Modesty and Sexual Harassment — Prevention vs. Victim Blaming

There is a broken record that plays at our house, where both my young boys grab toys and hit and then blame the other brother for “starting it”: You are responsible for YOU.  I don’t really care who started it. I care about my children learning to keep their hands to themselves and to respect other children’s persons and property, regardless of what happens to them. Parents, I’m sure you understand. This concept is not new.

Why, then, does this concept go out the window when it comes to modesty and sexual harassment; prevention of sexual assault and blaming the victim? When stories like this one show up, there is a great teaching opportunity for parents of both boys and girls. In this instance, I learn about a 15-year-old girl (whose photo, scraped from her Facebook page for the article, reveals a broad, generous smile, among other things) complained to an airline about being groped by a fellow passenger. She could provide insufficient evidence, no actual charges were brought, but the airline evidently responded in a letter: “The flight attendants and passengers also stated that you and your daughter were allowed to move to other seats several times, that Chelsea repeatedly moved in and out of her seat, crawling over the other customer who was attempting to sleep, and that your daughter wore extremely short shorts.”

I can see two equally likely scenarios that could have played out, and likely the truth, which we won’t ever know, is a mixture of the two. I can see a bubbly, well-endowed teenager in revealing clothing unable to sit still on the long flight, moving in and out, bumping against a passenger whose proximity is uncomfortable for her (who finds the proximity of fellow passengers on planes comfortable?) attempting to get a better seat by complaining to the airline. I can also envision a man capturing the opportunity afforded to him by the movements of his young, attractive seat mate, knowing it is difficult if not impossible for women to ever prove sexual harassment occurred. But really, the truth doesn’t matter to me, because I am not sitting in judgment of either individual (for which I am thankful) — what I care about as a parent is what I need to teach my children. You are responsible for YOU. 

If you are sitting next to someone young, vulnerable, attractive, and no one is watching what you are doing: show deference, avoid looking at anything that would normally be covered up, and keep your hands to yourself. If you are young and attractive (or old and attractive, or female) dress and behave in a way that discourages or redirects sexual advances — not in short shorts. (Hmmm, I think that is the sound of the comment box filling with criticism and dissent.)

Hear me out: what I teach you, o daughters of mine, is not what I wish you had to know, but what I know you need to know. Is it fair that black mothers have to teach their black sons how to behave so that police don’t shoot them? No. But they do, because their sons need to know it. In the same way, women today need to know how to deflect negative sexual attention, and we all know that short shorts is not the way to do that. Can we please just acknowledge that modesty is a form of protection and prevention, without being accused of suggesting that an immodest woman is “asking for it”?

If you are reading this blog, you probably have teen-aged children. Whether they are boys or girls, please share a word with them about how to dress in the heat without risking their personal dignity, as well as how to interact with others in a world that does not live up to their high standards of what “should” or “shouldn’t” be okay in the clothing department.

The Antithesis of Fifty Shades of Grey

There is a movie coming out Valentine’s weekend that I am actually excited to see. It is NOT Fifty Shades of Grey.

Old Fashioned looks like the kind of love story that is worth seeing and sharing, unlike the other Valentine’s weekend release.

One is unashamedly lustful and dark, the other unabashedly not. Call me old fashioned, but I find it much more fulfilling to spend my time and money on reminders of the good in life.

Too Fat to Fit In?

I recently learned of a brand of clothing that achieves exclusivity not through price, but through size. Brandy Melville offers almost all of its clothing in either size “small” or “one-size-fits-most” (as long as “most people” are small). The brand is one of the hottest lines of clothing for teens, according to research firm Piper Jaffray.

It is not new for teens to try to build their identity and gain acceptance and a sense of belonging through their clothing choices. It is simply the brands and the looks that change. But while previous generations of teens were barred from the most exclusive looks by price (or were forced to spend far more than they could afford on designer labels or celebrity endorsed merchandise), Brandy Melville is relatively inexpensive. Instead, the brand has set the price of entry into its club at being very, very skinny. Now, instead of a teen blowing all her savings on a purse she really can’t afford, she is pressured to go to unhealthy measures in order to fit the same size pants as everyone else.

The immature part of my brain remembers being poor and skinny as a teen and thinks “Where was this when I was 16?!” But the mature part, the wiser woman in me, has learned that in life, the target for superficial popularity is always moving. Basing one’s identity on a look or a brand will never really satisfy the human need for security and belonging. But how do parents teach that to their children?

It was one thing for parents to refuse to purchase expensive clothing when the family couldn’t afford it. At least teens could blame their parents for being too poor or frugal. My fear is that teen girls will blame themselves for not fitting into Brandy Melville — and that their disappointment or anger will turn towards their bodies (even more so than it already does for young adults). Parents, especially those of girls who are too normal-sized to fit into the skinny brand, must help their children understand the dark side of marketing and branding. Companies like Brandy Melville prey on insecurities — they need us as consumers to feel inadequate without their product. But clothing is not our identity, and it can never create acceptance. Clothing is at its most basic level a tool to keep us protected from the environment. Yes, it can be used for self-expression, but if you are dissatisfied without the clothing, you will be dissatisfied with it.

