I spoke with my daughters a few days ago about the #MeToo movement and to my surprise, they were completely unaware of it! They had no idea about Weinstein nor the accusations of the sexual abuse of other powerful people that have been splashed all over the news and social media – even though they are on Instagram often and they are watching CNN Student News at school.
It appeared that none of their friends were talking about it either. I was in complete shock! It had been a few days and even though their friends are on social media and most have involved parents, nothing was being discussed.
As a mother, that has an unfortunate history of being sexual abused starting from a little girl and even as an adult, my daughters and I have regular talks about sexual abuse. I believe these are important talks to have because it’s very clear how much sexual harassment and abuse is happening in our world to women and men of all ages. Awareness and foresight are two of the keys to prevention.
I know this conversation can be uncomfortable, especially when children would rather not talk about it. But, these uncomfortable conversations are needed. Here are some reasons why:
- A person’s body is their own personal body. It is not for anyone else to touch, unless given permission. Children need to be taught this as they do not automatically know this.
- While watching movies, TV shows, and videos on YouTube, Instagram, and other social sites, teens are exposed to visions of sexual harassment and abuse constantly. The coming of age movies are full of these situations. These images contribute to children believing these situations as normal.
- The music they listen to encourages these beliefs.
- Their friends and/or classmates have experienced sexual harassment and often outwardly laugh about it.
- Their friends and/or classmates have been pressured to do sexual acts and often brush under the rug as no big deal.
- I have heard teens say, “It’s no big deal.” “It happens all the time.” “That’s just the way it is.”
- I have heard teens say, “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble.” “He does it to everyone.” “I don’t want anyone to hate me for being a rat.”
- If a teen were to speak out to their friends about being sexually harassed or abused, most of their friends would say something like, “Don’t cause any trouble.” “Why are you such a prude?” “Um, he thinks you are hot.”
With all of these real life factors, our children are being brainwashed to believe that it’s normal to be sexually harassed and even at times abused. They are also being brainwashed to be afraid to speak up.
As parents, we have a huge battle here. Children, especially the tweeners and teenangers, tend to admire their peers and popular people online before they admire us. So, even when we speak to our children, they often do not take our messages seriously. But, this does not mean that we do not try! We need to try! We need to have these talks regularly with both our daughters and our sons.
Here are suggestions to help you start the conversation and to keep the conversation going with your tweens and teenagers:
- Simply ask if they have seen or heard of the #MeToo movement. If not, show them instead of just telling them about it. Allow them see for themselves what hundreds of people are saying about their experiences.
- Ask what they think about this movement and about sexual harassment.
- Ask if they know anyone that has been through similar experiences. Let them talk without judging or looking down on anyone. You may hear stories about their classmates that you know personally. Just listen.
- Ask if they have experienced sexual harassment or abuse personally. Listen without judging or looking down on them or anyone else. Just listen. Many children have natural and trained inclinations to protect their parents from pain and from feeling angry. So, it’s important to be compassionate and empathetic to your child.
- Reassure your child that you are there to talk anytime they want to.
- Encourage questions.
- Allow your child to express their opinions and beliefs. If you are too uptight and refuse to listen, they may shut down.
- Explain why allowing sexual harassment and abuse is dangerous to society and to their personal life.
- Prepare them by offering advice of what they can do if someone is sexually harassing them or attempting to sexually abuse them.
- Make sure they truly understand their rights when at school, at work and even when socializing with their peers.
- Don’t count on your child to bring up the topic again. You should make a point to bring this topic up from time to time. Children need reminders.
- When there is news about sexual harassment or abuse, this is the perfect time to continue the conversation.
This conversation is absolutely needed. Make time to do so. Your children need you step up and make an effort. Even if they seem annoyed or uncomfortable, your thoughts and reminders will be heard.