Due to the emphasis on workplace harassment, many people believe that sexual harassment can only occur in the workplace. Sexual harassment can occur anywhere; many don’t even realize they’re doing it. Sadly, sexual harassment is not often a part of normal learning in the world, and the emphasis and discussion is often lacking, minimized, or absent from our education system and parents refusal to discuss at home.
At work, home, school, and on the street, inappropriate and unwelcome comments, advances, and behavior is sexual harassment regardless of intent or personally perceived humor. Unwelcome comments and advances are also considered the most common and misunderstood form of sexual abuse.
April was sexual assault awareness month, but it’s important to practice awareness everyday. We all need to be self aware and monitor our behavior because we never know who we are hurting, nor how deeply our actions and words impact someone.
The earliest forms of sexual harassment begin with an emphasis on gender identity. If you happen to be a Facebook friend of mine you likely saw a post I had on the #LikeAGirl Always campaign. If not, this is a great video to start with.
The #LikeAGirl campaign brought forward the importance of inclusivity. Treating every person as a person, an equal person rather than focusing on gender. The #LikeAGirl campaign also emphasizes strength and indirectly touches on the important subject of sexual harassment.
Most women will experience sexual harassment in various forms at a young age; often as early as first grade. By high school, comments, suggestions, innuendos have become the norm for teenagers. Sexual harassment is freely demonstrated at the park, in schools, at home, and on the field. “Locker room talk” has once again re-emerged as acceptable. It. Is. Not.
Sexual harassment is commonly taught and discussed in the workplace. But, what about at home? Do your children know what is and is not okay to say to other children? Living in the rural south I can guarantee that children know exactly what they can and cannot say to adults. But, what about their peers? Have you talked to your child about the differences between a genuine compliment and an inappropriate comment? Does your child know that sexual harassment among friends can lead to anxiety, fear, uncertainty, depression, eating disorders, and other mental health challenges?
Words may seem like just words. A joke may seem like just a joke. – To YOU. You do not know each person’s background, deepest thoughts, concerns, or how an ill-timed word, off-putting or inappropriate joke will impact another person; a child; a friend; a family member; a stranger.
I don’t know how many times that a person I am working with has told me about an incident that scarred them into weeks and even years of self-doubt, only to follow up the story with, “but, he was just joking.” “He didn’t mean it,” “I don’t think he even realized what he said, so it’s not his fault.” Those statements fit in line with statements I’ve heard mostly from men during my life:
That’s not what I meant.
Why can’t you just take a joke?
Jeez, I was just playing.
Why do you have to take everything so seriously?
You know I didn’t mean it.
We are conditioned as children to accept sexual harassment. And as abhorrent as many of us feel about it, we do little to educate our children on what is and is not acceptable to both say and hear.
So, how can you talk with your children about what is and is not appropriate? Here are a few tips:
Educate yourself on the differences between a compliment and harassment
Most of us “think” we understand these subtle (and not so subtle differences), but most of us do not. I will post a video below from Marina Shutup that does a nice job of helping adults understand compliments vs. harassment.
Teach by example
As parents we realize (hopefully) that our children see everything we do. And guess what? They mimic us. That’s how they learn to behave. So, when you say something inappropriate to your wife or say a suggestive comment about the new Kindergarten teacher, what you are doing is teaching your sons that it is okay to speak that way, and teaching your daughters that they should just accept it. I’m not saying that men are not subject to sexual harassment, or that women do not sexually harass. It does go both ways. However, I would be remiss to try and leverage harassment as equally perpetrated. If you teach people with respect, your children will follow suit.
Have open discussion when you see sexual harassment in front of your children
Frankly, this is where we as parents and educators often fail. We see inappropriate sexual conduct and comments occur in front of our children and we dismiss it or pretend our children didn’t see or understand. A good example are cat calls. Now, if you saw two people in a fist fight you would probably talk to your kids about that. If you see someone stealing at the grocery store, you would probably talk to your kids about stealing. But, if you hear a man say, “I’d like some fries with that shake?” to a passing woman, would you try to have a conversation with your children about how that’s inappropriate? It may seem like a challenging discussion, but kids are a lot more understanding and resilient than adults. More importantly, they’ll appreciate that you are involving them in a positive adult conversation.
Reinforce that your children can speak up when they see or experience harassment
It’s interesting that we teach our kids not to tattle. It confuses a child. The other day I was at Walmart and a boy ran up to a girl who was about 12. The girl tugged on her mom’s arm and said, “That boy just slapped me on the butt.” The mom responded, “Stop tattling. He goes to your school and is just playing around.” Whoa! There is a lot to dissect there. But, here there is a young woman who was relaying to her mother something she was uncomfortable about. The response: ignore it; I don’t want to hear it; he was just joking.
Create an environment where your children feel safe talking about their concerns. And take their concerns seriously. Sometimes you may have to ask the questions to find out the concerns.
Take the time to teach your children the difference between a compliment and harassment
In the video below, Marina does a nice job of breaking down the differences between a compliment and harassment. The more understanding you and your children are to these differences, the less likely harassment will occur.
I am a freelance writer who attempts to help people better understand the importance of being a good human. Often I do this by helping women who have been victims of domestic and sexual abuse tell their stories. I also advocate for and try to help people struggling with depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges buil a platform to speak up and be proud of the person they are. If you would like to work with me to tell your story please contact me. If you would like to hire me to write your next book you can view some of my rates here.