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February CONSULT

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UMMC experts: sexual harassment headlines offer ‘teachable moment’

Published on Friday, January 12, 2018

By: Annie Oeth

Sexual harassment allegations may be the last thing parents want their children seeing in news reports, but they may provide a launching point for important lessons, according to University of Mississippi Medical Center experts.

David Elkin

“It doesn’t have to be a big speech,” said Dr. David Elkin, executive director of UMMC’s Center for Advancement of Youth, a part of Children’s of Mississippi, “but parents can discuss the issue of sexual harassment in the context of it being in the news. Every family is different, but sexual harassment should be discussed in terms of how we care for other human beings. Why do we not tolerate bullying? Because it is hurtful to other people.

“You can put it in the context of how your family behaves: ‘You are an Elkin, and Elkins don’t hurt other human beings.’”

Portrait of Julie Schumacher

Such conversations should be tailored to the child’s age and questions, said Dr. Julie Schumacher, UMMC professor of psychiatry and vice chair for education in the department.

“The conversation you have with your younger child will be very different than the conversation you would have with your adolescent,” Schumacher said. “Also, if your child asks about the topic of sexual harassment, ask them what they have heard and why they are asking. It will help you in giving them the right information.”

Older children and teenagers who may be in relationships and in the workforce and may already be experiencing or engaging in sexual harassment need specific information about what sexual harassment is and how to respond to it, Schumacher said. She said younger children may be best able to understand sexual harassment as a kind of bullying.

“Bullying is closely related to sexual harassment, because both involve disrespecting and misusing power over other people,” Schumacher said.

Elkin said the recent #MeToo movement, a social media effort to denounce sexual assault and harassment that went viral in the wake of allegations against noted film producer Harvey Weinstein, is a positive development for society “because people are actually starting to speak up about something that is wrong and harmful.”

Talking about this subject may not be an easy conversation for parents, but it is an important one, Schumacher said.

“Talking about the issue will highlight the importance of having boundaries, and that’s a positive lesson for everyone.”

Excusing harassment as “locker room talk” should stop, Elkin said.

“As parents, we should show our children that wherever they are, they should behave in a way that does not hurt others.”

He said lectures from mothers and fathers aren’t enough to address the harassment issue.

“It can’t be just talk,” Elkin said. “Parents have to model the behavior they want to see from their children.”

NOTE: This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of CONSULT, UMMC's monthly electronic newsletter. To learn more about Medical Center news past, present and future, and to have more stories like this delivered directly to your inbox, subscribe to CONSULT.