Recent news headlines are filled with stories of men violating the boundaries of others, particularly women, who are sexually harassed or assaulted in staggering numbers.
Gymnast McKayla Maroney is the latest woman to come forward and share her story of alleged sexual assault during her Olympic career, and her message will be amplified among her many young fans.
"That emphasizes that this can happen to anyone and that someone that even has all the confidence and all the talent of an Olympic medalist might be afraid to speak out at the time," said Marti Erickson, a developmental psychologist and co-host of the "Mom Enough" podcast.
Erickson says Maroney's story is also an opportunity for parents to be proactive and start the conversation.
"We really have to talk to boys and girls, both in terms of their own behavior but also as bystanders," Erickson said. "And it's just very important that we start those conversations long before kids are at the point of engaging in sexual behavior."
She says parents should lay the groundwork very early on.
"Focus on boundaries, I think you start when they're two years old or even before and teach children to speak out, both boys and girls, when they don't like something that has been done to them," Erickson said. "Just say, 'She doesn't like that so you need to stop.' That's the only thing you need to go into because that's a very important rule in and of itself."
Erickson says many kids are also likely beginning to see the news reports about Harvey Weinstein and the personal stories it has spurred through the #MeToo social media hashtag. If you are wondering when it's appropriate to start with those more specific conversations about sexual harassment and abuse, she says start with a question.
"Just ask what they know, 'What have you been hearing or seeing about this story that is all over the news?'" Erickson said. "And then, 'What do you think about this? What would you feel like if your sister or your mom, or someone close to you, was in that situation?'"
Though these topics may make parents feel uncomfortable, Erickson says the research on what helps children grow up to make healthy sexual decisions and have good boundaries always tends to go back to what they learned from their parents.
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