#MeToo: Talking to kids about bullying and sexual harassment

Monday, 23 October 2017, 05:21:39 PM. Harvey Weinstein's abominable behavior is a teachable moment for our children understand they should never have to trade sex for advancement and how they should treat others.

Film mogul Harvey Weinstein’s abominable behavior has surfaced a legion of stories of sexual harassment, abuse, and violence from men and women of all ages. Millions of people have shared the hashtag #MeToo, posting on social media their recent and long-ago memories of abuse and harassment.

How can we parent in the midst of this news? What do you say if they’ve seen #MeToo in the social media feed of a teacher, neighbor, relative, friend, or you’ve posted it yourself?

And perhaps most important of all: How do you help your children understand they should never have to trade sex for advancement?

The best news that comes from these uncountable tragedies is that a watershed event like the #MeToo campaign is a priceless teachable moment; and as always, the place to start is a conversation with your children.

While you’re carpooling to a soccer game this week, ask your child if they’ve seen #MeToo in their social media feed, or heard the name Harvey Weinstein. Discuss Weinstein by using age- appropriate language for bullying.

Younger kids will understand that a bully is mean to other people because it is fun for them in some way. With older kids, discuss that sexual abuse is taking bullying to its ugliest extreme; consider sexual abuse as the ultimate expression of a total lack of consideration for the feeling of another, in pursuit of satisfying oneself.

Some bullies have physical power because they’re the biggest kid; other bullies have social power because they can control access to things like social circles. Help make sure that your child knows that he or she can talk to you if they are on the receiving end of any of this type of behavior or if they observe bullies targeting another child.

And stress that your family’s values mean that they should never, ever behave that way toward another person. If we teach kids to recognize and refuse juvenile affronts, we set the stage for them to behave better as a teen and adult.

The #MeToo conversation can be complicated; it’s important that a child understand that they can sometimes feel awful about words and events that may not seem so bad — or are even funny — to someone else. For instance:

  • Boys pulling the straps of a girl’s bra at school
  • A high school teacher closing the door on a tutoring session and standing too close
  • Boys in the locker room teasing the shortest guy about the size of his genitals
  • A graduate teaching assistant offering a college student a better grade in exchange for a date
  • A dinner ‘meeting’ to discuss a possible promotion

These behaviors happen at every age, and no matter what age. What a perpetrator may consider “no big deal” may be a trauma to his or her victim. Remind your child that everyone is different, and it’s our responsibility to consider the effect our behaviors have on each person. Similarly, they have a right to feel bad about something that someone else trivializes, and reinforce the fact that you’re always available to listen and help.

If you think your child is too young to have this conversation, consider that The Girl Scouts report that one in 10 girls is cat-called before her 11th birthday. Start now. The vast majority of the victims of sexual abuse and harassment are not the glamorous starlets on the casting couch — they’re everyday children, teens, and adults exposed to abuse both subtle and overt. The key is to help your child realize that that their sexuality, their body—their physical and mental health — are more precious than any bribe a bully offers.

One of the best things you can do for your children is to talk with them now and throughout their adolescence to make sure that #MeToo never applies to them. You may feel like you can’t change the world, but you certainly can influence your own family.

Dr. Rosenzweig is also the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children. For more information, read her blog or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.

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