Thursday, May 18, 2017

Bullying and Sexual Assault-The new epidemic of the Teen Age Years

A new federal study by The National Center For Education Statistics and  The Justice Department, states that "one of every five middle school and high school students has complained of being bullied at school, and the number of reports of sexual assault on college campuses has more than tripled over the past decade." Other recent studies have found that a similar statistic of sexual assault and harassment is also true for high school and middle schoolers.

Having the "birds and bees" conversation that your parents had with you about sex seems so sweet and naive as compared with having to now prepare your teen for sexting, hooking up, sexual harassment and sexual assault. Oh how I yearn for the old days!! Bullying...harassment....assault, how do you ever prepare your teen for it all? You do it one step at a time, one story at a time.

Teens live in an emotional brain. Therefore you need to meet them where their brain is most activated. As an adult you live mostly in your thinking brain. This means that your go-to method of "teaching"your teen" goes automatically to the logical and rational. Cue teen eye-rolling. This is why the use of real stories from teens like them, has a better chance of getting them to listen and hopefully open up. This is why the Netflix show "13 Reasons Why" has been such a hit. It hits them where they live and where they feel, in their emotional brain!

Bullying is all about power. It is only fun to bully someone so long as the victim stays in that one down position.  In the moment, and in the middle of a bully's taunt that puts a kid in that one down position, most kids are unprepared and their reaction is often fuel for the bully, like showing fear, embarrassment, or attempts to avoid the bully. Like all new experiences in life, most kids are not prepared for the possibility that someone might deliberately want to humiliate them. As adults we hope that that type of situation won't happen to our kids, or that our kids won't be the perpetrators of bullying, and so most often we don't get around to dealing with it until after it happens.

Giving our kids strategies for those moments in life when they are unprepared is paramount. Humor and sarcasm are very effective tools to help counter some of the the bully's attempts at humiliation. If you have a teen who is overweight and has been teased about it, helping them to come up with some quick retorts like, "big is beautiful, thanks for the compliment", or a sarcastic retort after a fat comment: "Ya think" or "ooh you're so observant" or, " I'm looking for a trainer, want to help me get in shape?"said with strength and power.

Actress Gabby Sidibe is a master at putting bullies in their place as seen in this tweet she posted to people who commented on her weight after photos that were posted after a past Sunday's Golden Globe show. Make sure you show this to your kids. She is the best teacher there is! Also below is an award winning essay from a teen who experienced bullying at her high school. When you share stories like this with you teen, without judgment or criticism they then feel freer to open up. Comments like "I can't believe kids can be this cruel" won't work. Comments like" it is so hard to be a teen" work better.

Teenage Girls; the Cruel Super Humans from Outer Space
By Lena Rawley, 17, from Montclair, N.J.

Teenage girls are cruel super-humans from a distant galaxy sent here to destroy us all. They have the self entitlement of a celebrity heiress and the aggression of a Roman Gladiator. Like vampires they feed off the blood of the weak. They’re pubescent monsters. Adolescent boogeymen.
While my observations may be coming from a point of bias, that doesn’t mean they are faulty in accuracy. As a teenage girl myself, I think I know teenage girls quite well. Not only was I a former teenage mean girl, but I was tortured, tormented, isolated and socially maimed by them as well. 
When they acquire a target, teenage girls, with the determination of a private assassin, will stop at nothing to take down their target. They’re relentless. They’re cruel. Their methods are insane. They are never to be underestimated. In middle school, I made the mistake of underestimating the power of these skinny jean clad monsters. I thought I was safe, I thought myself impervious to their cruelty. I watched them do on to others as they would later do on to me, and felt no fear.
I was a fool however, for teenage girls pick their targets by familiarity. They are less likely to torment someone small and insignificant and more likely to viciously turn on their friends. Preferably the weakest link in their group, prey who is easy for them to catch and take down.
I was the weakest link. I was the wounded gazelle. And thus, I became their target.
It was eerie because, when my eventual demise began, I had no idea what was going on. Yes it was slightly fishy that they had stopped calling me, stopped saying hi to me in the hallway, but I assumed it was just nothing.Again, I was wrong.Once the period of silence came to a close, all hell broke loose. Vicious rumors began spreading around and dirty looks and foul words were thrown my way in the hall. I was forced off the lunch table and into social leprosy.Exactly a week after phase two (social alienation) had began I received an email from the ringleader of the group. I opened it up to reveal a headline that bluntly stated, “Fifty Reason Why We Can’t Be Friends With You.” Underneath the headline, as promised, were neatly fifty reasons, ranging from my body to my personality to my clothes, that clearly stated the reason for my alienation.I felt sick. But I wasn’t going to let them get me. Those hyenas didn’t deserve my tears. I deleted the note, picked up the pieces and moved on. I found friends who were kind and accepting. Friends who wouldn’t devour their own. My experience, while evidently not ideal, is something I would not change. I don’t see it as a stain upon the fabric of my life, but more like an embellishment. A decorative brooch I wear with pride, a brooch that cries, I overcame bullying, so can you.

