Talking to Teens about Sex

You may have already had a chat with your pre-teen about the body, the female menstrual cycle, and even how babies are made, so you may feel that you’ve done all you need to do. However, as your child grows into his or her teens, there is good reason to have another chat. The stakes are higher now as it is increasingly likely that your youngster will actually have some sort of active sexual life before marriage and before the age of twenty. In fact, he or she may have several intimate partners during this period. To be healthy and safe, your child needs accurate information. If you do not talk to your teenager about sexuality, your child will still learn about it — perhaps from sources you won’t approve of. Not all schools offer quality sex education; most kids glean information about sex from the internet, TV and well-meaning (but not necessarily knowledgeable) peers. If you want to make sure your teen understands sexuality the right way, it’s best to invest time in “the talk.”

How to Speak to Your Teen about Sex
The ideal way to talk about sexuality is the way a doctor would do it – in a friendly, matter-of-fact, educational sort of tone. “Parental” talk full of threats, dire warnings, judgments and so on, can backfire, causing your child to go underground, get answers elsewhere and/or become deceptive. In fact, if you feel that you can’t speak about this subject calmly and non-judgmentally, you can actually make an appointment for your doctor to give over the important health information to  your child. On the other hand, if you feel up to being the educator, you may want to research the topic of sexual disease, using books, internet and medical resources like your doctor. You want to be sure to give your child the right information because if your child finds that you have been exaggerating or fabricating or just giving wrong information on one or two points, then he or she may disregard your entire message.

Utilize Resources
When talking with your child, you can use books designed especially for teens on this subject – ask your local librarian to suggest some titles. Leave a couple of books around the house (and in the bathroom) for your child to leaf through. Books make the information less personal – the truth is that it’s not YOUR ideas you are trying to ram down the child’s throat, but rather, it’s just a collection of objective facts and information. Most books will discuss both the physical health concerns and also the emotional aspects of intimacy. You should also address both aspects, helping your child be aware of his or her impact on other people as well as being prepared for the intense emotions that can be triggered by intimacy. Ideally you can discuss the differences between having sex and having a relationship.

Be Honest and Open
You should mention your personal values regarding sexuality, while acknowledging that your child will have to form his or her own opinions on this important subject. Emphasize, too, that what popular culture and media has to say doesn’t always reflect your own personal values or your family’s values. Go ahead and discuss how the media represents sex and sexuality, exploring current cultural values regarding love, marriage and intimacy. Compare and contrast these values with your own. Help your child to understand why you feel whatever you feel on this topic. For instance, if you believe that a person should only be intimate in the context of a serious relationship, be prepared to explain why you feel this way. At the same time, acknowledge that your child may feel differently. This acknowledgment helps prevent your child from having to reject your values, as it gives him or her space to evaluate what you are saying and see how it fits and feels. Although you are making it clear that you do have opinions and values, you want to keep that tone non-judgmental. This will allow your child to ask questions. And be prepared – he or she may have LOTS of questions.

Confront the Issues Head On
Today’s culture encourages bi-sexuality, homosexuality and to some extent, promiscuity (a large selection of intimate partners). Polygamy, open-marriages, serial divorce, “friends with benefits” and all sorts of other intimate relationships are rampant. Be ready to give your opinions about all these lifestyle issues and the reasons for the way you feel – but be careful to continue to speak in a tone that is soft and welcoming. Acknowledge that other people have their own opinions on this topic. Be proactive if you want, and ask the child what he or she thinks about these things. If the child says that he or she has cravings for the same sex, acknowledge that this is common as we grow up, but that almost all people develop a specific sexual orientation over time. If the child feels that he or she is bisexual, then again, acknowledge that this is a common feeling and then discuss the pro’s and con’s of each lifestyle. If you have a religious perspective, offer it. However, even if you believe that homosexuality is a grave sin, continue to express your ideas respectfully and calmly. As it says in Proverbs, “The words of the wise are heard best when spoken softly.” In other words, having a temper tantrum won’t help your child choose a healthy path. If your child is confused and wants help, offer to arrange a meeting with a spiritual advisor and/or a professional who specializes in sexuality or adolescent psychology.

Understanding Your Teen

Teenagers can be challenging to raise. However, knowing what “makes them tick,” can make the job far easier. Let’s look at the typical characteristics of teenagers in order to better understand this period of life.

The following are some of the hallmarks of the teenage years, and some tips on how parents can help navigate them:

Rapid Physical Changes
Adolescence is a time of many physical changes as children gradually transform into young adults. For boys, there is a “growth spurt” — a rapid increase in height and weight, sometimes followed by changes in bone structure. Hair starts to grow in different places: the face, the armpits, the legs and the pubic areas. The adolescent’s voice deepens, and sounds more “grown up.” There are increases in muscle mass and strength as well.

Girls are also have sudden increases in height and weight. Breasts develop, hips become more defined, and body hair grows in the pubic and armpit areas. This is also the time when menstruation begins, often bringing along hormonally induced mood swings.

