It is disheartening to learn about the growing list of politicians and celebrities who have been accused of sexual harassment. Rather than serving as positive role models, these individuals may be desensitizing our youth to harmful and offensive acts. The music and media industries are not much better as they often promote content that reinforces these behaviors. Yet, parents don’t always know the best strategies to counter these messages. In a recent study, 72 percent of male students and 80 percent of female students reported they had not spoken with parents to develop strategies to avoid sexually harassing others. Similar statistics were also reported for eliminating other forms of disrespectful behavior.
So how can parents and educators begin these conversations? First, students need to better understand the underling issues. We need to convey a clear picture of what harassment looks, sounds, and feels like. And when students identify it, we need to encourage them to do something. Far too many years have gone by when this wasn’t happening, but fortunately more people, particularly women, are now stepping forward to provide a model that raises an awareness of this issue.
Adults also need to teach children how to be critical of what they hear and see in the media. Rather than accepting degrading stereotypes, they should be given the tools to identify disrespectful and offensive attitudes in both popular lyrics and the media. These strategies and the understanding they foster may also develop greater self-worth, particularly for students who are more likely to crave their peers' approval.
And finally, adults need to provide students with the clear understanding of what to do if they are harassed. Students should know when it is appropriate to
ask for support and inform others as well as when it is necessary to confront
perpetrators. While these strategies
won’t solve the problem, it will help us move in the right direction. And given what we’ve learned over the last
several months, it’s time we empower the next generation to do better than the