We’ve all seen the recent headlines dominating the news cycle. If you’re like me, you’re heartbroken, angered and devastated by the sheer number of notable men accused of sexual misconduct. The truth is, misogyny and sexual harassment are rampant in our society. While the #metoo movement is doing its part in bringing these issues to light, we all need a wake-up call – especially parents. As a psychologist and as a father, I feel burdened to use my experience and voice to be a part of the societal change we so desperately need.
The prevention of sexual harassment and misogyny needs to start at home – and at a young age. Research shows that there is an appropriate window for teaching children these truths and that if you wait until they are on their way to college, it’s too late. If you’re the parent of a young child and you’re feeling confused and anxious about how to discuss these difficult subjects, here are some things to keep in mind.
Early education is vital. The debate over how early to start educating your child about sex is a contentious one. Nevertheless, everyone should agree on abuse prevention. Children need to know what is and isn’t appropriate touching, when to speak up, and how to say no. But sex education should extend well beyond preventing physical abuse. Children should be able to identify verbal abuse in all of its many forms and know how to use their voice to put a stop to it.
The first way to teach children and teenagers about misogyny and sexual harassment is to clearly define it. If your children don’t know what these things mean, talk through it—without beating around the bush. Ask them to explain situations where they may have witnessed it. And finally, stress the fact that it is not fun and games and cannot be swept under the rug under the pretense of joking and off-color humor.
Be in your child’s business. I spoke about this in a recent video on my Facebook page. The pervasiveness of technology and social media has made sexual harassment more accessible than ever. From sending nude pictures to lewd comments on Instagram feeds, teens with unrestricted phone access are more likely to participate in this type of behavior. Demand to see your child’s phone. Load parental spyware onto their devices. Take their phones away at night, and ask them to show you when they receive an inappropriate message. Be persistent and firm about what you will not tolerate. And if they won’t comply, confiscate their device.
Talk about the media. We would be remiss if we overlooked the media’s influence in furthering the epidemic of sexual harassment. The music, television and film industries have desensitized us to sexual degradation, and in many senses, glorified it. Just listen to some of the music playing on popular radio right now, watch music videos or tune into your favorite sitcom. Women are often objectified and degraded for the amusement of others. Encourage your children to consume media that is uplifting and empowering, and remind them that the best way to protest inappropriate content in the media is to not buy it or share it.
We have a long way to go, but I believe that we are moving in the right direction. I hope that women continue to speak up. I hope that with each story shared, another woman gains the courage to come forward. We cannot let this story fade out of view, and we need to focus on raising a generation that is disgusted by it. Parents play a huge role in this. I encourage you to not shy away, but to be bold despite how uncomfortable it might make you feel. We owe it to our girls to protect them and empower them; we owe it to our boys to embolden them to do what is right and to teach them respect.
David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.