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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