Guest Post:: School Sexual Harassment Tips for Parents

By Mandy Van Deven

Today’s guest post is part of the Hey, Shorty! Virtual Book Tour. Check out this link to find out how you can support the 25-date nationwide tour!

In the spirit of transparency, I find it necessary to let you know that I am not a parent. I am a person who has children in my life whom I care deeply about and who has worked with parents and children for a number of years; however, I understand the parameters of my experience only extend so far and there is a limit to the usefulness of my knowledge when it comes to real life practice. I say this because it is important to note that the information I have about how parents and caregivers can intervene in and respond to sexual harassment in schools is either observed or secondhand, and I encourage those who are raising children to add your own expertise to the comments of this post. Learning from each other is crucial and there are so few places where parents come together to talk about sexual harassment in schools.

There are many reasons to be concerned about the state of education in the United States, and for many, sexual harassment doesn’t receive a rating on the scale of what’s most important. But as we’ve seen in the media lately, the mistreatment of students can have severe effects. Poor grades, depression, and unhealthy decisions (e.g., drug use, eating disorders, suicide) can be the result of social interactions happening at school, and it is the responsibility of the school system to do its best to keep every child safe. Unfortunately, this is not a luxury every student is afforded.

Parents and caregivers should feel secure about sending their children to school every day, but it can be difficult to determine what is going on in the hallways and classrooms of your child’s school. It can be particularly for those who find it challenging, or impossible, to take on extraneous activities at your child’s school because of barriers to participation you face – including working multiple jobs or jobs with evening hours, familial responsibilities, disabilities, and health issues, all of which understandably take priority and can leave a parent feeling powerless and frustrated. Although it may be a struggle, it can be a great relief to join (or start!) a group for parents and caregivers where you can share their frustrations with one another, gain support from peers, and work toward solutions. Email is a good way to do that when you can’t show up in person.

For those who don’t have the option to participate in this way, here are some strategies from the newly released Hey, Shorty!: A Guide to Combating Sexual Harassment and Violence in Schools and on the Streets that parents can implement in their daily lives to help prevent sexual harassment in schools:

— Encourage your child to discuss school life with you, including grades, sports, extracurricular activities, and friends. Let your child know you are interested and available to talk, no matter what the topic.

— Use language that is inclusive of both genders and avoids stereotyping individuals based on gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, or other characteristics.

— Raise your child’s awareness of other people’s feelings. Fostering a sense of respect, empathy, and compassion will help prevent your child from hurting others.

— Take advantage of “teachable moments.” When an incident of sexual harassment occurs in your presence (whether in the school, on the street, or in a store), seize the opportunity to raise your child’s awareness about sexual harassment and openly communicate to your child that such behavior is unacceptable, hurtful, and illegal.

— Encourage your child to speak up for him or herself. Promoting self-confidence in a child is the first step to prevent him or her from becoming victims of sexual harassment or other types of abuse.

— Request a copy of your child’s school’s sexual harassment policy. Keep it on hand as a reference. If your child’s school does not have a sexual harassment policy or has a policy that is confusing or inaccessible, talk to the school administrator or a school board representative.

— Discuss the school’s anti-discrimination policy with your children. Let them know that you are aware sexual harassment is a problem in schools, and that you are available to talk about it.

— Create and distribute materials to help other parents and their children discuss issues like sex education, gender equity, and sexism.

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