem too much to pay.

If you're thinking that sexual harassment is a crime perpetrated only by boys, you'd be wrong. Research suggests sexual harassment often is part of girls' relationships with each other -- cruel and degrading remarks about sexual development, sexual activity (or lack of) and sexual attractiveness are an unfortunate part of adolescent girl subculture.

Assuming our children attend a school that is doing a good job addressing sexual harassment issues and recognizing that part of growing up involves learning to deal with the realities of our oversexed culture, then it falls to us parents to help our kids develop attitudes and behaviors that make it less likely they will be victims or perpetrators.

Let me make a few suggestions about what we might do:

* Let our kids know that we know what's going on. Even if we aren't sure specifically what's happening at their schools, we do know that sexual harassment is a problem at many schools. …