Protecting Your Teen From Sexual Harassment

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harassmentYour teen is part of the world

Your teen is out in the real world, hanging out with friends in public places without your protection and supervision, starting to date, and maybe even working for the first time. School officials and employers 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 from sexual harassment and abuse. As a parent, it is important for you to talk to your teen about appropriate behaviors, make sure he knows his rights, and teach him what to do in a dangerous situation.

Help your teen stay safe

Define sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is unwanted and unwelcome sexual behavior. It is sometimes not obvious, and can be physical or verbal. If something makes your child uncomfortable, it is not right. Even if she thinks she is overreacting, she should let you or a trusted adult know. The harasser can be male or female, and an adult or a teenager, and the person being harassed can also be male or female. It can easily be someone your teen is close to, including someone she’s in a relationship with.

Recognize sexual harassment. Flirting among peers can be normal and healthy, and is even common among teens. But sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between flirting and harassment. If your teen is uncomfortable and doesn’t want it to continue, then it is harassment. Remind your teen that when an adult flirts with teens it is never ok. Some behaviors that are sexual harassment include:
  • Blocking someone’s way or pushing them at someone else
  • Brushing up against someone’s body
  • Pulling at someone’s clothes
  • Comments, whistles, or other noises that are sexual
  • Spreading sexual rumors, writing sexual things, telling dirty jokes, or drawing sexual pictures
  • Hugging someone who doesn’t want it
Signs to look for in your teen. Experiencing harassment can cause teens to feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or threatened. The stress can lead to depression, headaches, problems sleeping and eating, and avoiding going out, even to school.

How you can prevent sexual harassment. The most important thing you can do is to talk about sexual harassment with your teen. Know where she is going and who she will be with. If she is going on a date with someone for the first time, encourage her to go on a group date. Make sure she has a way to contact you and help her come up with a plan for what to do in a situation where someone makes her uncomfortable.

How you can address sexual harassment. Encourage your teen to let the harasser know he doesn’t like their behavior the first time it happens if he can. If your teen confides in you, even if you are not sure it is sexual harassment, talk to someone you trust who you can help you figure out what steps to take. This can be a police officer, school official, religious leader, or doctor. Find out who is responsible for dealing with complaints about sexual harassment wherever it took place. Remind your teen that it is not his fault. Encourage him to write down when the incidents happened.

Teens can help prevent sexual harassment. If your teen sees harassment happening to someone else, encourage her to not just stand by and watch. She can refuse to join in, and if she feels safe, she can even step in and interrupt or tell a trusted adult. Your teen can support a friend who is being harassed by listening, believing, and offering to go with the friend to tell someone.

This information was compiled by Sunindia Bhalla, One Tough Job Manager, and reviewed by the Program Staff of the Massachusetts Children’s Trust Fund.

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