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?

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

He Says, She Says: The Language Of Sexual Consent

With all that is going on with Judge kavanaugh and his ascent to the Supreme Court, colored by multiple accusations of sexual assault, I think it's an important time to talk to your teens about sexual consent. Who knows what they are taking away from the coverage of these accusations, and as uncomfortable as this might be for you to talk about it, talk about it you must!!!

When I was an older teen and young adult, I engaged in consensual sex with men. OK don't be shocked I haven't always been 66!!! I didn't always like it, I didn't always want to, and it didn't always feel good. But I remember feeling a lot of the time that I just didn't know how to get myself out of a situation I had gotten myself into.  I didn't seem very good at communicating what I wanted and the men didn't seem very good at picking up my sometimes less than direct cues. Truth be told, I may at times have felt that it was just easier to get it over with and be on my way. At other times, I really liked the guy and in my distorted thinking felt that if I went along with it, maybe he would become my boyfriend. Never ever do I remember the guy hesitating at all... all he wanted was the sex! He was totally and completely clear about that!

Times haven't really changed that much when it comes to women and men and sex. Lord knows the news has been chock full of stories, with all the lurid details, of sexual encounters women felt a loss of control to stop. I don't want to rehash those stories here. It is not the stories that are important, it is how best we can teach our teen girls to be direct and to take care of themselves, and to teach our teen boys to understand and respect the sometimes not so direct messages the girls they are sexually engaging with are giving them. Teen boys are horny!!!! They do not have a lot of motivation to make sure that they girl they are with is 100% on board. Never mind when there is alcohol or drugs involved.

Here are some common phrases that woman say to men to convey a desire to stop the sex train from leaving the station. Below them, are the phrases men use to convince the woman the train is going to leave the station!

Imagine if you will, a guy and gal in the throes of foreplay. They both seem into it. The gal may just be enjoying the cuddling, the kissing and the gentle body caresses. The guy is like…ok that was fun; lets get on with the main event. 

The gal happy with just the previews may say things like this:

"Oh, it's late.... I have to get home" Subtext: "I don't want to go any further, this is getting out of control. 
" Oh I have my period." Subtext I don't want to have sex!!!
" This is going to fast for me" Subtext: This feels scary and I want to stop
"I'm not ready to do this." Subtext: I don't want to hook up with you!"
" Stop!!! I don't want too do this anymore. Subtext: Stop, NO! Get Off Me!!!

The guy, sensing a retreat and not wanting to give up this chance for sex replies in kind to the above:
" Oh don't worry, I promise I'll get you home on time!"
"Oh I don't mind, I love doing it when girls have their periods!!
"Oh, but I like you so much, we're just getting close, or "OK, let's just chill for a while (but then starts right up again)
" Don't be a tease!!! You started it...You've been all over me for like an can't tell me you don't want to have sex!!

I'm sure that this list could be much longer and if you have anything to add please put it in the comment section!

Here is the thing. We can't just leave the sex thing to take care of itself. The teen years set a foundation for how these young sexually active people will feel about sexual intimacy as they move into young adulthood.  Will sex become something that is mutually enjoyable or is it just a one sided exercise in taking care of your self? We need to teach our teens how to read the language of sexual consent, so that when they are adults they will be fully versed! 

I know this is hard to read. It is not easy thinking of your teen as a sexual being, but they are. They are engaging in "sexual firsts" that will set the stage for all the sexual seconds, thirds, and more as they move into adulthood. We teach them about empathy and kindness and reciprocity but rarely in the context of sexual intimacy!! Use the news stories for jumping off discussions. Don't linger on the specifics, go right to "I get you might be in a sexual situation like this, and I want to make sure you understand how to either take care of yourself so that you never feel pressured to do more than you're comfortable with (if you're a the parent of a girl), or for the parent of a boy, "I want to make sure that you understand that not all girls have the confidence yet to be direct, and clearly say no. I want you to understand how girls think, and how what they say gives you very clear cues about how far they are willing to go." You are teaching your teens to be responsible and responsive sexual partners!!! Get on that sex train!!!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Setting Limits Is Definitely Not Fun!

