It is important as a parent that you open the doors of communication about sexual assault and what exactly that means with your children. Starting the conversation early with them will help prepare them in case they are ever faced with an uncomfortable situation they aren’t sure of, and it will also help them to feel safe speaking to you about it.
In my past 10 years as a sexual assault counselor, I have coached many parents on having this extremely sensitive conversation. It is hard for both parties and there are a few things every parent should follow:
1.)Plan a time to sit down and talk as soon as possible. Don’t wait until your child hits puberty. They need to know what is right and what is wrong and what they can do to feel safe.
2.)Get your mental game in order. Before you even think about having this conversation think about the words: sexual assault. Say them. How does that make you feel? You want to make sure you are calm and collected when speaking with your child so you don’t make them more uncomfortable.
3.)Define sexual assault. Make sure you know exactly what sexual assault, rape, catcall, stalking, etc. means so you can explain it properly to your child. You might not want to think about it but it is important that you do. You are the leader of the family and you need to get comfortable before you approach your children.
4.)Know your resources and develop a protocol. Think about what you will do if your child discloses that he/she/they has been assaulted. Contact child protective services, visit a hospital or doctor for a Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit, more commonly known as a “rape kit,” to preserve evidence. In many counties the survivor has the option to press charges and they don’t have to until they are ready. Do your research.
5.) Know the rights of an assault survivor. Many states have survivors advocates. You can also contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673. Take some time to do an internet search, write out your resources and your plan so you are more prepared for the worst.
This is an extremely difficult topic to approach with your child, but also extremely important. They need the correct information and the best place for them to get that is you. They need to know they have someone on their side who will fight for them if something happens. They need to know they have a safe place to turn.
Sexual assault is a very real thing, and unfortunately, sometimes our children fall victim to it. So why if they were hurt, would they not come forward and talk to us—especially since we are their parent. We love them and want to protect them, and it can be hard to understand why they would keep something like this a secret.
Similar to the reasons why our teens don’t open up to us, there are some obstacles to sharing this super sensitive and scary information. Not only is it uncomfortable to talk about but our kids fear they will get in trouble if they give all the details. Maybe it happened at a party they weren’t supposed to be at, or out with friends they weren’t supposed to be out with. They may have gotten drunk or did drugs and they fear consequences. They don’t want to be blamed for being a victim and they surely don’t want to get in trouble for being or doing things they know are wrong.
They also want to protect us. Our kids, believe it or not, love us similarly to the way we love them. They don’t want to hurt us and they don’t want to see us get upset. They want to protect us from distress. They know how upset their parents will be when they hear their child has been treated this way. Us parents don’t know how to deal with this kind of thing. We start to feel like we are to blame, we might have intense feelings of wanting to “kill” the perpetrator, we want to be reactive to the situation. There is no protocol to deal with this kind of horrible experience. Parents want to protect their children forever and always, and our kids don’t want us to feel like we aren’t doing that.
The best thing we can do is start the conversation with our children. Open the doors to communication so they feel that no matter what they can come to us. Be sensitive with them. Be calm. Let them know that if they are ever sexually assaulted they need to tell someone.
Check back tomorrow for our post on preparing to talk to your children about sexual assault, and opening those lines of communication.
If you are a parent of a teen, chances are you have felt out-of-the-loop at some point or another. You feel like your teen doesn’t talk to you anymore. They don’t tell you anything. They don’t include you on what is happening at school, in relationships, or with friends. They don’t share their worries or their stresses. They lock themselves in their rooms or hide behind their phones and shut you out.
But, why? Why is it that teens don’t talk to their parents?
1.) They don’t want to get in trouble — This one comes up a lot in therapy. We teach them courage. We help them look at what is better: hiding the problem and making things worse, or coming clean, taking responsibility and facing things head on.
2.) They don’t have the communication skills— They simply don’t know how to talk about a subject, they don’t know how to approach it when speaking with a parent. In therapy we teach teens communication skills. We teach them how to be effective communicators and to think things through before starting the discussion.
3.) They want to protect us — They don’t want us to feel uncomfortable or to worry about them. They don’t want to feel like they are adding more to your plate. In therapy, we teach teens that it is up to the adult to protect the child, not the other way around.
4.) They fear judgment — They worry what are mom/dad going to think of me. They worry about disappointing their parents. In therapy, we teach that it is ok to be authentic and we help them to navigate judgment in a healthy way.
5.) They want to be independent— They are teenagers. Of course, they want to feel like they are on their own. They think it’s cool to not tell their parents things. They want to figure it out on their own. In therapy, we teach healthy independence and when it is ok to ask for help.
We want our teens to feel comfortable sharing things with us. The best thing you can do as a parent to help facilitate conversation is to be calm and approachable. Don’t jump to conclusions. Take your child to do special things, like go out for coffee or go for a walk in the park or to get ice cream. Those things will give them a place where they will feel more comfortable opening up to you. You can always seek out the help of a licensed counselor to help your child learn healthy coping and communication skills.
When doing therapy with teens, I often hear from parents that they don’t want their “kid to feel uncomfortable.” They do want their teen to learn how to relax, to be less anxious, to cope with their feelings. But, they don’t want uncomfortable topics to come up. They shy away because they think they are protecting their child.
