As the #Metoo movement continues its momentum and takes over the headlines with brave women (and men) coming forward to call out perpetrators everywhere, now is the time every parent should be talking to their tween/teen daughters about sexual harassment, assault, and abuse.
The statistics are alarming when it comes to the risk our teenage girls face in becoming a #metoo victim.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, “researchers surveyed 1,003 teen girls between the ages of 14 to 18 from across the United States and concluded that 1 in 5 girls between 14 and 18 years old (21 percent) reported being sexually assaulted – defined by NWLC as “they had been kissed or touched without their consent.”
The #metoo movement is a critical component in facilitating important conversations with our teenage girls. Unfortunately, parents are not having these discussions, as reported in the Harvard University Making Caring Common Project, The Talk: How Adults Can Promote Young People’s Healthy Relationships and Prevent Misogyny and Sexual Harassment:
“3. Misogyny and sexual harassment appear to be pervasive among young people and certain forms of gender-based degradation may be increasing, yet a significant majority of parents do not appear to be talking to young people about it.”
As our growing girls become more independent, parents need to help them develop the following critical defense strategies regarding sexual harassment education and prevention.
1. Instill self-confidence in your teen and help her understand her worth is not conditional on other people’s opinions.
With the adolescent years comes insecurities and the need for affirmation and acceptance from others.
The pressure is overwhelming for girls to prove their worth and sometimes they will compromise their values in order to gain popularity and attention.
Help your daughter build a strong foundation of self-confidence. Have her identify specific strengths and talents and character traits she appreciates and values about herself. Her self-esteem is often conditional on the friendships acquired and the interactions she has with key adult mentors.
Our kids need to understand their self-worth should not come from how their peers view them or what coaches, teachers, or employers think of them, but rather what they believe about themselves.
2. Teach your teen how to set clear boundaries and say “no”. Assure her you will support her decisions when faced with any violation of her rights.
Ask your daughter if she has ever felt violated or unsafe. Talk about the #metoo stories and the details about each case (using discretion according to her age) that explain sexual harassment and assault in specific terms. Make sure she has a clear understanding of what behaviors are unacceptable and in violation of her rights.
Encourage your daughter to set firm boundaries with anyone who attempts to invade her personal space, touch her body in inappropriate ways, or speak to her disrespectfully.
Your teen is experiencing changes in her physical appearance leaving her sensitive to other people’s opinions. Teenage girls are growing into young women, and their developing bodies elicit uncomfortable and confusing emotions. Their insecurities about their bodies may leave them vulnerable to victimization.
Remind your daughter that she has full ownership and control over her own body and she has the power to stop anyone from disrespecting it.
Tell your child you will always believe her and assure her there is no judgment or shame in standing up to people who disrespect her.
It’s important your teen understands that sexual harassment or assault is about the offender and is NEVER her fault. Tell your teen that if she ever feels violated or threatened, you will help her take whatever steps needed to be safe.
Empowering your teen with the understanding that she will always have your support is critical to keeping communication open between you. She will be more comfortable and confident to approach you with any concerns if she knows you will support her and not blame her for the encounter.
3. Educate your teen on safety strategies and self-defense.
Your teen needs to be prepared to handle any misconduct she may experience. Go over the following options your child can pursue when faced with an unsafe situation.
Role-play various exit strategies she can make in response to any situation where she feels threatened. Help her practice specific verbal responses to a perpetrator, such as: “That is unacceptable. Stop right now.” Create a reason she can use to excuse herself from an uncomfortable situation: “I just remembered *something I need to do* right away. I have to go now.” Set up a secret code she can text you that alerts you to come get her when she feels unsafe: “NOW.” Plan a story your family uses to excuse her from any place she feels she is in danger: “My grandma is ill, I need to go see her now.”
Educate your girl on awareness. Remind her to never go anywhere alone, if possible. (ie: Take a friend with you to the bathroom at parties, walk home from school with a friend, train alongside another athlete when with a coach, etc). Remind her to trust her gut feelings and act on those instincts by leaving the premise if she feels any discomfort or threat. Instruct her to pay close attention to the behavior of others and be cautious at all times in how people are acting around her.
Teach your daughter self-defense. Enroll her in a community class or ask someone you know who has the experience to instruct her on basic self-defense moves. Practice these skills at home. If your daughter knows self-defense, this will empower her with confidence and the ability to intervene if needed. Give her permission to defend herself if she feels threatened in any way.
If your daughter fears any backlash, bullying, or any negative consequence because of these safety interventions, help her realize that there is nothing more important (a job, a coach’s favor, a good grade, popularity, etc) than self-preservation and protection. Assure your growing girl, that having courage and integrity to stand up to someone who is violating her rights is a brave and noble thing to do.