Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 15th, 2018, 0 Comments

How to Talk to Your Teen About the Kavanaugh Story

Across the nation people are talking about Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation that Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were both adolescents. Teens are joining the heated debate. But what are they learning from all of this?

Below are some pointers for turning this news story into a teachable moment.

Try This
Ask questions and listen. Ask your teen if their friends and teachers are talking about the Kavanaugh story. Ask them why they think this story is such a big deal. Ask what they believe about the two sides of the debate. And encourage them to use evidence to justify their opinions. This shows them that you value their point of view and opens the way for a bigger conversation.

Talk about caring for their friends. Discussing how your teen can be a good friend to someone who has been sexually assaulted helps move the conversation into their real life and lets you begin to talk about details they may otherwise not be open to talking about.

Discuss the deep emotional impact of sexual assault. Several factors affect the impact of sexual assault – including the circumstances of the assault, the relationship of the two people, and the history and psychological makeup of the individual. But the emotional impact of being sexually assaulted is deep. It can lead to intensified fear and anxiety. It can also cause self-blaming, shame, depression, and difficulty trusting others.

Talk about why it can be especially difficult for teens to report an assault. The fact that the victim usually knows the perpetrator means that a teen who has been assaulted may be afraid that they will be smeared by the perpetrator’s friends or excluded by their social circle. In addition, our culture’s history of victim blaming means that teens who have been assaulted may worry that they will be accused of making things up or being the one who did something wrong.

Make sure your teen knows that their strong support for a friend who has been assaulted can help alleviate this added worry and pain.

Role play to give your teen tools. If our teens see someone being pressured into any kind of sexual contact, we want them to have the tools to try to intervene – either directly or, if that is too risky, by distracting the potential perpetrator. So anticipate potential dilemmas and help your teen think of solutions. Together come up with words that feel right to them and that they can say naturally.

Talk directly about sexual assault.
Talk about safety. Talk about how to recognize factors like isolation or drunkenness that can raise the risk of sexual assault. And talk about how they can trust their instincts when they feel things are going wrong.

Discuss respect and caring. Our teens – especially our boys – need to hear us say that all sexual activity should involve mutual respect and caring. This means it’s not okay to pressure someone into having any kind of sexual contact. And that sex should never be about conquest.

Emphasize the importance of consent. Our teens need to know that sexual assault by definition is any unwanted sexual contact. This means they must give and get permission to initiate anything sexual. And it means that permission involves someone clearly saying that they want to engage in sexual activity. “No” doesn’t mean “yes.” And neither does silence.

These books can help teens understand the importance of consent.

Be prepared to support your teen. We want our teens to see us as someone they can trust enough to disclose painful things. Yet, having a child tell us that they have been sexually assaulted is excruciating. And realizing that it will upset their parents is why some children never tell them.

Avoid blaming. Sometimes, while dealing with our own runaway emotions, we parents inadvertently make our teens feel they’re to blame by saying things like, “You should have known better than to stay at that party!” or “We’ve talked about the risks of drinking!” or “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?!”

If your teen tells you that they’ve been sexually assaulted, the most important thing you can do is to be nonjudgmental. Don’t ask why they were in that place or why they didn’t tell you right away or lecture them about the risks.

Be supportive rather than controlling. Seek to offer guidance rather than take over the controls. Because part of your teen’s healing process is to regain the sense of control they lost in the assault.

Let them know they are not alone. Assure your teen that it was not their fault. Tell them that you’re really sorry that this happened to them, that you are glad that they told you, and that you will help them in anyway you can. In addition, remind them that there are others trained to help with healing from the experience.

Click here for more on how to support your teen.

Bottom Line
We need to have these conversations with our teens even when they make us uncomfortable. Because we parents are our children’s most important teachers about sex and safety. And teens often say that we parents are their preferred source of information on these subjects.

Sources and Resources
About the National Sexual Assault Hotline

Books to Help Teens Understand the Importance of Consent

Making Campuses Safer by Lea Winerman in Monitor on Psychology, Oct. 2018

Seven Ways to Help a Teen Survivor of Sexual Assault

Tips for Talking with Survivors of Sexual Assault

Why Sexual Assaults Go Unreported by Elizabeth Bernstein in The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 1, 2018)

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Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on September 17th, 2018, 0 Comments

Nudge Your Teen to Look into the Future

Parents often ask me what they can do to help their teen take school more seriously. My response varies, depending on the kid. For some encouraging their teen to get more sleep is at the top of my list. For others, it’s to get them involved in a school-related extracurricular activity.

And regardless of what else is on my list of suggestions, I also recommend that they nudge their teen to look into the future. Because having some vision of where they are headed – even if their vision changes multiple times – seems to benefit all teens.

Years ago while teaching seventh grade, I watched some students work hard and do well (persevering even when things got difficult or tedious) while some of their more naturally talented classmates did not. Most of the time the persevering students had a guiding purpose – a long-term goal that they were working towards that acted like a guiding North Star for them.

A decade later while teaching at the college level, I noticed something similar. Some of my students saw college as an end in itself. Others came to college with an idea of what they might do for their work life and saw college as part of that path. The students who had an idea of where they were headed seemed to have an advantage over their more ambivalent peers. Students with a career path plan – even if they changed their mind and headed in a different direction more than once – had a guiding purpose that gave them a reason to get to their early morning classes, work harder on the required coursework, and graduate on time.

Try This
As the new school year begins, nudge your teen to take a look into the future and develop some vision of where they are headed.

Talk with your teen about their current interests and strengths. Encourage them to make lists of the things they like to do, the things they like to learn, the things they value, and the things they’re good at – perhaps even better than most kids their age. Then talk with them about how their combination of interests and strengths might be used in a career someday.

Encourage your teen to explore their career interests. Informational interviews and job shadowing are great ways for teens to learn more about a career that interests them from someone with real life experience. Both also can help teens see how what they are learning in school can be applied in the real world.

Informational interviews are 20 to 30 minute conversations in which students have an opportunity to gather information about a specific career by talking with a professional and asking questions about what it’s like to work in their field and what it took to get where they are today. You can read more about informational interviewing and how to develop interview questions here.

Job shadowing lets students try on a career by visiting a workplace and following a professional through their workday. A job shadow usually lasts one day but they can last several days or longer to give a student a more in-depth look at a certain career. You can learn more about job shadowing here.

Many professionals are willing to help with informational interviews and shadowing. Some school guidance offices have lists of professionals in the community who have volunteered to help. Your network of family and friends is another good place to look.

Bottom Line
Teens who regularly think about what they want to do with their life and what kind of person they want to become, have a better sense of direction. They may change their mind and head in a different direction more than once. But at any given time they can articulate in a sentence or two where they are headed and what everything they are doing is all about.

Teens with a vision of where they are headed tend to take school and their other activities seriously. And instead of being discouraged by setbacks, they tend to take charge of their problems and persevere – and are, thus, less likely to get off track.

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