Parents often ask why I would approach uncomfortable topics in therapy. The truth is we don’t want to discourage these topics from being talked about. When we avoid these things, we are sending the message to our kids that they can’t come to us to express themselves. It makes them want to protect us, adults, since we are the ones uncomfortable talking about these things.
Our teens need to know that they have a place to come and talk and share their experiences, their fears, their worries. They don’t need to learn the courage to talk about these subjects. They need to have the courage to tackle them.
Uncomfortable things happen to everyone. We all think things, worry about things and are faced with things that are confusing, stressful, and awkward to share. Our teens especially are faced with these situations because they are in an awkward growth period of their lives. With a lot going on in friendships, relationships, and themselves. They need to feel safe to approach these topics so they can come up with healthy solutions to tackle them. By discouraging the discussion of things because they are “uncomfortable” we are forcing our children to go elsewhere for solutions or to keep it all trapped inside.
How do you approach things that are “uncomfortable” with your teen?
If you are a newly single mom, I am guessing you have just been through hell. Your whole world has been shaken up, unraveling your day-to-day. Now it is time to find your new normal.
You are probably feeling all sorts of things. You might be bitter, sad, or depressed. You might also be relieved or feel rejuvenated because you can start to make positive changes in your world. But, what about your kids? They are probably struggling emotionally and you are struggling with how to keep things as normal as possible for them. You also might be faced with doing everything on your own. Maybe your ex has completely left the picture, or only helps on weekends. So what do you do? How can you regain your sanity? Take care of your mental health?
The best tip I can give is to focus only on the important things and let the rest slide. No one is going to die from fishing semi-dirty clothes from the laundry (be sure to wash that underwear, though). Who cares if you need to have microwave dinner for a week or two while you adjust. Let your kids help to prepare their lunches if they are old enough. If it is not a life or death safety issue, let it go.
Now is the time to focus on your kids. Spend time together and figure out that new normal. There will be bumps and hurdles but you will get to a point of peace again. Take your kids to family therapy and talk about what that “new normal” might look like. This is not an easy time in your journey through life but you can get through it if you focus on the important things.
It is always important to take care of your mental health, but now it is even more crucial. You need to take care of you in order to be the best mom you can be for your children. Talk to your friends, find people who are going through the same thing as you and connect. Lean on your village and take it a day at a time.
What is something that has helped you as a single parent?
When my Chinese mom felt bad about something she had done or said, she would serve up a giant bowl of rice with my favorite topping. That was her way of saying “sorry.” These actions are not uncommon in the Chinese culture, or among older generations.
Different cultures and different generations have different ways of apologizing. It is similar to the five languages of love—the theory that there are five different ways that people show and accept emotional love, for example someone might show they love another by doing acts of kindness and another might need more physical contact to feel they are loved. There are many different ways of saying ‘sorry.’ It could come in the form of doing something nice, like cleaning or fixing a delicious meal or sharing a favorite treat. It could be a surprise outing or it could be nothing at all.
Much of the older generation don’t apologize at all. They don’t want to admit to their children that they don’t always do right. Parents are often looked at by their children as if they can do no wrong and parents embrace that image. It is a hard thing to apologize to anyone, let alone your children. When the older generation of parents were children they were taught about hierarchy in family. They were taught to respect their elders, which means never to call them out when they might be doing something wrong. They were taught that the elders always knew best and therefore never expected an apology from them. That engrained belief makes it highly uncomfortable for the older generations to say “I am sorry” to their children.
Despite a lack of verbally communicating their regrettable feelings, it does not mean they aren’t truly sorry. Many times these things come out in actions rather than words. Sometimes you just have to look at the relationship and the actions following. While no parents should get a free pass from their children if they have done wrong, it is all part of unconditional love and acceptance. As the child, you must learn to accept that different cultures and different generations respond differently. And, you need to look at your parents as a whole rather than just the parts of however they have wronged you. No one is perfect even if as children we sometimes expect our parents to be the keepers of knowledge and to do no wrong.
How does your parent apologize, if any?
This week’s series of posts (read Part 1 and Part 2) has been all about my five-year-old daughter and how she thinks another girl is pretty, and the many opportunities to help her (and myself) learn more about life that have come out of these feelings.
As I mentioned in Part 2, my daughter decorated a card for this girl and attached a pretty plastic ring to it. When she was done with the card she told me she was “scared” to give the card to the girl. I saw this as an opportunity for me to teach her about rejection.
I asked her what she was “scared” of. She said, “what if the girl doesn’t like it or is mean about it.” I gave her some things to think about, and put the situation into perspective:
1.) If it is kind words, you have no need to be scared. The best you can do is be kind to others, and saying nice things — being uplifting— is a good thing.
2.) If someone says “no” to you but remains respectful, we need to respect their choice. Consent is not just for boys. It works across all relationships—whether it be romantically or just a friendship. Everyone has the right to say “no”.