Are your teens victims of marketing who strive to purchase only the “cool” brands? Consider:

  • Banning Brandy Melville on principle, even for your children who could fit into the clothing. Refuse to buy into the unhealthy standard that all girls should be shaped a particular way.
  • Check your own attitude about clothing and identity. Do you model an attitude that clothing does not define an individual?
  • Challenge your teen to develop his or her own style. For example, challenge them to only buy clothing from resale shops for the next 6 months.
  • Purge magazines from your home. Magazines are often glorified catalogues that feed the desire for particular looks and brands.
  • Encourage your teen to develop a more global awareness of what life is like for others who cannot afford to be obsessed with their looks. The popular Hunger Games movies and books are easy conversation starters: ask questions about the parallels between the image-obsessed residents of the Capitol and our culture’s obsession with brands like Brandy Melville.

Have more ideas? Share them in the comments section!

PG Rated Nudity?

I was one of those strict parents that blocked MTV on our home’s cable  rather than have my girls inundated with what I considered too much raunchy and course behavior.   Those weren’t our family values.  I also used to think if I just didn’t have R movies on that was a good rule of thumb, but quickly realized I had to read the reviews even  for PG-13 movies.  At least we can trust a PG rating, right?  Now, the Parents Television Council reveals that TV shows with pixilated and blurred nudity (which doesn’t leave much to the imagination) are increasingly being rated as acceptable for children, with 70% of these shows being TV-PG rated.  Says PTC President Tim Winter, “Our findings are also alarming because if this kind of nudity continues to increase – as we believe it will – and the FCC’s proposal to essentially stop enforcing the broadcast indecency law goes into effect, then it’s certain that the networks will continue to push the limits of decency even further.”  

Why do we let them dress that way?

As someone well past my prime, I do vicariously enjoy the fresh beauty of my daughters.  Aaaah…to be young, and a size 2!  But I also taught them how to dress modestly.  As one of the students in a class I taught bluntly put it, “If it isn’t for sale, you shouldn’t be advertising it.”   If you have boys, you may be concerned about their ability to concentrate in their classes with all that flesh making an appearance now that spring is here.   (To be fair, we went on to discuss the responsibility boys bear for what they do with their eyes and thoughts).

Have you had these battles in your house…wondering where to draw the line when so many of your child’s peers are allowed to dress so immodestly these days?  And interesting article in the Wall Street Journal has a few theories which may explain why, even if you have high standards in your home, your kids are swimming against the tide if they are dressed to show less.

Dress for success!

Hey parents! Have you ever found yourself saying (or thinking) “You are NOT wearing that out of this house!”? We found this article ( with some helpful advice about fighting battles over fashion.

As a relatively recent teenager, let me encourage you in your role as a parent: you CAN have a say in what your teen wears! Teenagers are still learning right from wrong, good idea from bad idea, but they shouldn’t have to learn it all the hard way. Yes, clothing may seem insignificant compared to issues of drugs, alcohol, violence, depression, or sex – but your guidance is just as valuable in the small things as it is in the big things. If your teenager’s clothing is screaming a message that they will one day regret, find a way to tell them that, even if it means setting up rules or guidelines. Your teenager may start looking like an adult, but they probably aren’t thinking like one yet, so don’t give up your role as “parent” too soon!

Generation Diva

“Much has been made of the oversexualization of today’s tweens. But what hasn’t been discussed is what we might call their “diva-ization”—before they even hit the tween years. Consider this: according to a NEWSWEEK examination of the most common beauty trends, by the time your 10-year-old is 50, she’ll have spent nearly $300,000 on just her hair and face. It’s not that women haven’t always been slaves to their appearance; as Yeats wrote, “To be born woman is to know … that we must labour to be beautiful.” But today’s girls are getting caught up in the beauty maintenance game at ages when they should be learning how to read—and long before their beauty needs enhancing. Twenty years ago, a second grader might have played clumsily with her mother’s lipstick, but she probably didn’t insist on carrying her own lip gloss to school.”

The above excerpt is from a Newsweek article I found earlier this week: Generation Diva: How Our Obsession with Beauty is Changing Our Kids.

The way our culture values beauty and sex appeal, and then encourages that mindset on elementary school age girls, is certainly something to think about. If, at age 7, a girl is worried about body hair, skin, makeup, or her next spa treatment, how is that fascination with her appearance going to play into her thoughts, decisions, and reactions about sex and sexual attraction at a later age?

Click here for the full text.

Mixed Messages

We were recently in a DuPage County high school, conducting a behavioral survey with seniors. Of the students we surveyed, 53% were currently sexually active. When asked if they knew how their parents felt about their choices, 55% said they did not know, or were confused, about their parents’ expectations.