In both genders, the skin becomes more sensitive and sweaty, making adolescents more prone to pimples or acne. Kids develop at different paces – some making early changes and others making later ones. Often, kids are self-conscious about where they are in the normal distribution. Everyone wants to be “average” but of course, that isn’t possible. As a result, teens can feel embarrassed, inadequate or otherwise troubled by their physical changes: boys with squeaky voices and girls with flat chests can feel temporarily inadequate or self-conscious. Sometimes, the lingering consequences of insecurity can last for decades. Parents can help by being sensitive to their teens, never making rude jokes or unkind remarks. After all, every human being must go through adolescence on his or her way to adulthood. The gentle support and guidance of a parent can make the transition easier.

From Parent Approval to Peer Approval
At this stage of development, your child’s main focus of attention will shift from you to their same-aged classmates and friends. They may now prefer to spend more time with friends than with family members. Some kids don’t even want to be seen with parents in public! It’s all part of the push toward independence. Their “cutting of the apron strings” is a temporary phase: as your child journeys to adulthood, a healthy balance between family life and social life will emerge — and you’ll regain your place in their heart.

Testing Limits
As mentioned, kids at this time are exploring their identity and independence. Testing of rules and limits is all about pushing the borders now, bursting out of the protective shell. Teens might violate curfew, disobey house rules, experiment with various risk-taking behaviors, and constantly negotiate their “rights.” You might bring books home from the local library on subjects like smoking, alcohol, sex, drug use and so on. There are many books for this age group designed to be appealing to teens – with pictures and simple explanations this literature can provide the warnings and education your child needs in a teen-friendly way. Books can be a better method than dire warnings from an anxious parent.

At this point, parents should strike that balance between being understanding of their child’s need to be autonomous, and setting reasonable and consistent rules for their child’s safety and well-being.. As a rule, try to accommodate the new freedoms they ask for, for as long as safeguards are in place. Take the opportunity to teach about responsibility and accountability. It’s important NOT to establish rules that none of their friends have. Instead, allow your child to be a normal teen within his or her community and try to put your own fears to rest. It can be helpful to access the help of a parenting professional or mental health professional to get normal parameters such as age-appropriate curfews on weeknights and weekends, dress codes, use of alcohol and drugs and so on. If you have an accurate frame of reference, your rules will be more appropriate – and your child will probably have a greater respect for your decisions, which might lead to greater compliance with your rules.

An Increased Interest in Sexuality
Your child will now be showing an interest in all things sexual including advertisements, internet porn, and real people. Don’t be surprised if you see your normally “plain and simple” son or daughter dolling up a bit, and taking an interest in grooming, fashion and flirting. This is all a normal part of the growing up process. Modern teenagers may be more open about sexuality than older generations and may want to be sexually active and more sexually active at earlier ages. Many kids in today’s society are confused about their sexual orientation and some may benefit from professional guidance. Your job is to share your values, provide information and establish clear expectations. You probably don’t want your child to be making babies just quite yet but teenagers don’t automatically know how to prevent that from happening. Teach responsibility and safety in sexuality – don’t assume that your child has learned this at school or on the street. Your child needs to know about sexual diseases as well and how to both prevent them and identify early symptoms. Some parents arrange for the child’s doctor to explain the details of contraception and sexual protection from pregnancy and disease.

Sexual Disease

As a parent, advice you might feel queasy, troche even embarrassed, talking about sexual matters with your teenager. You might have grown up in a home when sex was not even mentioned, much less discussed in detail. Or you might be worried that talking about sex with your child will make him or her more likely to engage in it. But given the risks associated with irresponsible sexual behavior today, this is not a talk you want to miss.

Here are some important details about sexual disease and protective practices to cover in your talk, just in case you’re not up to date:

What is a Sexually Transmitted Disease?
As the term implies, sexually transmitted diseases or STDs are illnesses that can be passed through sexual contact; through vaginal intercourse, oral sex or anal sex. These illnesses can range from manageable fungal infections to debilitating and terminal diseases such as HIV-AIDS. STDs is the category used for diseases that used to be called VDs or venereal diseases.

Below are just some of the many STDs identified today:

  • Genital warts. Genital warts are caused by HPV, human papillomavirus. This virus lead to warts in the genital area as well as cervical cancer and cancer of the vulva, vagina, anus, and penis. It is spread through skin contact in vaginal or anal sex.  Eruption of warts can be painful both physically and psychologically and, since they are part of a viral process that can lead to more deadly disease, they are also a matter of serious concern. There are currently HPV vaccines available that are effective for people who have never been infected with this virus. Therefore, teens are urged to have the vaccine before engaging in their first sexual experience.
  • Gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is a bacterial infection characterized by a yellowish discharge in the sexual organ and difficulty in urination. Untreated gonorrhea can spread to other parts of the body, such as the joints or the heart.
  • Herpes. This STD lives in the nerves and once contracted, is a permanent condition.  Herpes simplex type-1 produces cold sores around the mouth, while Herpes simplex type-2 produces sores in the genital area. The sores take the form of painful, itchy blisters. Break-outs can be prevented or minimized with daily doses of anti-viral drugs. Pregnant women can pass the virus to their babies, so they need to inform their doctor of their condition immediately. Herpes is contracted by skin-to-skin contact whether or not sores are visible to the eye at the time of contact.
  • Syphilis. Another bacterial infection, syphilis has three stages, with symptoms getting more serious as one proceeds to a later stage. Primary syphilis is characterized by a painless red sore in the genital area called a chancre. In the secondary stage of the infection, the bacteria may enter the bloodstream and cause many symptoms like fever, rashes, weight loss, muscle aches and joint pain. In its later stage, syphilis can damage vital organs like the heart and parts of the central nervous system.
  • Candidiasis. Also called thrush, this STD is caused by a fungus called Candida or what is commonly known as yeast. The infection may be minimal, causing merely irritation and itching, or it can result to more systemic health problems. Cheese-like discharge in the sexual organs, redness and a smell similar to bread are some of the common symptoms of Candidiasis.
  • HIV. HIV stands for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, the main culprit behind the fatal disease Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or AIDS. AIDS is a pandemic in many countries, and has caused the lost of whole communities in some areas of Africa. It’s a disease that causes a steady decline of the body’s immune system, causing susceptibility to different kinds of opportunistic illnesses. As of present, HIV has no cure, although there are drugs that can boost the immune system and improve quality of life.

