Last night I watched a compelling show on NBC called "My Kid Would Never Do That." In four different segments, they showed the struggles teens face when presented with situations that challenge their ability to do or say the right thing. Teens were invited to a focus group where they would be tasting and rating energy drinks. Unbeknownst to them, some of the teens in the group were actors placed there to set up scenarios that made the non-actor teens be party to risky situations, and challenged to act..or not. In one segment a teen boy boasts that he is following one of the girls into the bathroom, and as she changes her clothes, will take a topless photo of her, When he returns he tells the non-actor teens his is posting it on Instagram. Will the teens try to stop him?? In the second scenario, The male actor comes on to one of the teen actresses who appears to have been drinking, and boasts he is "gonna do her in the bathroom" Will the teens follow her to make sure she is safe? In the third scene, the male actor pours some unknown powder (a roofie) in the drink of the female actor. Will the teens call him on it and will they take steps to protect the girl.
To add to the suspense, the parents of these teens are hiding away in a van across the street with Natalie Morales of NBC watching on hidden cameras and predicting whether their teens would do the right thing, and then observing and reacting to the outcome.
Most of the parents predicted that their teens would definitely stand up and do the right thing!!! I would say they were right 50% of the time. Watching the tormented looks on these teens faces was hell. You could see their brains working on overtime, knowing that what was happening right in front of them was serious, knowing they should intervene, but often feeling powerless and way to self-conscious to do anything about it. Just like in the real world. I'm gonna say, and don't hate me for it, but the girls were way more forthright than the boys. In all three situations, in mixed company, it was a girl who spoke up and stood her ground. Not all the girls, and sadly not one boy. I think the male actor did a good job of being intimidating, and I could see these boys, some of them having been described by their parents as shy, or more of a follower just could not intervene, even though you could see they absolutely wanted to. What most of the kids said, and I think is the most important learning for parents, is that "I just didn't know what to say!" The intent was there, but the language wasn't. And this is the absolute key. Just lecturing your teen about situations that are unsafe, or unseemly is not helpful. Asking them; "so what could you say if you saw a friend of yours coming onto a girl who was drunk and kind of out of it?" Play out these possible scenarios with them, brainstorm the literal language they could use. Let them know that there is safety in numbers. It is much much easier to challenge an intimidating teen with a few friends, than trying to do it on your own.
As I have said many times before, teens are suffering from a lingering developmental disease of embarrassment. It is time-limited, and as they grow into themselves and their identity, they will get much much better at matching what they are thinking with what they are doing. They need your help! They need the language, not the lecture!!!!!