Sexual Harassment at School

Parent Q&A

  • My fifth grade daughter is having the common but unwanted experience of putting up with male classmates talking about sex in juvenile terms when teachers aren’t listening, as well as using homemade slang for sex words that teachers apparently don’t pick up on even when they are listening.  As far as I know, none of this is directed at her personally.  She explains that girls in her class “have to pretend they don’t understand so they don’t get drawn into a nastier conversation.”

    Now on the one hand I had the same experience growing up, and I certainly don’t want to categorize fifth grade boys as harrassers in the same way I would adult men.  And on the other hand, I just sat through sexual harassment training for my job that explained that repeated unwanted comments about sex create a hostile environment and are considered a form of sexual harassment.  So I’m not comfortable telling my daughter, “yeah, some kids (who are disproportionately boys) do this, and you just have to ignore it.  They’ll grow out of it in a decade or two.”  Asking preteen girls to put up with this kind of unpleasant discussion seems like a way of sending the message that adults don’t really care about their discomfort – as well as setting them up for putting up with sexual harassment later.

    (And yes, of course it’s not all boys, and it’s not only boys doing this, and some girls talk about sex in crude terms too, and some girls don’t mind sex discussion at school, and some (many?) boys do mind it.  But the gender dynamic is still part of the unpleasantness here.) 

    So my question is, do any of you know of schools, SEL programs, or Sex Ed programs that have successfully tackled this problem?  My daughter’s school is kind of old-fashioned and hasn’t really picked up on SEL yet, but they are open to new ideas and suggestions, and I’d like to be able to send some their way.

    Additionally, if you have suggestions for good ways to discuss this with my daughter, I’d love to hear them.  I’m sure some of you have much better verbiage than I’ve managed.

    Generational old issue isn't it.  When it comes to sex discussions in schools, it's a radioactive topic that schools just don't want to touch.  It's not that your school is old fashioned it's they are afraid to approach the topic for fear of the wrath or parents, lawsuits and the administration.  Sorry this is happening to your daughter and the other girls at your school.  The best way to discuss this with your daughter is to be honest about the world we live in.  I would also explain the boys are insecure and unsortable about sex and this is how they dealing with it.  You could try and get the school to tech sex ed and respect of the opposite sex.  But it's not mandatory.  And the parents of the boys may not allow their child to participate.  The other sad part of all of this is the abundance and ease anyone can find explicate "fake" sex on the Internet.  You could talk to your daughter about the Me Too movement as a way show boys/mean don't always get away with behavior such as this.  See what others have to say. 

    Take a look at kid to see if it meets your needs.  We did it when our daughter was around 8 years old and thought it was good.

    i do not know specifically what programs may be available, but i do very highly recommend reading this recent book by peggy orenstein called 'Boys and Sex'.  she also has a previous book called 'Girls and Sex'.  my feeling has always been if i want to change or challenge something i really need to understand the thing.  these books give me as much compassion for . our young boys as much as i have for our girls.  we as a culture are failing them both on so many levels.  so good of you to delve into this and work towards as solution for your daughter (and by extention those boys).  i sure wish i'd had a mom who'd been able to step up for me back in the day...  best of luck and lead with love for all parties.  it takes a village has never been truer or more needed.