Teens face harassment in workplace

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Posted: Sunday, February 3, 2013 12:00 am

Like a driver’s license, a job is a milestone in the path to adulthood for teenagers.

But a recent study finds the introduction to the work world may be distressing because some teens are victims of sexual harassment from co-workers or bosses.

In 2010, Illinois State University associate professor Kimberly Schneider and professor Patricia Jarvis studied 116 Illinois high school students — 77 females and 39 males — with jobs. Fifty-four percent of the females and 37 percent of the males said they experienced harassment, with the types of harassment tending to differ by gender.

“Sexist comments and sexist jokes were at the less severe end of the [harassment] spectrum for females,” Schneider said. Unwanted touching or unwanted attention were more distressing, with coercion — when a boss forced underlings into a situation with intimidation — the most upsetting form of harassment.

“For males, harassment tended to consist of being teased for not fitting into a stereotypical role, and lewd comments,” Schneider said.

Perhaps because harassment of females tends to be more aggressive, girls exhibited more ill effects. Notably, harassment kept many of the girls from seeking out new opportunities on the job. “Their coping strategy was avoidance, and they would not want to take on new projects if it meant interacting (with the harasser).”

Moreover, teens in low wage fast-food and retail positions were harassed more frequently than those who landed the scarcer jobs in a professional environment, like an office.

Ideally, entry into the work world wouldn’t be marred by harassment, but if it is, “active problem solving” would probably be a valuable lesson, the researchers said. “We didn’t probe into whether (teens) made a report (to their company),” Jarvis said, “but that would be an important next step in this research.”

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