How can Kids Protect Themselves from Sexually Transmitted Diseases?
It’s important that parents emphasize to their children that they can protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases.

The most foolproof method of avoiding STDs is sexual abstinence. While the age of first sexual experience tends to become younger and younger every year (NBC Today’s latest survey has it at 15 years old!), it doesn’t necessarily mean that the teenage years is the recommended age to start having sex. While the physical maturity may already be present by the time kids hit the teenage years, it also takes mental and emotional maturity to engage in a sexually active relationship or a sexually active lifestyle. There is nothing to be lost by waiting until one feels more ready, or until marriage, to begin having sex.

But if your child does decide that he or she is ready, and you concur, there are ways to practice safer sex. Start by making sure that you and your partner have undergone a medical exam and have a clean bill of health before engaging in any sexual activity. While the practice of asking when a partner’s last check up was may sound unromantic, it is always better to be safe than very, very sorry.  Regular tests and visits to a gynecologist should occur as long as one is sexually active.

Opt to use contraception. As of now, it’s only the condom that is recommended for protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Birth control pills and intra-uterine devices may protect a couple from unwanted pregnancy but they do not protect against STDs. Note though that a condom is not 100% foolproof; some STDs may be passed through oral sex and there are reports of condoms breaking during intercourse.

If one suspects an infection, it’s best to consult a doctor immediately. With the exception of HIV, most STDs are treatable by medicines such as some antibiotics. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis.

Unprotected Sex

Today’s world is highly sexualized. Children are no longer sheltered from “adult” material and in fact, are encouraged to express their own sexuality at younger and younger ages. These days, it is hard to find a primetime TV show that doesn’t have a sexually explicit scene — and many of these shows are explicity marketed to teenagers and young adults. Contraceptives are sold in the nearby convenience store, right alongside soap and shampoo. And many teen celebrities — some barely out of puberty —sport a sexy image; some even find themselves as tabloid fodder because of irresponsible real-life sexual behavior.

Given that sex seems to be in the very air we breathe, it’s important that parents take an active role in promoting responsible sexual behavior in children. The cost of poor choices when it comes to sexuality can be very high, from sexually transmitted diseases or STDs to unwanted pregnancies, to early, often inappropriate, marriages. There’s also the psychological cost of premature sexuality: kids having unwanted sex due to peer pressure or partner pressure, finding out the hard way that love and respect doesn’t always accompany the sexual act, regretting being intimate with the wrong person and experiencing deeper levels of hurt and/or betrayal when intimate relationships are disrupted.

What can parents do to encourage responsible sexual behavior in their children? Consider the following:

Communicate Your Values Early
Different parents have different definitions of what “responsible sex” means. Some families do not believe in sex before marriage, for practical or religious reasons. Other parents are more liberal; they allow sexual behavior before marriage, as long as a child is at the right age and safe sex practices are being followed. Whatever your family’s belief system is, it’s best that you share it with your child, especially if they are already in the teenage years. The public library also offers an array of books for young people that cover all aspects of teen sexuality and romance – you can bring them home for your kids to read and you can also use them as a starting point for discussions about the topic.

Explain the Risks
Not all teenagers are aware of the risks involved in irresponsible sexual behavior. Or some kids are aware but they do not take the threats seriously. As parents, it’s your job to educate your child about the serious negative consequences that come with irresponsible sex, particularly unprotected sex. Unprotected sex refers to sexual intercourse without any intervention designed to prevent unwanted pregnancy and/or sexually-transmitted diseases. Two common methods of protection are common: condoms and birth control pills.

Parents must make sure kids know facts from fiction. For example, there’s a myth that goes “if you only do it once, you will not get pregnant.” This simply isn’t true. While having sex only once does lessen the risk of a pregnancy, it doesn’t eliminate it. Similarly, a child can contract a life-long sexually transmitted disease from having intercourse only one time.

Kids Must be Educated about the Limits of Their “Protection” of Choice
Condoms, for example doesn’t protect against HIV virus passed from the saliva or sperm of an infected person to an open wound in the mouth. HIV-AIDS remain without a cure until today, and causes much pain to the person who has it. Birth control pills (if used properly!) only protect against unwanted pregnancy, they don’t protect against most sexually-transmitted diseases. They also have known side effects. The emergency contraceptive or the morning after pill doesn’t 100% eliminate the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex, it merely lessens it.

Kids should see a medical doctor for examination and preparation for responsible sexuality. The doctor can explain how to reduce or prevent disease and pregnancy and the youngster who wants to act like an adult in the bedroom can take the adult steps of preventative care.

