Thursday, September 27, 2018

Dear Senate Judiciary Committee, Here's Why Teens Don't Tell

Dear Senate Judiciary Committee
You want to know why teens don't tell their parents or law enforcement when they experience sexual assault and harassment as President Trump seems to think they should based on his recent tweet: "I have no doubt that, if the attack on Dr. Ford was as bad as she says, charges would have been immediately filed with local Law Enforcement Authorities by either her or her loving parents.

Here are 4 reasons why!!

1. Exclusion

When you are a teen, your whole world is your friends. They are your identity, and your key to emotional survival during these very turbulent, emotional and unsettling years. You will do anything to protect them and be protected by them. The risk of outing another student no matter how heinous the student has treated you, is tantamount to emotional suicide in adolescents. Sometimes, unfortunately, it ends up being the culprit in actual teen suicide. How many stories have you read about, where a teen has been bullied or sexually harassed to the point of suicide. Hell, there is a whole TV show on Netflix, 13 Reasons Why that chronicles that journey.

Just imagine a teen like Dr. Ford or now Julie Swetnick going to their parents after coming home from another alcohol and drug fueled high school party, upset after either witnessing boys getting girls drunk and then taking sexual advantage or raping them or worse being one of their victims. Teens know their parents well, and know that if that tale was told, the police would absolutely be called, as well as the parents of the house the party took place at, the school, and the parents of the assaulter. Dr Ford or Julie would have become a pariah at school, with their friends, with the friends of the perpetrator, and become completely socially isolated. Saying after a night out partying to a querying question from parents; "how was your night?" it is much easier to give the shortest answer possible: "it was fine!!!" Keep the secret at all costs!!! That is the teen motto!!! How wonderful it would be if parents had this conversation instead: "Hey honey, I know that the parties you go to can sometimes get out of control. Kids drink, and literally lose their minds. Your safety, both sexual and physical can be compromised. If you call me from a party like this, I will come and get you no questions ask. And I promise that I will not call and report anyone unless it is something that you and I decide we need to do, and come up with plan that makes you feel safe." Maybe then, our kids will come to us. Where is your understanding of that?

Humiliation and Shame

Dear senators, do you remember nothing of your teen years. Embarrassment, humiliation and shame are part of the daily life of a teen. It can come from something as small as a very noticeable big zit on the forehead, wearing the wrong brand of sneakers or doing something at a party that you know you shouldn't have done. The shame you feel is almost more than you can bear. Sharing that vulnerability is a no no. Better to say, "its fine, I'm fine." 

In adolescence, there is a heightened sense of self-consciousness. It is all part of brain development. With little life experience to temper the shame with the knowledge that this too shall pass, the humiliation and shame teens can feel is monumental. And mostly it stays deep inside them until they can grow a thicker skin. Maybe as adults you can throw off those feelings when your constituents say mean things, but teens can not!!! Where is your understanding of that?

Parental Disappointment

Did your parents have high expectations for you? Do/did you have high expectations of your children? Most kids know that their parents want the best for them and want them to be their best; morally, academically, and socially. Kids hate to disappoint their parents, and telling them an incident like Dr, Ford or Julie Swetmick experienced would surely have disappointed them. Along with making sure that proper authorities had been called, most parents understandably would have also responded with things like:" How could this have happened, you know you're not allowed to go to parties where parents aren't home and there is alcohol." If you hadn't been drunk, this would never have happened to you!" What kind of friends do you have that would do something like this?" "You brought this on yourself! I told you not to dress like that, or drink, what were you thinking???"

Honestly, would you go to your parents knowing how disappointed they would have been in you and your behavior. Parents are a teens most important anchor, losing or changing that relationship would be absolutely devastating.

When I coach parents whose teens have been lying, I always ask them, what do you do to make truth-telling possible?

Protecting The Parent At All Costs

My mom went to her grave not knowing many things about me. Things I did when I was a teen, that I know would have worried her and made her feel bad. She had enough on her plate, having lost her beloved husband, my dad, at age 50, working full time, and being a single parent to 4 kids. I wanted to protect her. Our kids do that for us, and most times parents have no idea. My daughter did that for me, and it wasn't until she became a young adult that she felt able to share with me ways she had protected me from feelings she had had as a child and a teen, that had to do with how I had parented. It was painful for us both to talk about, but freeing as well. Have you asked your children how you might have done a better job at meeting their needs? We parents are human, we do the best we can, and yes, sometimes we miss things about our children. Can we ask our kids when they are still kids how we might do better?

Teenagers are complicated, emotional, and vulnerable human beings. They are in the process of forming an identity and that is challenging. Please don't demean these women. These experiences they are sharing now as adults affected the very person they have become, but they didn't know that as teens. Teens live in the moment. They feel in the moment, they react in the moment. They don't think long term, future consequences. They probably just wanted all those horrible experiences to go away. So by keeping silent they hoped they would disappear. Until such time, like now when they come back to haunt them. But now as adults, their psyche and their life experience gives them the courage to speak up! Can you understand that?

My dear loyal blog readers. I am fearful for our teens and the messages our politicians are giving them. If today's blog has meaning for you and is helpful, I am asking that you share this with your friends on Facebook and twitter. We are at a crossroads here, and I'm worried that you and your teens are in the middle. I want to empower as many parents as I can with this information so that they can keep their kids safe. Will you help me?

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