It’s on all of our minds lately. The #MeToo movement is making us face the fact that sexual harassment and sexual assault are more common than we realized. We’re hearing from victims (women and men) who’ve had to hide the truth of their trauma, sometimes even from their own families. Until very recently most haven’t felt comfortable revealing the details of their experience out of fear, shame and the real possibility that they wouldn’t be believed.
Because it’s all over the news, your kids may be asking you about what #MeToo and the recent hearings are about. Why are all these women coming forward with their stories, powerful men stepping down from their jobs, famous actors being fired and now, a nominee for the Supreme Court being accused of attempted rape? How in the world do you begin to address this sensitive, scary and uncomfortable issue with them?
The first thing to consider is your child’s age and where they’re at developmentally. You know best what level of information they’re able to take in and understand. For young kids, talking about the difference between good touch and bad touch is a place to start. “Conversations about sexual assault and harassment can be part of the safety talks you’re already having,” says Sara McGovern, press secretary at the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. “Basic safety ideas like knowing when to speak up and listening to your gut are important parts of educating kids about sexual assault,” she says, as is “teaching your children how to talk about their bodies, boundaries and secrets.”
Definitely don’t leave your sons out of the conversation. If they’re adolescents, boys and girls are old enough to understand the concept of consent— what to do when they feel that a boundary is being crossed and when something does not feel safe or okay. Explain that abuse doesn’t have to be physical— it can be verbal, sexual bullying also counts as harassment.
In an article on VeryWellFamily.com, bullying expert Sherri Gordon recommends laying it out straight. What do healthy relationships look like? “Teens need to hear from their parents that bullying, dating violence, pressures for sex, sexting, sexual assault and so on are not healthy behaviors. Assuming that they are puts kids at risk for abuse from others. Instead, your teens need to hear what healthy friendships and dating relationships look like.” Impress upon your kids the importance of talking about sexual harassment and assault, especially because these kind of experiences are so uncomfortable and difficult to share.” Gordon says, “Make sure they know that talking to others, while it may be painful or embarrassing, is the best way to get help.” #MeToo means exactly that— being sexually harassed or assaulted should NOT be kept under wraps. #MeToo means educating your kids about the differences between sexual bullying, harassment and assault and that it’s never okay for someone else to touch their body without their permission. It’s about encouraging them to speak out if they witness these things happening to anyone they know. #MeToo means listening—to signals your young adult may be sending that a relationship doesn’t feel safe. Because #MeToo is dominating the news, filling social media feeds and being talked about at work and in school it’s a good time to start talking about it with your kids at your kitchen table.
You can read the rest of Sherri Gordon’s article on VeryWellFamily.com here.
Rape, Assault and Incest National Network helps survivors, advocates for public policy, has lots of education resources and a crisis hotline.
Here’s a moving and helpful video of parents talking to their kids about the #MeToo Movement.