My oldest daughter and I are very close. We always have been. I’m sure a big part of our closeness has to do with the 10 years that it was mostly just me and her. She did everything with me. One friend once said that if you did something with Karmen, you knew you were doing it with her daughter. She was my shadow until she grew so great that she out shined me.
Our closeness goes beyond proximity. We talk about pretty much everything. Some things I’m glad I know, and some things I could do without knowing, but I’m glad that she is comfortable enough telling me. We’ve mostly always had this kind of openness, except maybe a dark period from 17-18 years old. Even during that time we weren’t completely closed off. And of course, since then we have only managed to grow closer even as the physical proximity has grown.
Despite how close we have always been, she kept a very big secret from me. Last year she told me that secret and oh what a crappy mom I am that I never knew. What a crappy mom that I believed us to be so close, and had no idea. What a crappy mom that I failed my daughter in such a huge and phenomenal way.
You see, when she was 14 she was raped.
This blog could go on right now about our society’s rape culture and the objectification of women, but that’s not for this post (although excellent subjects to discuss). This post is about something much simpler, more personal, and possibly more important.
So, here it is. Teach your children about safe relationships.
My daughter got caught in a terrible situation with a boy that was damaged. She wanted to help him and he manipulated her. She wanted to be there for him and he took advantage of that. She didn’t realize that when he was hurt or broken, it wasn’t her place to fix him. She let that boy do something to her that changed her forever.
But let’s be real here. We haven’t always been the strong independent women we are today. So many of us have let friends, family, and especially significant others use us and mistreat us. We allow it for many reasons. We want to be accepted, feel loved, get to do something, get something, or any number of other reasons.
We aren’t sure of our voice when we are young. We don’t always know what is acceptable. We worry that saying “no” will mean losing friends or love, and we definitely don’t know that as unlikely as that is, even if we lose friends or love they are probably not worthy of us anyway, and we will move on to greater things. The world will not end because we chose to stand up for ourselves.
Did you know:
One in three adolescents in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner, a figure that far exceeds rates of other types of youth violence. One in 10 high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
And the CDC says:
23% of women and 14% of men who ever experienced rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner, first experienced some form of partner violence between 11 and 17 years of age.
This is fairly discouraging information. So what can we do to help our teens?
You could give them a copy of Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, but you assume your child will read it and can comprehend the pretty deep subject matter. (And if you are purely secular, this is a Christian book.) I haven’t done research, but I would say there are a great number of books that you could try. I do suggest reading a bit to ensure the book guides your child in a way you are comfortable with.
You could talk to your child. And definitely should. However, I don’t know if you noticed yet, kids don’t always listen to us. In fact, I would say most of our children at some point decide that we parents are stupid and know nothing about anything. But ok. Our angels do hear some of what we’re saying and it does sink in despite the most headstrong of kids so keep talking every chance you get.
In the meantime, consider sending your child to a Safe Relationships Class. Here your child has the opportunity to hear from someone else, a professional, that can give your child direction (and reinforce what you are saying to them already.) At a Safe Relationships Class an experienced individual such as a psychologist could sit and talk with a group of children about what it means to have a safe relationship, what is acceptable and not within a relationship, and what your child can do if they find themselves in an unsafe relationship.
There is a lot to be said about talking about giving kids the opportunity to talk about relationships in a group, with a trained professional leading. Strangely, kids can feel more comfortable talking about things so personal and intimate when a parent is not around no matter how close the parent-child relationship. And let’s be honest, hearing others’ struggle with the same or similar situations/problems makes us feel stronger. Kids are no different in that way.
We can always assume that our kids are honest with us (I did), but when bad things happen honesty sometimes get hung up in fear, shame, sadness, or any other number of bad feelings. Don’t take a chance. Arm your child with the information, strength, and courage to stand up against unsafe relationships.
As for my daughter, she is healing. At 22 years old, I am proud to say that she has found her voice. She is a strong and independent young woman who doesn’t take shit from any boy, friend, or even her family (except sometimes me). She stands up for herself and what she believes in. She cares about other people, but she cares about herself more. I admire the young woman she has become. She is my hero for everything she has endured, but still coming out of it such a beautiful soul, so very courageous, and so absolutely determined to be something great. I can’t imagine how she managed so much awesomeness, but here she is. Absolutely Awesome.