Recently I was at one of my Ask the Expert Parties (think Tupperware for parenting) where I start by asking the small group of parents assembled what their biggest parenting challenge is in that moment. A dad sitting next to me, said that his biggest challenge with his 15 year old daughter was that one minute she was loving, sweet, conversant, but then the next second when he had to set a limit about something, or reprimand her for something she turns into "Atilla the hun"(my words not his) All ten parents nodded their heads in agreement, and as we went around the circle this issue emerged as the most prominent one. For some parents it makes setting limits so hard, because they know that the aftermath will be horrendous with yelling, screaming, slammed doors, and shouts of "you are the worst parent ever." And at that moment that is just how parents feel.

OK give yourselves a break here. To expect that after you have said NO to one of your teen's impulsive, emotional, can I's, that your teen will look with love in their eyes and say: thanks mom and dad, that was a really smart parenting call, thank you so much for keeping me safe is completely and utterly ridiculous. And I know you know that. But in that moment when you said your No means NO, you would just like once for your teen not to explode in your face. And unfortunately, most parents when put on the defensive for their parenting decision will fall back on the : Well if you don't like it, go live with another family defense.

Here is something you can do instead. Next time you say NO to something because it is unsafe or unreasonable, instead of getting defensive when your teen strikes back you can use an "I get it" statement. In a calm and supportive voice you can say: " Hey honey, I get that wasn't the answer you were looking for, and I know you're disappointed, and are really pissed at me. I know it's hard to watch your friends be able to do something that we don't think is safe, and it feels really unfair. But you know we love you, and though it feels smothering sometime our first priority is to keep you safe."

And then, that's it. Don't go on and on like a broken record, don't try to re-explain for the billionth time why you said no. Honestly they don't care, they stopped listening at NO. At least using the above strategy you don't make a hard situation harder, with the potential of all parties getting way out of control. You are not in any way apologizing for your decision, but your are understanding how this decision affects them. Understanding is so much better than being right or being angry.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Teens and Danger!

On Sept 8th a young man aged 21 was out with his friends enjoying a late summer evening boat ride on one of Boston's weekend booze cruises!! Oh to be young again, wind in your hair, cocktail in your hand, music in your ears....PERFECTION!! Except when it isn't.  This young man thought it would be awesome to climb up onto the back of the boat.  I'm sure he was feeding off friend frenzy to be bold and daring, boosted with the confidence that a few drinks in can give you. Paying no head to signed warnings not to climb on rails, this young man jumped up and and then with the bounce of a wave fell off. There is no happy ending to this story. This guy died.

Kids do stupid and dangerous things, and take life threatening risks all in the name of 'awesomeness." Their teenage brain still living impulsively in the emotional center of the brain, the amygdala, fends off the rationality of the thinking brain, the frontal cortex. Most times, despite themselves, kids come home safe and sound. And sometimes they don't. Please read this article with you kids. Plant the seed of alcohol and drug fueled risk taking that can turn deadly. Always always ask them what their plan for safety is every time they leave your house for an evening out with friends. Remind them over and over and over and over again that alcohol and drugs wreak havoc with a teenage brain build for speed. Encourage them to rotate a designated person who can see when they can't, that they are in danger! It could save someone's life!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

A Tale Of Two Brains

Are there some days you feel like you and your teen speak different languages? You say something simple and maybe even nice to your teen (at least you think it's nice) but the response you get is completely incomprehensible. Let me explain how that might happen.

The first disconnect is that adults live in a thinking brain, and teens live in a feeling brain. And I mean that literally. Brain research has shown that when teens and adults are shown the exact same photo of a human face expressing an emotion, their brains respond in very different ways. An adult brain uses the frontal cortex (the thinking brain) to interpret the emotion, and the the teen brain uses the amygdala (the emotional center of the brain) to interpret emotion. This is a set-up for constant miscommunication between teens and parents. Teens literally see things in the human face that adults don't see, and hear things in human voices that adults don't hear. It's kind of like dogs that hear the high pitch sounds that no human can hear. Dogs...teens..

