2018 has been dubbed the year of #MeToo. People of all backgrounds, ages, and gender identities have come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and assault, demanding perpetrators’ behaviors no longer be tolerated. Not only has this changed the way Americans think about sexual health and consent, it’s exposed the emotional trauma and long-term damages to well-being that frequently follow sexual misconduct. The hashtag has spread over social media platforms, reaching audiences of many ages. What is the younger generation to make of it all?
Some adolescents, as survivors of sexual misconduct or crimes, consider themselves a part of the movement. Teenage femmes have spoken out to tell their own stories and to support their friends. High-profile cases like the recent Kavanaugh hearings, which involved alleged misconduct in high school, may have been familiar to them. What role do adult figures play in addressing #MeToo with teenagers, as well as with younger children trying to digest the adult conversations around them?
NPR asked experts in sexual health education, and we’ve synthesized them below:
1) It’s adults’ job to give them information— kids learn about sexual health somewhere, and it’s best if that somewhere is from a willing and knowledgeable adult. Use #MeToo as a teachable moment!
2) It’s not too soon— even for parents or educators of elementary-aged children where explicit conversations around sexual health are not appropriate, consent can be a habit encouraged in kids from the get-go. Instilling healthy behaviors in kids is critical as it can impact their actions in the long-run.
3) Be “askable”— kids should feel comfortable approaching adults with their uncomfortable questions. Mentors bringing up tough topics themselves can set an example of the conversations their okay having. Adults who can’t fulfill this role should ensure another older figure can.
4) Talk with potential perpetrators, not just survivors— #MeToo has been about supporting victims, but also about raising a new generation who respect consent in a way their predecessors never learned. In other words, not only should young kids be given the tools they need to express themselves if there is a problem, they should also be taught how to cope with being told “no.”