Tell Them That There’s Nothing Wrong with Waiting
The best protection against unwanted pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases remains one thing: abstinence. Tell your children that there is nothing wrong with waiting to become sexually active until they are ready. They need not give in to peer or partner pressure; they always have a right to say “no.” Friends may chide you for being a virgin, but sexual activeness is not a race — you don’t lose points for starting late. Waiting does not necessarily mean until marriage. It can mean waiting for a serious committed relationship or waiting until one is closer to the age of marriage – simply to reduce the number of sexual partners one will have and thereby reduce the risk of sexual disease.

Work at Your Marriage
Research has consistently shown that the best way to teach a child about responsible sexual behavior is to for parents to model what a respectful and loving relationship is like. If kids know the standard that they should aspire to, and how beautiful this standard is, they are less likely to settle for less than what they deserve.

Sexual Harassment via Social Media

Our children may be spending considerable time each day logging on to social networking sites. But just because your child is surfing from the comfort of home doesn’t mean his or her safety is guaranteed. In fact, there is one serious threat to children online that must be given particular attention by parents: sexual harassment via social media.

The anonymity of the internet can easily make people do things they wouldn’t normally do in real life. Inhibitions, after all, can dissolve when you can’t see the person on the other end of the line. Add to this is the difficulty in policing people online, and the lack of anti-cyber crime laws in many countries and states. The reality is: the internet is ripe for committing sexual harassment.

Many cases of sexual harassment online have resulted in tragic consequences; from the teenage girl who developed an eating disorder because of the barrage of negative comments about her figure, to the gay teen who committed suicide because a video of him kissing another man was uploaded by a roommate. Sexual harassment, whether face to face or online, can result in psychological trauma and severe mental anguish.

The following are some tips in helping protect your child against sexual harassment online:

Educate Your Child
The first thing you need to do is to increase your child’s awareness of what sexual harassment is. Many children today are already getting sexually harassed but don’t know it, simply because the internet is filled with ideas presented in all extremes. For example, not all kids know that demeaning comments about one’s gender and/or one’s gender preference is a form of sexual harassment. The same goes with unwanted sexual comments or innuendos. Your child may already be suffering the ill effects of sexual harassment, and yet not know that they are being victimized.  Talk about the issue comfortably so that your children will feel comfortable coming to you when they have concerns or need your help. The last thing you want to do is make your child afraid to come to you when he or she needs you most. Avoid heavy-handed threats and tacticts. The internet is here to stay; help your child learn to use it safely and learn to use YOU as a safe resource.

Protect When Possible
Using child protection software may be helpful. Keeping your computer in a public area or just doing random checks can help your children and younger teens stay on a proper path and not deviate off to more suspicious communications online. Let your child know that you have reporting software and that you are checking regularly. Older teens want and need more privacy. With this group, make sure you keep your communication lines open; keep a warm and friendly relationship with them so that they’ll feel comfortable asking you for help when they need it. Also, as mentioned above, talk openly about your concerns and the dangers that some innocent kids have fallen into.

Never Release Private Information Online
Tell your child that he or she must always be careful what kind of information to release online — even to friends! Never give out contact details aside from email addresses; you can always give this information face to face. Similarly, never release information that can be used to track you, such as school ID number or a parent’s social security number, especially when commenting on pages accessible to the general public. A social networking site may claim to have privacy settings that protect members, but at the end of the day, you don’t really know when your private information will be hacked by someone with malicious intent.

Don’t Engage the Harasser
Teach your child that if you’re the victim of sexual harassment on social networking sites, the first thing you must do is to disengage — whether the other person is someone you know or is a stranger. Don’t argue or fight with your harasser; it will only lengthen the ordeal and encourage further contact. Instead, collect documentation, e.g. screenshots of what they said with timestamps, copies of their emails and IMs, and all information about them that you have. Then block your victimizer from your list of friends immediately and/or change your account, password and/or username.

Report Harassment to the Authorities
Tell your child the following: They should tell you and other adults what is going on. Let the right authority deal with your harasser. If he or she is someone from your school, then do report their action to the school principal or prefect of discipline. For people you don’t know, and for serious cases, report the crime to the police. You should also send the management of the social networking site a copy of your documentation so that they can permanently remove that person’s account.

Stalking

Have you ever been so enamored of a celebrity that you wanted to know what they were doing every single minute of the day? Or did you ever have an ex in your life that you couldn’t let go of, and you hungered to know details of what he or she was doing in life after your relationship ended? Intense curiosity about others is a normal phenomenon experienced by millions of people every day. Usually, people don’t act on their feeling of “wanting to know,” but sometimes they do. When someone closely tracks another person’s activities it is called “stalking.”

Young people are just as capable of stalking as adults. What can you do if you discover that your own child is involved in this activity?

What is Stalking?
Stalking refers to tracking the behaviors of another person in such a way that the person feels harassed and violated.  Stalking, an invasion of another person’s privacy, can take many forms. For instance, stalking behaviors  include spying on someone’s private mail or phone conversations, following a person wherever they go, watching a person’s comings and goings, sending unwanted correspondence or gifts, forcing unwanted relationships, and even threatening and attacking the object of one’s obsession. Very recently a new brand of stalking has surfaced — cyberstalking — which is stalking behavior conducted over the internet.