Just after learning those statistics, I came across an excellent article. While it does not talk directly about sex, (and although I did not agree with everything the author said) it does have some important points to make in regards to the mixed messages we as parents sometimes send to our teenage girls.

It’s titled, “Under Pressure: Are Teen Girls Facing Too Much?” You can read it here.

 The author states that 25% of our teenage girls are suffering from some sort of serious psychological or physical clinical issues: suicide attempts, depression, violence, self mutilation, etc. His explanation for the staggering statistic – which he believes is on the rise – is that our young girls today are being presented with mixed messages, or what he calls a “Triple Bind (p.2)” Teenage girls today are hearing three conflicting expectations, and are struggling to meet all of them: 1. Excel at being a girl. 2. Excel at some guy stuff too. 3. Fit into culture’s current definition of success in regards to education, life goals, and beauty. 

Be a girl, but don’t be just a girl. Their task is impossible. They know this, and although they desire to please society – their parents and teachers – they live under the threat of failure every day. It’s that tension that is leading them into dangerous behaviors.

In my opinion this argument is supported by the statistics above. Think about the messages we send our teenagers regarding abstinence. When I read parent comments after a school or parent program, over 50% of the time I read something like this: “I would love for my teen to choose abstinence, but I live in the real world. So I want her to be smart and use protection.” (Actual parent comment.)

Parents, do you see the connection? “Wait. But use protection.” We think we’re being helpful giving two expectations, but we’re not. We’re confusing our kids. It’s akin to saying, “Okay, honey. You have your driver’s license. I expect you not to drink in high school, but you will. So here, have a beer, and let’s go get behind the wheel and teach you how to drive well while under the influence.”

That may seem a ridiculous example to some, but look again at those percentages. Teenagers in our own county are unsure where their parents stand on the issue of premarital sex and abstinence. Girls who are already feeling myriad pressures to behave correctly  must add this cloudy expectation to the pot. “Wait. But use a condom.”

Organizations like CASA and The Heritage Foundation have done studies that show that negative behaviors come in clumps – students that use alcohol, smoke, or hang with teens who do are more likely to become sexually active. (And vice versa.) And those sexually active teens are also more likely to report depression, suicidal attempts, or other dangerous behaviors.

Parents, we need to choose one set of expectations. And then we need to encourage our daughters to believe they can reach them. Perhaps then that 25% will start to decrease.

Positive vs. Negative Attention

I had the pleasure of observing one of our parent educators teach a workshop yesterday. During the hour or so that I was there, a very interesting question came up. Our educator was discussing healthy dating strategies with the parents, and one parent raised her hand and inquired, “What do you do when your teenage daughter believes negative attention is better than no attention at all?” (In other words, what do you do if you see your daughter dating guys that treat her poorly, simply because she feels that any boyfriend is better than none?)

 Great question – and our educator handled it beautifully. His answer was twofold. First, surround your teenager with positive attention. Second, help her identify the consequences of negative attention.

Positive Attention: Parents, first you may want to ask yourselves why your teenage daughter is seeking out attention in the first place. Can you see where she feels as though positive attention is lacking in her life? Make an effort to fill that void. Learn her love language (see Gary Chapman’s book here) and use it to encourage her. Make an effort to spend time with her. (If you feel very busy, start with small chunks of time – a car ride here, a cup of coffee there.) Choose one of her hobbies or pastimes in which to take special interest. Cheer her on. Take stock of the media in your house and the body and relationship messages that are being communicated to your daughter. Does something need to be eliminated?

Identify Consequences of Negative Attention: Your daughter may not be able to see the consequences of negative attention in her own life, but she may be able to identify it in her peers or in the media around her. As you spend time together, ask open ended questions (not directed at herlife) that will help her see the truth. Questions like, “Why does SoAndSo spend time with her if they aren’t friends?” or, “Why do you think That TV Character keeps dating him?” Listen to her answers first, and withhold that parental advice until she seems open to hearing it. Perhaps you will be able to transition into more personal topics and give personal advice after you’ve gained her trust as a good listener.

Parents of tweens and younger – it’s never to early to start surrounding your kids with positive attention! The sooner they recognize and appreciate that, the sooner they will shy away from the negative!

Too Young?

One question we come up against during our parent presentations is, “How young is too young to start talking with your kid about sex and sexuality?” The answer? As long as they’re asking, they’re never too young. The trick, of course, is to be age appropriate.

 Why do I bring this up? Well, I found this article today (another shocker), and despite the fact that it was full of the kind of info we usually post on our blog, it caught my attention because of a book it references: Too Sexy, Too Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids.

I read an excerpt today and came across two interesting anecdotes. The first, of a mother reassuring her 7 year old daughter who was feeling insecure about her body image, and the second of a teacher, probing a kindergarten boy as to why he had drawn a rather sensual picture of a woman.

I’m not sure what conclusions the author will come to, but I think I want to read it. Take a look at it yourself on Amazon. Let us know what you think.