Image source Kaumudi
- Sexual harassment has seen an increase in cases over the past few years.
- The numbers are terrifying and the victims are usually underaged children.
- It’s vital for parents to teach their children about sexual harassment at an early age.
- It’s your responsibility as an adult or parent to teach children what to do.
- We’ve listed down 5 ways parents can do to avoid young children from being a victim.
From the womb to the grave, we are all sexual beings.
As children mature sexually, they become more curious about their bodies, gender, and sex. This sexual awakening manifests itself in some unpleasant ways in late elementary school. Boys, in particular, start talking about girls’ bodies more frequently, making demeaning remarks and unwanted advances. Therefore, it’s safe to say that even as infants and toddlers, learning some sexuality basics, such as the proper names for one’s body parts, can be beneficial.
Your adolescent is out in the world, hanging out with friends in public places without your protection or supervision, dating, and possibly working for the first time. School officials are legally required to provide children with safe surroundings that are free from harassment and discrimination, but it’s important that your child knows how to recognize and protect himself/ herself from sexual harassment and abuse.
Take the recent case of Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam, a 17-year-old Malaysian high school student, who posted a video online last month in which one of her teachers told students, “If you want to rape someone, make sure they are over 18.”
Horrifying remarks from an adult and an educator, but why are we not surprised anymore?
As a parent, you must talk to your teen about appropriate behaviour, make sure they understand their rights, and teach them what to do in a dangerous situation.
Here’s what sexual harassment in schools may look like
- Unwanted, unwelcome physical contact such as touching, bumping, grabbing, or patting.
- Sexually insulting remarks about race, gender, ability, or class
- Bragging about sexual prowess for others to hear
- Intimidating hallway behaviour, which can include demeaning nicknames, homophobic name-calling, catcalls
What you as a parent can do:
1. Help them understand the meaning of sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is unwelcome and unwanted sexual behaviour that’s not always in the form of an obvious act – it can also be both physical and verbal. Know that it’s never right if something makes your child feel uneasy. Even if they believe they’re only overreacting, they should feel comfortable enough to notify you or a trusted adult.
The harasser can be male or female, an adult or a teen, and the victim can also be male or female. Everyone can be a victim of sexual harassment. It could easily be someone close to your reen, including someone they’re in a relationship with.
2. Don’t wait until they’re old to talk about body parts
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As parents, we teach our young children a variety of safety precautions. We teach them to keep an eye on the hot stove and to look both ways before crossing the street. But, more often than not, body safety is not taught until the child is much older – sometimes until it’s too late. Hence it’s of absolute importance that parents create an open space to talk about body parts at an early stage.
Get comfortable with using proper names for body parts, or at the very least teach your child the actual words for their body parts. You’d be surprised how many young children who’ll refer to their private parts as their “bottom.” The reason why this should be done is that, when a child feels at ease using these words and understands what they mean, he or she is more likely to speak clearly if something inappropriate has occurred.
While you’re on the topic of body parts, do yourself a favour by explaining to them why their private parts are called that – because they are not visible to everyone. Clarify that while mommy and daddy can see them naked, people outside the home should only see them dressed. Decipher how their doctor can see them without their clothes on because their parents are with them and the doctor is checking their bodies.
3. Educate your teen to be a critical media and cultural consumer
Image source KATV
Many young people are fed a steady diet of misogyny and sexual degradation in popular culture without ever questioning the media they consume or the cultural dynamics that shape their lives. Imagine this, you and your child sitting in a car when you suddenly hear sexually derogatory song lyrics or an incident of sexual harassment in the news. This is when you have to step in. Speak out and assist your children in becoming aware and critical consumers of this information. And this is how you can approach such a situation.
Inquire about your teen’s interpretation of something sexually degrading that you’ve heard or seen. Is it offensive to your adolescent? If so, why or why not? If you disagree, explain why you believe the portrayal is inaccurate. Mention how misogyny and gender-based degradation in popular culture can become so common that they appear normal and can begin to harm their relationships with others.
What may help even more is if you’ve had a similar experience to what you’re hearing or watching, such as being harassed on the street or at work, and it’s age-appropriate to share with your teen, talk about it and how it made you feel.
4. Discuss with your child what they should do if they are sexually assaulted or demeaned
Image source HuffPost
Most teens are unsure of what to do when they’re harassed or degraded with gender-based slurs, regardless of whether it was from a friend jokingly calling them a “slut” or “bitch” or being harassed by someone they don’t know. It’s critical that you assist your children in developing the right strategies for protecting themselves while reducing the likelihood of the offender harming others.
In preparing your child with situations such as that, you as a parent may want to seek clarification with your child if they’ve ever been harassed or degraded by sexualized words or actions, and how they reacted. If they haven’t had these experiences, ask them what they would do in various situations. Is this different from what they believe they should do? Discuss how they can move from “would” to “should” by weighing the benefits and drawbacks of various response strategies.
Would they feel comfortable confronting the harasser alone, with a friend, speaking to a teacher or a school counsellor, or speaking to you or another respected adult? Consider role-playing to allow them to experiment with different strategies.
5. Encourage and tell them they will never be in trouble if they tell you a body secret
Children who have faced similar situations will often express that they didn’t say anything to the adults because they were afraid of getting in trouble as well. The perpetrator often exploits this apprehension. Tell your child that no matter what happens, they will NEVER get in trouble if they tell you anything about body protection or body secrets.
As ethical parents, we should expect our children to not only defend themselves when they are abused or degraded but also to defend one another. Young people are also in the strongest place to avoid and stop sexual abuse and misogyny among their peers because they understand peer dynamics, are more likely to experience harassing attitudes, and often have more clout than adults in engaging with peers.
To wrap up
Essentially, believe your children when they tell you someone did something that made them feel uncomfortable and unsafe.
We know that these are just advice on how parents can help educate their children about sexual harassment and it may not completely prevent sexual assault, but education is a powerful deterrent, particularly for young children who are preyed upon because of their innocence and ignorance in this field.
And one discussion is of course insufficient.
Use natural occasions to reinforce these messages, such as bath time or when they are running around naked. Please share this article with those you love and care for to help us spread the word about the importance of teaching children about sexual harassment at an early age!