Stalking is a criminal offense punishable by law.

How Do Kids and Teenagers Engage in Stalking Behavior?
Stalking behaviors can range from mild to severe. In some cases, kids and teens don’t even realize that what they are doing may be considered stalking. In other cases, they may be fully aware that their behavior is unacceptable, harmful,  and even illegal but they continue to do it nonetheless.

Obsessing about and following celebrities is the more common type of stalking behavior among young people. Teens can get so attached to a matinee idol or rock band, for example, that they devise creative means to find out where their favorite stars hang out, and sneak inside the hotel they are staying in or the restaurant where they’re eating. This kind of behavior in young people may or may not be considered a criminal offense; some celebrities do encourage these accidental “spottings” (even announcing it on their microblogging sites!) for the sake of publicity. But in any event, any excessive adoration is unhealthy, and can cause significant problems at home or at school.

But there is also the more serious type of stalking behavior happening among young people today, one that is more malicious and ill-intentioned. With the ease of modern  communication and networking, young people can easily find ways to attack someone that they have issues with, or force embarrassing public confrontations. Pervasive harassment through sms, emails, blogs and social networking sites, for example, are fairly common among young people. Worse, some kids and teens are unaware of how they are actually victimizing other people with their actions. They underestimate the destructive impact of their behavior.

What can Parents Do?
Stalking behavior should be treated as a serious matter. Not only can stalking cause severe problems in relating and working, stalking is a criminal offense that can result in arrest and/or commitment to a juvenile facility. Children and teens must know when to draw a line between acceptable ways of relating and violation of other people’s rights. Remember, even if a fixation or obsession is manageable at the moment, it can easily turn unhealthy.

If you’re a parent whose child engages in stalking behavior, consider the following tips:

Evaluate the Gravity of the Situation
As mentioned, stalking behavior exists in a range; with some behaviors more understandable and acceptable than others. Find out where your child is in the stalking spectrum so that you may know if guidance and education is sufficient, or stronger interventions are necessary (such as assessment and treatment by a mental health professional). Signs of seriousness include the presence of delusions (e.g. the belief that the other person is in love with the stalker), lack of empathy for the other person’s feelings, severe anxiety if stalking behavior is not fulfilled, and intrusions of the obsessions into everyday living causing problems at home and/or school.

Explain to Your Child Why Stalking is Wrong
Perhaps your child is simply unaware that what they are doing is wrong. Educate your child about the impact of stalking behavior on not just the stalker, but also on the target. Psychologists have conceptualized stalking as a form of mental and emotional assault (sometimes even physical), that can be traumatic to its victim. But even if the target of the stalking is unaware that he or she is being followed or watched, common courtesy and ethics demand that stalking be stopped. Moreover, obsessing, even without stalking, is an unhealthy habit for a person and should be replaced with more wholesome activities. If your child seems fixated on someone to the extent that other activities are being neglected, try to arrange a consultation with a mental health professional to help address the problem.

Make Them Aware of the Risks of Stalking
Aside, from getting arrested, stalking can also put a person at risk for various negative consequences. Following celebrities around, for example, can result in being crushed in a throng of people, especially if the celebrity sighting is accompanied by fan hysteria. A person also does not know how a victim of stalking will react to finding out that they are being followed; stalking also puts person at risk for being victims of assault.

Give Them Sensitivity Training on Issues of Privacy and Boundaries
At the end of the day, what you want is to enhance your child’s sensitivity to the basic rights of other people. Take all opportunities to teach your child about the importance of boundaries and private spaces. Differentiate between information that should be kept to one’s self, and information that should be kept in private. Tell your children that in the same way they don’t want to have their secrets broadcast to strangers, they also don’t want to intrude on another person’s private correspondence and activities. Let them also understand the line between being friendly and being creepy. Training in social skills can help eliminate stalking behavior.

Deal with the Feelings Behind the Stalking Behavior
Obsessively following or communicating with another person can be a dysfunctional way of coping with unpleasant emotions. For example, the inability to let go of a lost relationship can cause a person to obsess on an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend. Boredom over one’s plain and unexciting life can cause teenagers to want to follow celebrities around. If you can teach your child to better manage their negative emotions, you can give them more functional coping strategies than stalking. Again, treatment by a mental health professional can be the most effective way to help your child if he or she is obsessing or stalking. Keep in mind, too, that stalking and obsessing may be symptoms of a mental health disorder. A psychologist or psychiatrist can help.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is typically thought of as something that happens between a boss and an employee, or committed by a drunk in the bar. But recent reports have shown that sexual harassment in schools is on the rise. A national survey of American public schools report that as much as 80% of female students and 60% of male students have experienced sexual harassment while in school! Worse, most of the time these harassments occur right out in the open, in full view and/or hearing of other people.

What is Sexual Harassment?
Put simply, sexual harassment is any unsolicited and unwanted sexual advance or attack against one’s gender and sexuality. Behaviors considered as sexual harassment exist in a range, from making sexual jokes or comments, to giving looks that may be construed as lewd or suggestive, to inappropriate touches and forcing someone to engage in sexual behavior.

Sexual harassment can happen face-to-face or indirectly. Abuses within internet chatrooms, spreading nasty rumors, and vandalisms that contain explicit sexual content targeted to a particular person are all considered indirect ways of sexual harassment. Both direct and indirect ways of sexual harassment can cause severe stress and trauma to its victim, and must be taken seriously.