3.) If someone says “no” to you and are disrespectful/mean, you don’t need to worry about what those people think. They aren’t worth your time if they aren’t going to consider your feelings. If they are not going to be nice to you, then you don’t want to be their friend anyway. You deserve to be respected and treated fairly and kindly. Walk away from those situations where you are not treated with respect.
Rejection is hard. No one likes to feel rejected, but it is part of life. Children, just as adults, need to learn how to handle rejection in a healthy manner. They need to understand what is ok and what is not when it comes to how other people treat them, and how they treat others. As adults, it is our job to help them process these situations so they know (1) its ok to be sad, disappointed (2) it is not ok to be treated unkindly, or to treat others unkindly (3) it is ok to say “no”.
Do you remember the first time you felt rejection, how old were you? How did it make you feel? How have you helped your child through a moment of rejection?
The other day my five-year-old daughter confided in me that she thinks another girl is pretty— and not just pretty but “so pretty she wants to put a ring on it” pretty. Now at the age of five, I know that developmentally she doesn’t necessarily have a true concept of romantic love and attraction. But, it got me thinking.
My daughter has never been a big fan of being “girlie.” She insists on wearing “non-girl” clothes and her favorite shirt is a tuxedo t-shirt. She is her own person, and as her mother, I have no desire to try to change those parts of her. She deserves to be uplifted and encouraged to be her true self. Whoever she grows up to be, I am prepared to love her no matter what.
Parents love unconditionally
That doesn’t change the fact that I am still going to be a parent to her. She still has to “suffer” through my firm, authoritative parenting and embarrassing mom-jokes (she will think they are funny too, someday). But, selfish love is not part of it. She will be loved in the way she needs, not in the way I want. I am her mother. I did not bring her into this world to make it all about me. I will accept her exactly as she is. I will love her unconditionally, with my whole heart and make sure she knows it.
That is the meat of parenting—unconditional love. It is that thing that helps us to forgive quickly when mistakes are made. We want our kids to grow to be good, respectable, kind, caring adults who are contributing members of society, but we also want them to be comfortable in their own skin. We want our kids to know that no matter how hard life gets (as I am sure there will be many a bump in the road), and whatever comes there way, they can always count on our love. We brought them into this world to nurture and encourage them, while also teaching them how to be good people. While we may not always agree with some of the choices they make, we will still love them always, forever, with no strings attached.
What do you think? How should parents love their children?
I catch myself every once in a while telling my children to “not worry” when they are scared. It is almost instinctual. As a parent, of course, I wish my child would never have to worry about a thing, but that is not reality. When we tell our children to “not worry” it is like telling them they should not feel scared. We are telling them feeling scared is a bad thing.
‘It is ok to be scared’
Instead of telling our children “don’t worry” when they are scared or concerned about something, we can replace it with something more reaffirming like “it is ok to be scared.” Because it is OK to be scared. We all get scared sometimes and we want our children to learn how to deal with those feelings, rather than to think they are wrong to feel that way.
It is also important that our children know what to do when they feel worried, or concerned, about something. If it is an external concern, such as a suspicious person or animal then we want our children to recognize safety—whether that be going to mom or dad, a teacher, or moving to a different location. By talking to them about what they should be doing at times when they are struggling with feelings of worry they will build healthy coping skills, and learn how to better take care of themselves in situations where mom or dad aren’t present.
Feelings of worry or fear are part of our inner-being. They are important. It is our brain’s way of telling us to be careful, to tread lightly, to watch out. It is a protective mechanism. It is not something to ignore or shut off.
Sometimes that worry or fear is caused by anxiety over something we might not need to be worried about, but acknowledging those feelings and learning how to calm ourselves down is also a very helpful skill. If we can help our children to learn and utilize these skills at a young age, it will help them to be more successful at managing their feelings as an adult.
Social media is fun (and dangerous). All your friends are on there and you can easily get into discussions or debates. You can catch up with people you have not seen in years, and keep tabs on people’s ever-evolving lives. You can post an opinion, thought, or daily happening in a matter of seconds and send it out into the inter-web. It may feel harmless. I mean sure you are sharing with friends, who are they going to tell?
Nothing is really ‘private’ on the internet
Let’s not forget — this is the internet. Even though it is social media and your profile is set to private, nothing is really private once it has entered the realm of the web. A rule of thumb that I use with my clients is if you won’t say it in front of your kids, then don’t say it on social media. Saying the wrong thing could affect your career years later, and we all know our kids will probably find a way to view all of that stuff at some point.
Just look at the examples in the news:
1.) A university professor was fired for tweeting that Hurricane Harvey was karma for Texas, pointing out the GOP connection.
2.) A 19-year-old daycare worker was fired after snap-chatting a photo of her making an obscene gesture towards one of the children while on the job.
3.) A zoo employee was fired after tweeting a racist comment about patrons.
Then you have the stories where people didn’t just post obscene, racist, or offensive comments but rather photos. I have heard stories of people not getting their dream job because the employer found photos of them doing drugs or binge drinking on the internet. Similar stories have also been told with people who have posted risqué photos.
It might seem harmless, but once it is posted it is always there. It never leaves. You can never fully delete it. So, here is a rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t want your child to hear it, see it, or repeat it then do not post it on social media. It could haunt you years later.