If bullying takes the shape of sexual harassment both in person and on sexts, this app can literally be a life saver. Download it onto your teen's phone. This gives him/her options for the kind of "comebacks" that go directly to the harasser, and can stop the harasser in his/her tracks!

Below is an essay from one of my college students, who gave me permission to use it. It is a story to share with your teens, boys or girls!

"I have been a victim of sexual assault. The summer going into my senior year of high school, I met my now ex-boyfriend. We met at a football game and he seemed to be the right balance for me. He was caring but also protective. As the months progressed with us, things seemed to get more serious and he went off to college. A couple of months into dating he wanted to take things further sexually, but I was not ready for that. I tried pushing him off, but it was to no avail. I could not find my voice; I was essentially voiceless. he knew I did not consent but yet he continued anyway. I felt lost and partially like it was my fault. Why did I deserve this? What did I do to deserve this? I left his room to sit on the stairs feeling hopeless. Time passed and he came out to see what was wrong. After a couple of moments of me ignoring him, he got aggressive pulling me up and back to his room. Once we got there, he threw me onto the bed, very annoyed with my behavior. From that moment I knew something was off. Things went badly from there. He tried forcing sexual behavior again, but this time without a condom, something I would not let him do. This made him VERY angry, essentially ignoring me. As the time passed, I knew I was in a very abusive relationship and I needed to get out. I ended it. From then I have seen therapists and have been working on myself, knowing that no one deserves that type of pain."

Imagine if this was your daughter, and she came to you for help. I'm guessing that all the protective energy that we as parents would feel at this boy would turn into action. 'I'm calling the police, I'm calling his parents!" Your teen knows this would be your loving reaction, and so that is why many teens do not share these kinds of incidents with their parents, either about sexual assault or harassment, or bullying. What they need is empathy, support and working together to come up with a plan that feels right to them. This is an important story to read with your teens. As a daughter you want to let you girls know that if they can come to you before things move into a crisis, you promise to just be there for them and work through this scary time, and not move into parent action mode. This will feel enormously comforting to them. And if you have a son, you know how important it is to help them to understand how this young girl felt and how threatened and unsafe she felt. Though you may feel you have raised a great kid, you just never know what buttons get pushed in an intimate sexual situation, especially where there might be alcohol or drugs in the mix. Just saying "women need to be respected and no means no" is not enough. An "i get you might be with a girl sometime and you are aroused and thought you got the go ahead, and then she changes her mind, how can you deal with that."

Here is an app that all kids should have on their phone. It allows you to push one button, and the 6 people you have chosen to connect with in an emergency are contacted immediately. If this young woman had this she might have been able to connect with her friends and you to come and get her!

Parents often have their heads in the sand. These things would NEVER happen to my kids. They know better, they have wonderful friends, they know how to take care of themselves...and on and on. This may all be true in the abstract. But in the actually situation, when emotions are running high, and sexual feelings are aroused, and alcohol and drugs are present, all bets are off. It is your job to anticipate and to help your teens to be as prepared as they can be to stay safe.

Please share this with your friends via Facebook or twitter This is information every parent should have. For parent coaching, hosting an Ask The Expert Party, or inviting me to speak at your child's school, at your business or community organization, visit my website:, contact me at or call: 781-910-1770

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