What can Parents Do?
There are many things that parents can do to prevent sexual harassment from reaching their children.

Prevention is always better than any steps taken after the fact, so it’s best if parents take a proactive role in combating sexual harassment.

Parents can start by educating their kids on what sexual harassment is, and its impact to its victims. For instance, parents must take a hard stance against making inappropriate jokes and comments, even if there are those who would say “boys are just being boys” or “it’s all just good-natured teasing.” Sensitizing children on the offensive nature of sexual jokes is a good start in preventing sexual harassment from spreading. Similarly, children must always be taught to respect people’s sexuality. Calling someone a “faggot” or a “dyke,”  a “whore” or other insulting sexual names is not to be tolerated under any circumstance. By teaching kids not to hurt others in this way, parents help put an end to the cycle of victimization.

However, parents also have to teach their children how to respond to sexual harassment in the case that it happens to them. This can help prevent trauma.  When a child knows what steps to take, he or she feels empowered and supported. For instance, teach your child to report harassment to the principle or guidance counselor immediately.  Kids can also be taught how to stand up to bullies of all kinds, including those who bully through sexual harassment. Bully-proofing can be brought into schools as a program for the student body – speak to the guidance department about arranging this. Kids should also be taught how not to invite abuse and harassment through their own behaviors. For instance, if a girl dresses very provocatively instead of more modestly, she is communicating that she wants to be noticed sexually. Although she is not responsible for being victimized by harassment, she is certainly responsible for inviting sexual attention. Teach your kids how the opposite gender reacts to cues (i.e. how boys are stimulated by revealing clothing and so on).

Parents can ask their local librarian for help in selecting age-appropriate materials on this subject to bring home for their kids. When children learn from books it can be extra powerful – it means that the information they are receiving is not just Mom or Dad’s nervous over-reactions.

Sometimes parents can take the advocacy to the school and the community. Many school administrators, teachers and community members are unaware of how prevalent the problem is, and thus they are not as vigilant in identifying and reporting sexual harassment cases. A culture of silence and impunity may exist in a school, so it’s best to launch information campaigns designed to remove the stigma associated with being victimized. Establishing clear channels for reporting harassment and systems of response and referral are also ideal.

Lastly, it’s important that parents make their kids aware of what their rights are. For instance, choosing not give in to peer pressure to harass others is a right and a responsibility. Similarly, one always has a right to say “no” to any unwanted communication or sexual advance. And if they are victimized, or know someone who has been, it’s their right to report the harassment to the proper authorities.

Forcing Sexual Attention on a Peer

No one wants to hear that their child is misbehaving at school, on the sports team or in the neighborhood. A call home from teacher, principal, or coach can make good parents cringe. They feel ashamed of their child as well as concerned for him or her. However, one of the hardest things to hear is a report that one’s child has committed a sexual misdeed. In such cases, parents feel not only shame and embarrassment, but also panic and horror. What kind of monster have they raised?

What are parents to do when they find out that their child has forced sexual attention on a peer?

Stay Calm
Hearing from the school principal — or worse, the police — that your child committed sexual harassment is difficult. You might be tempted to give in to your emotions and lash out at your child — don’t! Instead, take the time to calm down so that you can approach the situation rationally. The issue is too important to treat with drama or hysteria.

Take the Behavior Seriously
Parents of kids who sexually harass others may deliberately or unconsciously water down the gravity of the issue. They might say that their child is just being flirtatious, or is responding to mixed messages from the victim. If you’re a parent sincerely interested in helping your child, do not give in to this temptation. Whether your child was deliberate in forcing sexual attention on a peer, or your child is honestly unaware that what he or she did is wrong, this is one behavior you want to nip in the bud. Studies show that adult sexual offenders begin through inappropriate sexual behavior as teenagers or young children. Shrugging things off today may prove to be costly in the future.

Assess How Much Help Your Child Needs
Each case of sexual harassment is different and must be approached differently. Some cases are more serious than others and will  require professional intervention. Other cases can be addressed by parent education, sensitivity training and logical consequences. It’s important that parents assess the problem correctly so that they can make the most appropriate intervention. Enlisting the help of objective professionals is highly recommended. For instance, a child psychologist is in an excellent position to determine whether the child’s behavior reflects serious mental health issues or more benign inappropriate actions.

What are the things parents and professionals should consider?

First, ask: is this a first offense or is this behavior been going on for some time now? If it’s the latter then you don’t just have a one time incident to deal with but a pattern of misbehavior to address. You may need extra support and professional intervention to help your child towards positive change.

Second, assess: did your child deliberately force sexual attention on his or her friend or classmate, or is your child honestly confused regarding the gravity of his or her actions? If it’s the first case, the situation is more serious, as there is an actual choice to do something that is clearly wrong and harmful. You might be dealing with a conduct disorder or other mental health disorder. If, however, the child is honestly confused regarding the gravity of his or her actions, it’s possible that your child is merely poorly socialized, and has no idea how to behave appropriately in the presence of people he or she finds sexually attractive. In fact, the child may just be modeling negative role models, like swashbuckling TV characters who get away with the kind of behavior that shouldn’t be tolerated in real life.

