Town Talk Features

Parent Trap: Tools to Stop Sexual Harassment

So much of the focus in the media lately has been on the impropriety of eminent men sexually harassing women, with no attention to teaching teenagers the tools of prevention. So I want to focus on five qualities girls need in order to take care of themselves.

1. Self-worth: I start with this because everything else will flow from it. Girls who have high self-confidence tend to get pushed around less because of the energy they radiate. That belief results in clearer, firmer boundaries.

2. Changing belief systems: Too many girls worry that setting boundaries is being mean. The ‘good girl’ conditioning they have absorbed causes them to be too concerned about the other person: Will they be mad? Will I lose their approval or love? Is it bitchy to speak up? Am I being selfish? Girls need to let go of taking care of other people’s needs to their own detriment and believe that their needs matter, too.

3. Checking in: It is crucial that women continually check in with themselves throughout their experiences and ask themselves questions like: Am I enjoying myself? Am I still OK with this? Am I comfortable with being touched like this? If the answer to such questions is not an unqualified ‘yes,’ it’s a sign that it’s time to stop and set a boundary. Other important questions to consider: Are we moving faster than I’m comfortable with? Do I feel pressured, scared, respected, in control or safe? Your answers will dictate whether to proceed or pause the action.

4. Consent: Permission needs to be explicit, and it needs to be given repeatedly as a sexual encounter becomes more intimate. The following do not equal consent: flirting; wearing sexy outfits; a hesitant, unclear response when asked about continuing; just seeming like you’re ‘into it;’ or previous sexual experiences together. It’s always OK to put the brakes on, regardless of what’s preceded that moment.

5. Trusting your gut: Our brains pick up on hundreds of things each moment below the level of consciousness. So, if internal alarms go off signaling that something is not right, girls always should trust that intuition even if there is no apparent evidence to support it. Trust that your brain has noticed something unsafe, and you most likely will avoid dangerous situations.

Girls and women who develop these qualities and follow these steps will be more in control of romantic situations, their boundaries will be clear, and they will be less likely to be pressured or harassed. It’s never too late to begin this kind of education.

Tim Jordan, M.D., is a behavioral pediatrician who specializes in counseling girls ages 6 through college. He recently launched an online video parenting course, Taking Flight: Everyday Parenting Wisdom to Help Girls Soar. For more information, visit