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 July 23rd, 2018, 0 Comments

Cyberbullying Rarely Brakes for Summer

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place electronically – through email, a chat room, texting, an instant message app, or a website. Nationwide, nearly 15% of high school students say they were bullied online during the last 12 months, according to a report just released by the CDC. At the middle school level, nearly 25% of students say they’ve been bullied online. And the actual numbers may be much higher because this type of thing tends to be underreported.

Cyberbullying can be relentless, affecting many teens on a daily basis. And sadly, it rarely brakes for summer. Instead, with more time on their hands, those doing the bullying often put the pedal to the floor.

Some of the most common cyberbullying tactics include:
– Posting mean or hurtful comments about someone or posting an embarrassing picture or a video
– Creating a mean website about someone
– Pretending to be someone else online in order to shame or embarrass them
– Threatening to hurt someone or telling them to kill themselves
– Doxing (short for the word “documents”) someone by making their personal information public

Being bullied can impact a teen’s overall happiness and wellbeing. It can increase the likelihood of anxiety or depression and increase the risk for suicide related behaviors. It can negatively affect their relationships with peers and family members and disrupt school performance by cutting into their motivation.

Teens who witness bullying are affected too. These teens often report feeling guilty about not confronting those doing the bullying or supporting the one being bullied. They too are more likely to develop mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.

Try This
Talk and listen. Start a conversation with your teen about what cyberbullying looks like. Talk about the risks to all those involved – even if your teen claims they already know. Try to listen as much as you talk. But be clear about your expectations that they 1) not post anything that could be hurtful to someone else and 2) refuse to pass along any hurtful messages that others have shared with them. Also assure your teen that you are there for them, making sure they know they can come to you with any concern.

Be alert. Many teens won’t tell their parents if they are involved in cyberbullying. They may be afraid of the response they’ll get – including the fear that their devices will be taken away. So it’s part of your job as a parent to be inquisitive – even nosey, paying special attention to how your teen behaves when using their electronic devices. Be watchful for these warning signs:
– Noticeable increases or decreases in their electronic device use
– More emotional responses (anger, tears) to what is happening on their device
– Hiding their device or screen when others are around and being unwilling to hand it over when asked
– Shutting down social media accounts or opening new ones on their device
– Avoiding social situations they’ve enjoyed in the past
– Change in mood – withdrawn, depressed, anxious or often angry
– Change in behavior – especially in sleep patterns or in grades at school

Calmly speak up if you sense trouble. Try to stay clam as you ask questions to determine what is happening, how it started, and who is involved. Of course, you’ll be upset. This is your kid – and they may be hurting. But getting upset or reacting in anger will make it more difficult for your teen to talk to you about the issue.

Together figure out the response. Work with your teen to define a plan for moving forward.
If your teen is being bullied:
Document. Keep a record of what is happening and when. Print copies or take screenshots of harmful content if possible. Most policies and laws define bullying as repeated behavior, so records help document the pattern.
Report. If a classmate is cyberbullying, talk with your teen about options for reporting it to the school. You can also contact social media platforms to report harmful content and have it removed. If your teen has received physical threats or if illegal behavior is occurring, contact the police.
Support. Strategize with your teen for ways to avoid engaging the one who is bullying them, including blocking the individual. Be available to listen and guide, reinforcing that you are there for your teen and helping them find ways to insulate themselves from the hurt. Don’t blame your teen for being bullied. Even if they have made unfortunate decisions that have aggravated the situation, no one deserves to be bullied.
Monitor. Keep an eye on things to determine if additional support is needed from a counselor or mental health professional.
If your teen has witnessed someone being bullied: Help them come up with some safe ways to offer support and standup for the person being bullied. Peers can sometimes positively influence the situation by posting positive comments about the teen targeted with bullying. It can also help to reach out to the teen being bullied to express concern.

Bottom Line
Cyberbullying is a form of bullying. Make sure your teen knows that you take all forms of bullying seriously. If you notice warning signs that your teen may be involved in cyberbullying, take steps to investigate their online behavior.

If cyberbullying is happening, address it the same way you’d address other forms of bullying: by supporting the teen being bullied, addressing the bullying behavior of a participant, and helping teens who’ve witnessed bullying find safe ways to try to support the teen being bullied.

Next Up
A future post will take a look at the other perspective: what to do if you learn that your teen has been bullying others online.

Report Cyberbullying
Five Ways Parents Can Help Prevent Cyberbullying by Rebecca Lacko
Measuring Bullying Victimization, Perpetration, and Bystander Experiences

Click to access BullyCompendium-a.pdf

Cyberbullying Tactics

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