Lastly, consider your child’s age. To what degree does he or she have an understanding of sex and sexuality? The younger kids are, the less likely it is that their misbehavior was malicious in nature. In addition, it is more likely that they would be confused as to when an action is wanted or unwanted. Older children and teenagers, however, must be charged with greater accountability for their actions, as they are expected to be aware of the impact of their behavior on their victim.

Provide the Help Needed
As mentioned, the intervention must fit the gravity of the problem. If the situation is not alarming – that is, a parent is dealing with a first offense, done without awareness of the wrongness of the deed, by a child too young to understand what sexual harassment is – then parents can deal with the situation at home using education, guidance and a system of consequences. For increasing gravity, increasing degrees of professional help must be solicited.

Education is the lightest intervention. Teach your child that what he or she did is wrong, and why exactly it is wrong. Emphasize that it’s a behavior that you don’t ever want to see repeated again. Sensitivity training can follow; teach your child to understand a peer’s point of view and why ta victim would find unwanted sexual advances not just offensive but traumatic. Contract for logical consequences; make sure your child apologizes to his or her victim and/or victim’s parents. If victims press charges, it is possible that the child may also be made to undergo counseling and therapy, or put in community service. Sadly, a child may also have to go through juvenile court as consequence of his or her behavior.

For serious cases, professional treatment is required. You may also want to consult the local social welfare office for resources on how to help juvenile sexual offenders. There are also non-governmental institutions that assist sexual offenders. Treatment options can range from out-patient weekly therapy session to residential placement and treatment.

Child Pulls Down Another Child’s Pants

When you go to pick up your 4 year-old from daycare, the teacher gives you some unpleasant news: your little pre-schooler has pulled down a playmate’s pants. Embarrassed, your child’s victim cried till his mommy picked him up a little while ago. Meanwhile, your son is still running around the classroom laughing. Even though he was reprimanded immediately and sent to the “thinking chair” for 15 minutes, he doesn’t seem to be remorseful.

How should you react? Is a child pulling down other kids’ pants a serious matter? Is your child a deviant? Has he been sexually abused? Why isn’t he feeling guilty or ashamed of himself?

First off, the good news. When it comes to really young children like toddlers and pre-schoolers, pulling down another child’s pants rarely has anything to do with sexual malice or sexual maladjustment. In all likelihood your child thought that it would be a funny thing to do, and the ensuing laughter by peers probably confirmed his or her belief. Targets of pants-pulling tend to be random playmates; in young children, attacking someone in this way is not generally an act of deliberate aggression against someone they do not like. (This is not equally true for older kids, however. For instance, a 10 year-old who pulls down another child’s pants may very well be targeting an “enemy” or otherwise engaging in angry, bullying behavior.)

This said, it’s still a behavior worth correcting. Correcting the behavior is an opportunity to educate your child about issues of privacy, in a way that is appropriate to his or her age. Most importantly, a child who pulls down a playmate’s pants is lacking in the trait of empathy. To help a child acquire more empathy, use the technique of “emotional coaching” on a regular basis. This skill essentially involves naming a child’s feelings BEFORE solving problems or addressing issues. Naming feelings can take place all day long. For instance, when a child says, “I don’t want to wear my gloves today,” a parent can name feelings BEFORE deciding what to do about the gloves. It might sound like this, “I know. It’s a bother to pull those gloves on and off all the time. It can be annoying, right?” Then the parent can “solve” the glove problem any which way he or she desires. For instance, “You’ve had a cold this week and I really think the gloves are important to help you get better and stay better. I’d like you to put them on anyways.” Or, “You don’t have to wear them, but I’d like you to take them so that you have them in case you get cold.” When you tell a child to stop calling his brother names and the child says, “He broke my model!” you can name feelings FIRST before solving the brother problem. “That must be so frustrating! You really worked hard on that model. No wonder you are upset with him!” Now solve the problem whichever way you want. For instance, “However, you still can’t call him names. You can tell him you don’t like what he did and you can tell me if you need help. You can tell him that you aren’t going to play with him tonight because you’re upset. You just can’t insult him or hurt him, do you understand?” Of course, you may also use discipline to discourage the child from name-calling. You can discipline the child who broke the model and so on. The step of emotional coaching has been shown in large research studies to help improve a child’s emotional intelligence, making him more empathetic to others and more socially aware. This helps prevent misbehaviors like pulling down people’s pants!

The following are some tips on how to deal with a child caught pulling down another kid’s pants:

Find Out Where Your Child Learned to Do It
Start by asking your child where he or she got the idea to pull their playmate’s pants. Did your child see it on television? Then explain that certain things on T.V. are not O.K. (and perhaps try to supervise your child’s T.V. experience more closely till he is a little older). Did someone else in the playground start it, and your child just followed along? Then maybe teaching them about not joining unacceptable behavior is in order. Or was your child dared by an older sibling? Then you may need to have a talk with your other child as well.

Explain Why Pants-Pulling is Wrong
Young children are likely still unaware that their behavior is wrong. Take the opportunity to teach them about privacy, and emphasize why it’s important for kids to respect it. Explain that people wear clothes like pants and underpants because they don’t want to be naked around people who are not in their family (keep in mind that toddlers and preschoolers are often naked in their own homes while they are getting dressed and undressed and when having their baths). Share how pulling down another child’s pants at school or in the park can make that child feel exposed, upset, emabarrassed and uncomfortable.

