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Week of 2.20.09

How to Prepare and Protect Your Child
By E.J.Graff

E.J. Graff is Associate Director and Senior Researcher of the Gender & Justice Project at Brandeis University's Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism.

A first job makes a teen feel very grown-up. But she still needs a parent's guidance. If you're a parent, teacher, or caregiver for teenagers, here's what to say and do:

Before she starts...

  • Tell her to check the atmosphere of the place whenever she applies for a job; she should note how employees are treated.

  • Explain the difference between flirting (enjoyed by both parties) and harassment (unwelcome sexual comments or physical contact).

  • Emphasize that she should tell you if someone makes her uncomfortable, so you can talk about the best way to respond.

  • Make sure she knows she can refuse an order that is not related to her job duties. For example, her supervisor can't compel her to travel with him unless it's explicitly part of the job.

Once she's working...

  • Ask her if you can drop by; let her supervisors see you.

  • Listen closely when your teen complains. Suppose she says something like, "Oh, work is a drag." If you simply answer, "Well, yeah, work's always a drag," your teen may shut down, explains psychologist Christine Nicholson, Ph.D. Instead, keep talking. Find out why work's a drag.

  • If your son or daughter complains about a particular person or "creep," ask what's creepy about the man. What about him causes discomfort?

  • Be suspicious if a manager seems to favor your child, asking her to come in early or stay late "because she's the best worker." Another danger sign: He pays attention to her in a way that has nothing to do with the job, such as teaching her to drive.

If your child is harassed on the job...

  • Immediately talk with her manager. If that person doesn't take the situation seriously, call the next higher-up. Keep going up the chain. Write down all names, phone numbers, dates, and times of your calls. Refer to these if you need to call back. Or send letters (by certified mail).

  • Stay on the case, even if your teen is uneasy. "You need to make clear to her that it's not about her behavior, it's about the guy's," explains Bonnie Sanchez, a clinical counselor who runs the Albuquerque Sex Offender Treatment Program in New Mexico.

  • Let her quit if she's uncomfortable; insist that she leave if she's really upset or you feel the situation is risky.

  • If your daughter does stay on the job, make sure she understands that this is not the time to be "nice." Don't let her think that she's overreacting, even if the harasser tries to say it was "all in fun." Remind her that she's probably not the only victim. "If he's doing it to you, he's doing it to someone else," said one plaintiff in a case involving Burger King.

  • Have her document the harasser's behavior. She should keep a notebook and write down everything that is said or done, when and where it took place, and if others were present.

  • Tell her to take a picture if she can (perhaps with a cell phone) of any physical "evidence"—say, a welt where a towel was snapped against her.

  • Suggest she talk to other employees and find out what their experiences have been. You may also want to talk to their parents.

  • If you do decide to sue, find an attorney who has expertise in sexual harassment or employment-discrimination law. Don't delay—in every state, there are deadlines for filing, some as short as 180 days from the date of the last incident.

Suggested Reading

Marty Langelan, Back Off! How to Confront and Stop Sexual Harassment and Harassers

Is Your Daughter Safe at Work?

Reporter's Notebook: Teen Sexual Harassment

Expert: Teens in the Workplace

How to Prepare and Protect Your Child

Are Internet Predator Worries Overblown?

Statements from Jamba Juice and McDonald's

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