Teasing: When To Draw the Line

July 30, 2008 by  
Filed under Child Development, Communication

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Until recently, boys teasing girls in school was something that girls usually had to chalk up to experience. Complain and they often got a “boys will be boys” response.

But these days, as young girls become more attuned to their rights, chronic name calling, hair pulling, pinching and other forms of taunting are being perceived as sexual harassment.

Dr. Vicki Panaccione is a licensed psychologist in Melbourne who specializes in (working with) children, adolescents and parents. She said she is not comfortable with attributing sexual harassment to young children.

“I don’t think that 7-year-olds have the capacity to comprehend what they are doing as (sexual harassment). To use the term, you have to have sexual knowledge, and I don’t think young kids grasp that concept,” Panaccione said.

However, sexually harassing behaviors could show up in preadolescence and adolescent stages. Adults can play a key role in prevention by not contributing more powerful behavior to boys, Panaccione said.

“That is when we set up the expectations that boys can exploit girls and men can exploit women,” she said.

How boys are taught to respond to girls at a young age can determine whether they become sexual harassers. Teaching young children to look at males and females as equals is a good start, Panaccione said.

“You are not going to exploit those that you feel are equal to you. You are going to exploit those that you feel are not as good as yourself,” she said.

Times are changing though. Panaccione cites how the heroines in Disney’s animated movies are in more control of their own destinies.

“I think we are starting to teach girls that they are powerful, capable, confident,” she said. “We can teach girls how to be assertive and give those messages back rather than submit themselves to harassment.”

Dr. Vicki Panaccione offers these suggestions for preventing harassing behavior in children:
1) Ensure confidence in girls by telling them that they can do and be anything they want.
2) Encourage the same talents and attributes in both girls and boys.
3) Teach girls to be assertive and stand up for their rights if they are teased by boys.
4) Model respectful treatment and attitudes toward women and young girls.
5) Avoid teaching girls that they are weak, defenseless and need a male for protection.
6) Discourage boys from thinking girls are their subordinates.
7) Teach children the do’s and don’ts about invading the personal space of others.
8) Counter images in the media of women as sex objects with positive reinforcement that male and females are equal. Also, expose children to female role models in powerful, successful and contributing positions.
9) Avoid teaching young boys that they are better than women.

As published in Florida Today.
Florida Today

© MMVI Vicki Panaccione, Ph.D.

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