How to Talk About Sexual Harassment to Adolescents?

Talking about sexual harassment with your teens will prevent them from becoming victims or perpetrators. Find out how to do it.
How to Talk About Sexual Harassment to Adolescents?

Last update: 26 March, 2022

As parents, we protect our children and teach them to protect themselves from everything that could harm them: strangers on the street, physical injuries, accidents, drugs, and much more. However, we don’t always put enough emphasis on talking to them about sexual harassment. Because we think it’s too early, because it’s an awkward conversation, or because we take it for granted that they already know everything they need to do. But assuming all of these things is a serious mistake.

According to statistics, today we know that 1 in 5 children under 18 years of age is the victim of sexual abuse. But this isn’t the most alarming figure, as estimates also indicate that more than half of young people between the ages of 12 and 18 have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lives.

As you can see, this isn’t such a distant or remote possibility and it’s part of a reality to which our children are exposed. For this reason, we want to offer you some tips so that you can address the subject today with yours.

Some Things You Should Know Before Talking About Sexual Harassment With Your Children

To talk about sexual harassment with adolescents, we must be clear about the information we want to provide them. Otherwise, we may omit important data that can make a big difference.

Some of the main aspects related to this problem are the following:

  • Sexual harassment can be suffered by both boys and girls. Although there’s a higher percentage of female victims, this doesn’t imply that young men can’t experience it.
  • Generally, the perpetrator is part of the close circle of their victim. Therefore, we mustn’t only alert them to the dangers of strangers, but also warn them that harassment can come from family, friends, teachers, or schoolmates.
  • In a large number of cases, the perpetrators of the harassment are other minors. In other words, it’s not only adults and authority figures who can exercise it, but also their peers. Therefore, they must be vigilant in interactions with them as well.

How do you talk about sexual harassment with your teenage children?

It’s highly recommended that conversations about this subject begin as early as childhood and that parents establish, from the beginning, frank and open communication that provides important information to their children.

However, if you haven’t yet tackled this task with your children, make it a point to do it as soon as possible. Remember that, in adolescence, romantic and sexual interest in other people arises and that the first relationships of this type often take place. For this reason, a proper and timely talk can prevent some negative experiences.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when discussing this issue with your teens at home. Pay attention!

Clearly define what sexual harassment is

The first thing you should do is help your children have a clear definition of what sexual harassment is. This will allow them to easily recognize it if they see it or suffer it and also to be aware of what they’re doing if they come to practice it themselves.

Sexual harassment includes any act or word of a sexual nature that seeks to harm, inconvenience, or intimidate another person.

Among the main manifestations of harassment, we can mention the following:

  • Sexually touching, grabbing, or pinching someone without their consent.
  • Making obscene comments, jokes, or gestures.
  • Spreading sexual rumors about another person.
  • Posting or sharing intimate or explicit images or videos of another person.
  • Asking someone to do things you don’t want, like sharing their intimate photos or engaging in sexual activity.
  • Insinuating insistently when the other person has expressed their refusal and disagreement.

Guide your children to learn to set limits

Knowing how to set limits is essential in order to prevent situations of this type. However, many teens have a hard time saying no in any area of their lives. This happens out of a need to please others, out of fear of being rejected, or out of a lack of self-confidence.

Therefore, it’s important that you teach your children to express their opinions firmly and forcefully, without fear of what others may think. And they need to learn it early in life.

Give them the message that they’re the ones who decide about their privacy

It’s essential to explain to adolescents that they’re the ones who have absolute power over their privacy at all times.

It doesn’t matter if in the past they were intimate with someone and now they no longer want to be, or if they started a flirtation and decide to stop it. They always have the right to say whether or not they want to do something, how, and with whom to do it, regardless of what happened before.

Don’t minimize the issue

Victims must know how to recognize harassment when they suffer it, as well as accomplices and perpetrators.

Inappropriate gestures, comments, or actions are often downplayed and justified in a simple joke, but this shouldn’t be the case. Treat the issue with the seriousness and solemnity it deserves and encourage your children not to be complicit in the inappropriate actions of their peers. Stopping a friend can be tricky, but it’s the right thing to do.

Highlight the psychological consequences

In line with the above, we must share with adolescents the great harm that sexual harassment can cause a person. Self-esteem problems, anxiety disorders, fear, stress, emotional trauma, and depression are just some of them.

Your children must know that it’s not a game but an aggression that can profoundly impact a person’s life and limit it, even in their adulthood.

A woman comforting a teenage girl who's crying and holding a cell phone.

Mention the role of social media in this problem

Finally, it’s important to make a special mention of social networks and the role they play. Cyberbullying is as serious as face-to-face bullying and, unfortunately, it’s quite normalized.

Smearing someone’s image online, engaging in unwanted sexting, or sharing private images are all serious actions that constitute a form of sexual harassment.

Talking about sexual harassment isn’t something you do in a day

Lastly, we want to remind you that talking about sexual harassment with your children just once won’t make much of a difference. It has to be a long-distance race, a constant task that’s reinforced and demonstrated on a day-to-day basis.

Take advantage of the news or everyday events related to the topic to resume the conversation with your children. Talk openly as a family about it and, of course, as parents, be an example of proper behavior.

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