Clinical psychologist at the International Wellbeing Centre
It is imperative for parents to play a major role and be part of the solution to ensure the safety of their children. (Shutterstock/File)
The prevalence of sexual abuse and sexual harassment has been increasing at a concerning rate.
Data shows that most victims are teenagers. Sadly, the majority of teenagers and their parents are unaware of this issue, and even more concerning is the lack of awareness that sexual predators might be around them. Some might even be unable to define and understand what actually classifies as sexual harassment.
It sometimes terrifies parents to know that their teenage children have easy access to pornography or a hunch about sexual issues. These common problems will often drive teenagers to find out sexual information without their parents' supervision and be unwilling to have a discussion with them. This leaves teens vulnerable to sexual predators instead.
Teenagers could fall victim to sexual predators if their parents are unaware and unable to recognize the dangers. In the internet era, all information is easily accessible. A teenager might utilize the internet to answer their sex-related questions or form acquaintanceships with strangers to answer their questions. They commonly prefer asking strangers questions instead of their parents, because they feel uncomfortable about having such discussions with their parents.
If this occurs, parents will miss out on information regarding their children and be unable to control them. There are many things that should be considered important to parenting, such as spending quality time with your children, knowing their latest interests and having daily interactions with each other. Parents also need to be aware of who their children's best friends are, the places they usually hang out, and who they usually call, chat or text with. Ask yourself, when was the last time you promised your child that you would fulfill their needs, and how can we sense whenever our son or daughter is having a problem at school?
Another crucial and sensitive issue is close or special friends. At this phase in their lives, teenagers are starting to gain interest in the opposite gender. Some will start to like each other and begin a relationship. Naturally, teenagers develop a curiosity to know more about dating and sexual activities. Be aware of your children’s emotional progress to protect them from abuse including sexual assault, sexual harassment or rape.
Oftentimes, parents’ reactions are misinterpreted by their children. Teenagers tend to perceive their parents’ protection as rejection, and feel unsupported instead. They have less concern for protection itself. They feel that their parents do not understand their emotional needs.
If this is the case, how can we help our teenagers avoid sexual harassment? Below are some of the essential things you can do as a parent.
Build good communication
Before anything else, every parent needs to build a solid foundation and trust between them and their children. Parents need to show that they care and are available whenever their children need support or someone to talk to. Be present when your child needs to tell you a story and always listen attentively to their concerns or problems. Make them feel comfortable with you in any circumstances, and maintain this relationship. Only then, parents can start discussing sensitive and uncomfortable issues, such as sexual harassment with their children.
Define sexual harassment
Parents need to explain that sexual harassment is an unacceptable form of sexual behavior. According to the New York Alliance Against Sexual Assault, there are four types of sexual assault, such as physical contact, touching (grabbing), sexual comments/gestures (spreading rumors, telling jokes), sexual propositions (asking for sexual contact) and sexual communication (inappropriate language/texting). If a teenager thinks that a certain behavior is not right or he/she feels uncomfortable, the child needs to know that they don’t need to be afraid, and they have the right to report the person who harassed them.
Warn your children about sexual predators
Parents need to continue reminding their teenage children that an adult or peer who tries to flirt, push them to do something sexual, such as pull their clothes, hug them, tell them dirty jokes or write sexual things, is wrong. Tell your teens that harassment is a behavior that makes people feel uncomfortable and creates a threatening situation, and that oftentimes the predator is someone they know.
Parents need to be prepared whenever teens ask questions related to sexual issues. It is always better to find the answers and solutions together rather than letting them find the answers themselves.
Report incidents of harassment
Every parent also needs to inform their teens that when someone tries to harass them physically or verbally, they have to call their parents or a trusted adult immediately. If your teens witness someone who harasses others, encourage them to be brave and report it to trusted adults.
A strong foundation always comes from the family, especially through active communication and sturdy trust between parents and children. It is imperative for parents to play a major role in this issue and be a part of the solution to ensure the safety of their children.
Lia is a clinical psychologist at the International Wellbeing Centre with 10 years' experience. She works with children, adolescents and parents on a variety issues, including working as an education counselor in international schools. She graduated from Tarumanagara University and holds a Master’s degree in clinical psychology. She is also an expert in forensic psychology, especially child and adolescent crime. When not working, Lia loves to spend her time with her toddler daughter.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.