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 December 13th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 8, Clean Out Your Junk Drawer

Alex & Haley S 7 E 8

Plotline: Two Sisters, Two Troubling Relationships

Gloria won a seminar on emotional intimacy in a raffle. So thanks to Gloria, all the adults are gathered in the Dunphy’s living room tonight, trying to get in touch with their emotional sides and make their marriages healthier.

Haley, having been kicked out of the house for the seminar, heads to Caltech to visit Alex. As soon as she arrives, the two sisters start talking about their troubles. It quickly becomes apparent that, like the adults, the girls too are in relationships that are short on emotional intimacy.

The sisters’ chat begins like this.
Haley: So, how’s school?
Alex: Well, in my Newtonian mechanics class we’re learning how to calculate the velocity of free falling objects in a… School’s hard.
Haley: So, anyways, umm… I sort of did something and I need your advice. But I don’t want a lot of judgment and criticism.
Alex: And you came to me?
Haley: Yeah, you’ve always had such a strong sense of what’s right and wrong. You always know what…
Alex: I have a high-school boy toy.
Haley: What?! Who?
Alex: It’s Luke’s dorky friend Reuben.
Haley: Ugh.
Alex: I feel so ashamed.
Haley: Oh, my god. You should be. Isn’t he, like 8?
Alex: No, he’s 16 and 3/4, and he has to shave almost every two weeks.
Haley: How did you let this happen? You go to Caltech. You’re surrounded by age-appropriate dorks.
Alex: I know, but I was home and still feeling sad about Sanjay breaking up with me, and it’s overwhelming here. There are so many brilliant people, and Reuben idolizes me. I guess I just kind of needed that, so I let him kiss me. Oh, and a little bit of this (indicating her chest). I’m so weak. I can’t imagine anything worse.

It turns out that Haley can.
Haley: I hooked up with Andy.
Alex: What?!
Haley (nodding her head): Mm-hmm.
Alex: Engaged Andy?
Haley (again, nodding her head): I know. [But] I I feel like if Andy weren’t engaged, we’d have a chance.
Alex: And if Reuben were just a little bit older and didn’t wear prescription shoes… It’d still be gross.

Most of us use the term “intimate relationship” to refer to being physically intimate in a romantic relationship. But, in fact, any individuals who are emotionally close and connected can be said to be in an intimate relationship. These could, for example, be friends, siblings, or coworkers. Emotionally intimate relationships are characterized by mutual respect, trust, caring, and commitment.

Healthy sexual relationships are always emotionally intimate. And if we hope (and expect) that our kids will wait to have sex until they’re in a deeply committed, caring relationship, then we need to communicate with them about how to tell if a romantic relationship is healthy or not. Because as we were reminded tonight, sexual relationships are not always emotionally intimate.

Sex is a difficult subject to discuss, but research shows that we parents can help steer our kids in the direction we want them to go by having meaningful discussions with them about sex-related topics including healthy dating relationships. In national surveys, most teens say that their parents have the greatest influence over their decisions about sex – more than their friends or the media. Most say they share their parents’ values about sex. And most teens say that talking openly and honestly with their parents would make it easier for them to make decisions about delaying sex.

Here are some ideas and approaches that can help you improve communication about healthy dating relationships with your teen.

It’s best to start talking about romantic relationships before kids begin dating.
Serious romantic relationships are most likely to develop during the later teen years, but kids typically begin pairing-off between the ages of 12 and 14. Although it’s never too late to start these conversations, it’s best to start talking about what makes romantic relationships healthy before the pairing-off begins. And as you talk, emphasize the many ways to express affection other than sex – such as intimate talks, long walks, listening to music together, dancing, holding hands, kissing, and hugging.

Be on the lookout for good opportunities to talk with your teen.
Frequent, short conversations make a bigger difference in kids’ behavior than a single conversation. Right after watching a relevant TV show (like this Modern Family episode) can provide a unique opportunity to discuss the behavior of the show’s characters – reinforcing positive behavior and underscoring the potential consequences of risky behavior.

Stay informed about the messages your teen is getting about romantic relationships and sex. Your teen is probably getting messages about sex and relationships from a variety of sources, including teachers, friends, TV, and the Internet. Don’t assume that all the information your teen is getting is accurate. And don’t assume that the school’s curriculum includes all the information you want your teen to know and consider.
– The following are a few websites for teens that you can trust to provide direct and accurate information about sex: (from Rutgers University) (from Goryeb Children’s Hospital), and (from Children’s Hospital Boston, for girls).

– Regularly taking your teen to preventative health care appointments and allowing them time alone with the doctor or nurse can also give your teen a chance to talk confidentially about any questions or concerns they may have.

Be sure that your talks with your teen include discussions about feelings, attitudes, and values. Our teens need accurate information about sex. But they also need to know what healthy romantic relationships look and feel like. Although we moms are more likely to talk with our girls about how to say “no” to sex and more likely to remind our boys to respect a girl’s feelings, boys also need to be taught how to say “no,” and girls need to be taught how to be respectful of a boy’s feelings.

In addition, both our daughters and sons need to know how to tell whether a relationship is healthy or not. In a healthy relationship:
– Both people feel respected, supported, and valued; neither tries to change the other.
– Both people like themselves as individuals when they are together.
– Both have friends and interests outside the relationship.
– One person doesn’t make most or all of the decisions; instead the couple makes decisions together.
– The couple settles disagreements with open and honest conversations; neither of them shouts, threatens, hits, or throws things during arguments.
– There are more good times than bad ones.

Connecting Lines:
Talking with your teen about what they would look for in a romantic partner or relationship is a good way to show that you’re available to listen and a chance for you to get a window into their thinking about these topics. As you talk, try to remain open to your teen’s ideas and be ready to share yours.

Below are some ideas to help support a conversation with your teen based on tonight’s Modern Family episode:
How do you think Alex feels about herself after she’s been with Ruben? What advice would you give Alex if she were your good friend? How about if Ruben were your good friend, what would you tell him?

We learned tonight that both Haley and Andy feel guilty about being together – given that Andy is engaged and all. What do you think that their guilty feelings say about the health of their relationship?

How would you want to be treated in a relationship? How do you want to feel about yourself when you’re with that person?

Sources and Resources: Talking with Your Teen about Sex: Going Beyond “the Talk” from CDC’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, Sex Education: Talking to Your Teen about Sex by Mayo Clinic Staff, Teen Dating: A Mom’s Guide by Barbara Whitaker from WebMD archive, Defining a Healthy Relationship for Teens by Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Facts on American Teens’ Sources of Information About Sex from Guttmacher Institute, Talk with Your Teen about Healthy Relationships from US Department of Health and Human Services

Photo Courtesy of ABC

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