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#MeToo: How to Talk to Your Kids About Sexual Harassment and Assault

Sexual harassment and assault are problems we can't ignore—and we need to include the next generation in these tough conversations.

Sad girl sexual harassment Photographee.eu/Shutterstock
Chances are, your social media feeds are filled with #MeToo, a hashtag and statement people everywhere are using to indicate that they've been victims of sexual harassment or assault. If there's one thing we've taken from this, it's that this issue is even more prevalent than we'd thought...and that it's time we face it.

In the wake of all this, you've probably considered bringing up these tough subjects with your own kids—because the terrifying, tragic truth is, you're never too young to be affected by it. "Some figures put the rate of sexual abuse as one out of four girls and one out of seven boys, and so I've worked with a good amount of children and teens who've experienced this,"said Kelsey Torgerson, a childhood trauma and anxiety specialist. "On top of that, sexual language or harassment occur even more frequently." Boys and girls should be aware of what is and what is not acceptable—and if you're looking to bring up this topic within your family, we've assembled some pointers for you.

"Child sexual abuse can be a challenging topic to discuss, and it can be even more difficult when you're talking about protecting your own children, but conversations about sexual assault and harassment can be part of the safety talks you're already having," Sara McGovern, press secretary at the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, told Parents.com. "Basic safety ideas like knowing when to speak up and listening to your gut are important parts of educating kids about sexual assault. Teaching your children how to talk about their bodies, boundaries and secrets are important steps. You can find more tips for talking to your kids here."

Talk to boys as well as girls. "These issues don't just come up for females, that's something I want people to understand," Karen Soren, MD, a professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center, told Parents.com. "We need to have these same conversations with our sons, not just with our daughters."

Make it age appropriate. While you should communicate this topic to young children, it's important you consider your child's age and capacity to comprehend such sensitive information when identifying how you'll discuss it. "A lot of parents and pediatricians talk about respecting the body, personal space, places where you don't want other people to touch, learning how to tell if someone touches you [inappropriately]," says Dr. Soren. "We have the 'good touch/bad touch' thing, and a lot of parents of young kids know how to have that conversation now. I think kids understand that, and we should start with the conversation at a younger age, somewhere between four and six, going through 10—but the conversation has to be revisited."

According to Dr. Soren, parents need to introduce the ideas of consent, voluntary activity, and peer pressure into the conversation when their kids get older. "[Make sure your kids] understand that consent for one thing is not consent for everything that follows. We have to talk to our boys about this." Teaching kids to assert themselves when someone in a position of power crosses the line is key as well, according to the expert.

Go with your gut. Ultimately, knowing your child and his or her capacity to internalize this sort of information is crucial when choosing how you approach this issue. "Everything depends on not just the age but the developmental stage," Dr. Soren said. "Are they concrete or abstract thinkers? Do they get the concept of future consequences? You would say something very different to a 12-year-old than a 15-year-old, than an 18-year-old, than a 25-year-old, right? The brain changes—kids' ability to understand things changes as they get older, and everyone's brain is a little different...A conversation has to be tailored to each age group and each developmental stage."