Ask How They Would Feel if Someone Else Pulled Down Their Pants
To encourage empathy, ask your child how he would have felt if the situations were reversed, if it was HIS pants that were pulled down. How would he feel if other kids laughed at him? More often than not, your child will say that he will not like it. Teach him “The Golden Rule” – do not do unto others that which you don’t want done to you!

Use Discipline
To help reinforce the lesson, tell your child that you do not want this to happen again. Let your youngster know that if you find out that he has done this again, he will have a punishment at home (tell him exactly what punishment you have in mind – for instance, losing dessert, going to bed early, losing T.V. or computer privileges or whatever you think is appropriate and would act as a deterrent).

Clothing and Fashion Issues in Teens

Fashion means a lot to teenagers – either in the sense that they desperately need to wear the latest and greatest styles that their peers are wearing, or in the sense that they just as desperately want to rebel against peer pressure and refuse to wear what everyone else is wearing. Either way, parents must take their teen’s feelings about fashion seriously. We adults have equally strong feelings about what we’ll wear or not wear in our own social settings; we certainly shouldn’t make light of our children’s issues about clothing. Moreover, it is likely that teens will want you to supply them with at least some of their clothes. You will be involved not only in paying for clothing but also in endorsing or veto-ing it as well. Fashion can be the subject of much parent-adolescent conflict or the venue for happy shopping sprees and positive bonding. Let’s take a look at how parents can help avoid the former and increase the frequency of the latter.

Consider the following:

Respect Your Teen’s Quest for Individuality
Has your teen been sporting purple hair, a nose ring and an all-black ensemble? Good! The get-up may be giving you the shakes, but remember that at this point in your teen’s life, experimenting with different “identities” is a healthy part of the journey towards individuality and autonomy. As long as your child’s safety and health are not compromised, opt to be supportive instead of critical. In most cases, kids do outgrow their teenage fashion taste and end up wearing sensible clothing in adulthood (remember what YOU used to wear?)

Teach Your Teen to be a Smart Shopper
Peer pressure is strong during the teenage years, and many marketers of teen clothing know this. They will package their wares as something that is ‘in”, “must have” and patronized by practically all other teenagers in the planet. Teach your teen to be a wary consumer, capable of independent research and independent thinking. Help your child learn the in’s and out’s of bargain hunting by giving him or her a set amount of money to spend on whatever clothing he or she needs for that season (“Here’s X dollars. Buy as many shirts and pants as you can with it.”). Your child will soon discover that it is fun to figure out how to get 3 outfits for the price of 1 or how to get brand-name products at bargain basement prices.

Take the Opportunity to Teach Your Child about Healthy Body Image
Eating disorders are gaining prevalence today, mostly because the media portrays thinness as the universal standard for beauty. If you can, shop for clothes with your teen. Teach your child how to pick clothing that flatters his or her body type. If you can make your teen feel attractive without having to succumb to a distorted standard of what is ideal, then you might help prevent him or her from succumbing to an eating disorder. You can also bring books home from your local library that offer fashion advice for different body types. Leave such materials around the house or in the bathroom and just let your adolescent pick them up and scan them. It’s great for kids to learn about fashion at this tender stage of life – to know what colors might flatter their own coloring, what styles might flatter their body type, what accessories can make all the difference and so on.

Present the Line Between Tasteful and Tawdry
Teens dress up to impress the opposite sex. You might notice your child wearing very tight or very skimpy clothing that you think is more appropriate for the bedroom than the classroom. Be careful as to how you convey this information! You want to maintain a positive parent-child relationship as you teach your youngster the basics of good taste. Start off with praise, as in “You really know how to pick the right colors!” Then ask for permission to give feedback, as in “Would it be O.K. if I shared some thoughts I have about this outfit?” This puts the child in a “yes” frame of mind. Then, cautiously and carefully offer feedback and advice, as in “I honestly think that showing that much skin gives the wrong message. I think it tells people to focus on your body parts instead of on you. I mean, I think you have a great body, but you’re so much more than that! And I know that this is just how kids like to dress nowadays and your friends wear this too. Still, I think that you can convey that you’re attractive and with it, but that you’re also a person and not just a body. For instance, if you cover this up here, the overall look is the same great look, but the message is quite different. What do you think about what I am saying?” Obviously, this kind of approach is very different from the yelling-at-the-top-of-your-lungs approach that “NO CHILD OF MINE IS LEAVING THE HOUSE LOOKING LIKE THAT!”  It is more respectful and it attempts to elicit understanding and cooperation on the child’s part. However, if your child just doesn’t get it, it’s certainly fine for you to set limits. However, you can still be respectful. If necessary, it might sound like, “Sweetheart, when you’re a grownup you can wear whatever you want, but while you’re a teenager in this house, I reserve the right to prohibit certain outfits that I think are just not appropriate. I can’t let you wear that. Now I understand that you are a free person and when you leave the house you can go borrow the same outfit from your friend and wear it out and there’s little I can do about that except appeal to your better judgment. I’m asking you not to wear it because I love you, not because I hate you! No matter what you decide to do, however, I cannot have you wearing it in this house at any time.” If you have a good relationship with your teen, chances are good that he or she will respect your wishes. That is why it is so important to always be respectful and maintain a good relationship. As soon as you lose the relationship, you lose your power to influence your child in the right direction.