Flirting Or Sexual Harrassment? | Parenting
Dear Dr. G.,
My 16 year old daughter is getting on my nerves and I want to see if you agree with me. My daughter was dating a young man for 6 months and they have been broken up for one month. This boy continues to call my daughter and to make comments about her body. I guess he still likes her and is having a hard time with the break-up. My daughter, on the other hand, believes that he is "sexually harassing" her and since he texts her these type of messages in school--she plans to report him to her principal.She asked him to stop and I guess he didn't listen to her.
Frankly, I think that my daughter is being ridiculous. When I was in high scholl we acepted that "boys will be boys" and we didn't scream harassment. I have two older sons and I am glad that no one ever accused them of such behavior. I mean what is the difference between flirting and "sexual harassment?"
So, here are my questions. Should I tell my daughter that this behavior on the part of the ex will calm down over time and that she should not stir things up by going to the principal? Also, do I need to tell my daughter to develop a tougher skin?
An Annoyed Mother
Slow down. First there is a tremendous difference between flirting and sexual harassment. Or at least there should be. Flirting refers to the playful sort of banter that goes on when two people are interested in each other. Sexual harassment, on the other hand, refers to something of a much more serious and insidious nature. It refers to INAPPROPRIATE sexual touching or language that his humiliating, undesired, and a violation of the victim's rights.
Your daughter is describing sexual harassment. She has spoken to you and the young man. And since she is getting no response or help she should go to the school administrator. She is a smart young woman.
Let me tell you a little about sexual harassment in middle and high school. A recent study by the American Association of University Women found that approximately HALF of all students in those grades reported being sexually harassed in the past year and of that 50% only 20% told their parents. Keep in mind, that just as boys can harass girls- girls can harass boys and as we know kids can sexually harass others of the same gender.
Your daughter did a good thing by opening up to you. Unfortunately, you did what many parents do and trivialized what is happening to her. Sexual harassment is not acceptable and yes your daughter is right to be upset AND to tell the principal. No, she does not need to develop a tougher skin.
What does need to happen, though, is we as parents need to realize that sexual harassment among this age group is remarkably under-reported and that our kids don't know how to talk about it. I believe that both parents and schools need to reframe it as unacceptable and stop treating it as either a taboo topic or as a form of flirting.
Let me leave you with one other thought. What we don't know about our kids may be hurting them. Thank you for writing to me. You gave me a forum to talk about a very tricky topic.
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