I am sure you have had the experience of saying something to your teen in a neutral voice and with a neutral expression. It may be something very inconsequential. But the reaction you get from your teen is crazy! Maybe something like "are you mad at me? They have heard something in your voice or saw something in your face that no one else apparently can see or hear...just like the dog.

A compounding problem is that teens carry every teeny tiny emotional experience that has happened to them over the course of their day in that amygdala of theirs. Perhaps they said something embarrassing in class and their fellow students laughed at them. Park it! Maybe they tripped in the hallway at school and felt like everyone saw it. Park it! Maybe they saw their crush talk to another boy/girl and feel dejected. A thousand things may have happened that day, or in the morning between when they woke up and you pass each other in the kitchen before school. Basically their parking lot of a brain is always full. You know how frustrated you get when there is no place to park. Times that by a hundred, and that is your teen.

So when you get a response to a simple question or comment that seems crazy and completely incomprehensible, assume that their parking lot is full. Probably best to just walk away with a let's talk later. This is one of those times that it just isn't about you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Like I've Said: Yelling Doesn't Work!

If I've told you once, I've told you a thousand times, yelling doesn't work. Here's an excerpt from a recent research project that explains why:

"The study followed 976 Pennsylvania 13- and 14-year-olds and their parents for the 7th and 8th grade years, and found that the depression or poor behavior increased in the children who were exposed to harsh verbal discipline. Instead of serving to remedy the issue, verbal discipline tactics seemed to provoke the unwanted behavior."
"Adolescence is a very sensitive period when [kids] are trying to develop their self-identities," study leader Ming-Te Wang told the Wall Street Journal. "When you yell, it hurts their self image. It makes them feel they are not capable, that they are worthless and are useless."
I get it, we all lose it sometimes, and yelling becomes the default reaction when our frustration button has been pressed one too many times. This research is not really talking about the "I can't take it anymore" moments. Some parents are control-freaks. There, I said it. And if you are a control freak than Adolescence will be a huge challenge for you. Because teens are biologically driven during this stage to also be major control-freaks. They are planting those feet firmly on the ground and letting you know that they want to take control over their own lives. Control can be shared, and should be shared. How else does one prepare a teen for the real world when they will be faced with multiple decisions on a daily basis. 
Yelling as a default parenting style may give you the illusion of control, but in fact it is the absence of control. Not only that, but it makes your teens feel bad. And when teens feel bad, they take those feelings out of your house and into their lives. The findings of this study are powerful explanations for some of the acting out and aggressive behavior, depression. anxiety seen in many teens.

When your teens were younger yelling may have worked. They were afraid of you, wanted to please you, and didn't know yet that it will be fun to do just the opposite of what their parents want.  It is the process of defining who they are and how they are different from you. This can sometimes feel disrespectful, and hurtful. Reframe it to normal, and it will feel alot better.

If you want your teen to stop being disrespectful and bratty, you have to blink first! Your teen has learned how to bait you, and being a well-trained seal, you jump for the bait. When you get that pit in your stomach after you have asked your teen to do something, get something and say something, and their response is surly, disrespectful or he/she completely ignores you, don't jump for the fish. Yelling here will not not not not not not not not........ get them to do whatever it is you want!!!!!! GET IT!! Look them straight in the eye, give them a head shake and a shoulder shrug and WALK....A....WAY. Done! When they come to you for a ride, money, help with homework, laundry for school the next day, you give them that same head shake, shoulder shrug, and walk away, with a "I would have, cause I love to do things for you, but we don't seem to be on the same page today about helping each other." And that is it. Do not say another word. Don't get sarcastic, don't have a "tone" in your voice. Stay neutral. Now this doesn't mean you don't speak to your teen for the rest of the day. It just means that the favor-doing, ride-giving, laundress is off-duty for the rest of the day. Just that day. Every day is a new day. And who knows, maybe tomorrow will be a better one.!

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Thursday, September 6, 2018

Don't Forget...Will My Teen Ever Remember???

