Guarding Against Language Cons

Language is a powerful persuader. Your child has learned to use language to communicate-to express feelings or make requests or share information. Unfortunately, language can also be used to manipulate and control.

As an adult, you probably have learned to recognize attempts to manipulate you and have developed ways to counteract those attempts. However, many teens do not yet have those skills, and they need our guidance to help them see when someone is using language to exploit them.

Especially dangerous for adolescents are people who want to manipulate them into emotional or physical relationships. When someone is tricked into a sexual encounter, he or she has been the victim of a "sexual con game."

Sexual con games, harassment, and even abuse, are widespread. A national survey by researchers at Wellesley College's Center for Research on Women reveals troubling statistics. Female students in grades 2 through 12 were interviewed. The results demand our attention.

  • 39 percent were harassed at school every day during the previous year
  • 89 percent were subjected to sexual comments or gestures
  • 83 percent had been touched or grabbed
  • When administrators or teachers were informed of the harassment, the school took action in only 55 percent of the cases.

What Can You Do?

For the obvious cases of harassment, your teen should report the incident immediately. If this report is not taken seriously - and unfortunately the statistics indicate that this is not uncommon - you may have to involve law enforcement. Getting the message across to school administrators that you are willing to go that far to solve the problem will often bring positive results. Many schools now have policies in place to deal with harassment; they simply need to follow through. And you as parents need to make sure they do.

But what if the problem is subtle? What if your teen is feeling uncomfortable by someone's attentions but doesn't know quite how to deal with the situation? Being prepared is the key.

Sexual con artists are really good at sweet talk, and they can be very persuasive. You and your child can come up with and practice some responses to have ready ahead of time.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • If you really care for me, you'll understand and respect my feelings.
  • I'm not ready. Don't try to push me.
  • You don't really want me; you want sex.
  • Love is not sex; love is a commitment to make each other better.
  • You don't own my body, and I'm certainly not renting it out.
  • Love is a two-way street. You only want it one way: your way.
  • I respect myself. Why can't you?
  • I have too much to lose.
  • What part of "no" don't you understand?
  • I care enough about you to do what's best for both of us.
  • It's not right. I hope you understand.
  • I've decided to wait. I'm sure you'll respect my decision.

These put the pressure back on the other person. Your teen will be able to tell from the other person's response whose best interests he or she has in mind.

If you would like more information on helping your teen recognize and deal with relationship cons, Unmasking Sexual Con Games, Leader's Guide is available through the Boys Town Press.