Now that school has started, your teen has a lot to remember; books, homework, lunch, sports equipment, phone, laptop, iPad, etc etc.How many times have your said to your teen: Don't forget your math book, sports equipment, lunch, house keys, etc., etc., etc. You may have even done the reminding just before your teen walks out the door, and you are responded to with a " I WON"T!" And so you leave it at that!

Then the phone call comes in from your teen, not a text, but a real honest to goodness human voice: "Hiiiii, it's me....... how's your day going?" Said in the sappiest, sweetest tone your teen your kid can muster. And then the: "I forgot my _________________, can you bring it to school?" And you grimace, and groan, and say: " how many times did I ask you and remind you to make sure you had that to bring to school? "And you start in on the lecture; "If you only did like I told you to get your school stuff ready the night before this would never happen........" And then you cave and interrupt whatever it is your doing and bring the damn_______________ to school. Because you know that if you don't, the teacher will give your teen a "0" for class that day, and that too many zero's can add up to a grade drop for the term, and if the term grade isn't high enough, it will effect their chance of an honor's class or grade point cum or any other consequence that might in some way affect your teen's college chances and therefore the rest of their life.

That train of thinking is called sequential thinking, and that is the kind of thinking that your teen does not do very well. When you did that final yell up the stairs in the morning, your teen heard you, and really did think, oh yeah, gotta remember that book. But then a second later he/she got a text from a friend who asked a really important question like "what are wearing today? or Wassup. And this very important question took them away from the remembering.

If you really want your teen to remember the things they always forget, than you have to help them come up with a strategy for remembering that works for them. Remember that you and your teen are not the same person, you do not have the same brain, and therefore what works for you in the remembering department like making a list for example, may not work for them.

So don't start off this conversation with the "you know what works for me?" Instead you can say; "You know honey, I know it's hard to keep track of what you need to do and remember, you have alot on your mind. (And they do) and I get it's easy to forget things when in that moment you have a ton of other things that take up space in that brain of yours. So here's the thing. I get that just saying "don't forget" does not work. I also am not willing anymore to interrupt my day to take you what you need, or letting "I forgot" being an excuse for not following through on something, like keeping in touch with us when you are out with your friends. Instead, we have to come up with strategy to help you remember."

And here is the real work. TOGETHER you brain storm some ideas. Perhaps if your teen is attached to his phone, he/she can set an alarm just before leaving for school that reminds them to remember such and such. Or maybe you text them just before they leave, even if you are sitting in the same room, or perhaps you have color coded post it notes on the door out to the garage that match up with what they need for the day. Be creative. Look at who your kid is and how their brain works. Thinking through a strategy is giving them a life skill that they can use the rest of their life, saying don't forget lasts only a second.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Messages From Your Not So Perfect Teen

With a new school year ahead of you, here is some advice directly from the mouths of teens. It might help you to shape how you start a new year of school and expectations and screw-ups! Here are the 60 14-18 year olds  I surveyed, with some ideas to help you out when they screw up!


·      Talked to me about it and not acted like I was the worst thing in the world.
·      Just given me more time to prove myself, and over time show them I’m responsible.
·      Worked together instead of having Dad do everything
·      Talked to me in a calm tone instead of yelling at me.
·      Just said that they knew I could do better, and then let it be for me to fix myself.
·      Just asked instead of jumping to conclusion.
·      Heard me out, and thought of themselves when they were teenagers.
·      Not yelled at me so much.
·      Forgiven me sooner than later.
·      Just asked me what happened instead of just punishing me.
·      Understand that teen’s make mistakes like that.
·      Talked to me like I was 16 not like I was 9
·      Been more understanding and had taken the time to hear my side of the story.
·      Supported me a lot more than they did.
·      Actually talked to me, not yelled or hit me
·      Know how much I wish I didn’t do it.
·      little more control of themselves, and didn’t get so mad with me
·      Accept my point of view and accept my apology and don’t think of me wrong even though they still do.
·      Not yelled at me but talked to me about it, and not make me feel like a failure.
·      Seen where I was coming from and why I said what I said.
·      Not yell at me, but just talked with me and didn’t accuse me of something that’s not true.
·      Helped me a little more rather than punish me after every offense.