Family Secrets: Childhood Sexual Abuse

30f6cf470f2d828e104d054e6a86f77bSpeaking with a young woman today, I heard a story I have heard far too many times.

This woman had been sexually abused as a child by a relative, but didn’t say anything out of fear and embarrassment. This relative went on to molest other children in the family until someone finally spoke out.

I’ve spoken to many individuals in the past who were molested by a family member and didn’t say anything not only out of fear and shame, but also because they thought that as long as the molester was perpetrating on them, he would leave their younger brothers, sisters or cousins alone.

In essence, they figured they would suffer through the abuse so that others wouldn’t have to.

The sad part is, in all of these cases, the molester went on to molest other children in the family anyway. In one case, there were three sisters all getting molested by the same uncle and neither knew about the other. All three reported that they didn’t say anything because they thought they were protecting the other sister from the abuse, not knowing that the other sisters were doing the exact same thing.

It was only when this uncle, after years of abusing these sisters, abused another member of the family that he got caught and is now serving time in prison.  By then at least four family members had been abused over the period of several years.

The Threat From Within

We teach our children to be cautious of strangers. We believe that the greatest threat to our child comes from outside of our homes and inner-circles.

1 in 4 women, and 1 in 6 men report being sexually abused as a child. Over 90% of sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone the child knows, loves and trusts. Family members, family friends, teachers, religious leaders and coaches are some of the biggest offenders.

There are many families who have this type of  secret, and some will even tell their children, “Stay away from uncle Bob” because they know they have a perpetrator in their family who for one reason or another is still around.

I even worked with one family who hid their family member’s pedophilic activity, partially out of embarrassment and partially out of  a family’s natural response to try to protect each other. This family member went on to molest at least three children before being sent to prison.

Why Do Children Keep Abuse A Secret

As adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse will tell you, there are many reasons why children will endure sexual abuse for years, some for a lifetime, without telling soul.

For one, children aim to please. They want to make someone they love and trust happy and are often willing to do whatever the person tells them to do.

Abusers also often coach their victims not to tell anyone. Sometimes this is done with threats of violence towards them or other members in their family. Other times it is done with the threat that the child themselves will get in trouble if they tell.

Shame, embarrassment and confusion along with countless other feelings and thoughts can keep a child from telling anyone about the abuse.

Most survivors of childhood abuse I’ve spoken to waited until they were were in their late teens or adulthood before they felt ready to share what they experienced as a child. Many reported that they were afraid that no one would believe them.

How To Help Your Child Break The Silence

We have to teach children the difference between a secret and a surprise. That may sound too simple, but as a start, it is very powerful.

  • Teach them that a surprise is supposed to be about something fun, such as a birthday gift or special party for a friend.
  • Teach them that secrets are something kids shouldn’t keep to themselves, especially secrets that involve touches of private body parts or anything that makes the child feel uncomfortable.
  • Encourage your child not to keep secrets from you.
  • Tell them that touches to private body parts should never be a secret.
  • Let them know that if someone tells them to keep a secret, especially someone older than them (including older/bigger kids), they should tell you or another trusted adult immediately.
  • If a friend tells them a secret, let your child know they should share it with you (the other child could be asking for help).
  • Let them know that it’s never their fault if someone touches a private body part and they will never get in trouble if they tell.

Abuse of all kind (i.e.,  physical, sexual, emotional and neglect) flourishes under the veil of silence. It’s beyond time that we break that silence.

 

 

Signs Your Teen May Need To See A Counselor

Bored-teenage-girl-on-couch-jpgVery often I have parents ask me if I think their teen needs counseling. They will tell me about different behaviors they have observed and pretty much ask me if it is “normal”.

The advice I normally give is, if you think your teen needs counseling, they probably do. I have seen more instances of teens not receiving mental health help or receiving it once the issue has gotten out of hand, then I have of parents bringing their teens in for counseling when they are perfectly “normal”.

Don’t get me wrong, I have seen parents who have brought their teens in for counseling only for me to soon realize that it was the parent that actually needed help, and not their teen.

In any case, it never hurts to schedule a session for your teen if you think they may need help. A trained mental health professional will be able to tell you in a couple of sessions or so if your teen needs further help or if the issue extends further into the family system.

Some signs that your teenager may need counseling

  • Mood swings– Yes we all know that teenagers have mood swings. It is definitely part of that developmental age, but as a parent, you should have a general baseline of your teens mood swings. If their mood swings seem extreme or are way outside of your teens normal mood swings (too depressed, too elated, too labile, etc.) trust your gut, it may be worth looking into with a trained professional.
  • Self-medicating– Some teens will try to hide or control their issues, especially when they don’t understand why they think or feel a certain way. Many will turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, self-mutilation, or eating disorders just to name a few, in an effort to make themselves feel better. If you notice your teen involved in any of these things it’s almost a guarantee that they are trying to mask something else, that could be anything from low self-esteem to sexual abuse and it’s worth investigating.
  • Changes in friends– many times when a teen is suffering from a mental illness it will impact their ability to maintain healthy friendships. They may push friends away or become too clingy. You may see some of your teens friends start wanting to avoid them or your teens choices of friends may drastically change.
  • Changes in school performance– is another sign that your teen may be suffering from some form of mental illness. It’s generally hard to concentrate and focus when one is in a poor mental state and this can affect a teens grades and/or conduct.
  • Physical symptoms– if your teen suddenly starts to care less about their appearance, stops taking showers, gains or loses a lot of weight or starts complaining of psychosomatic symptoms like backaches, headaches or stomach aches, these are all possible signs that your teen is dealing with something they can’t handle alone.
  • Behavior changes– behavior like mood can change a lot during the teenage years, but for the most part, if you teens starts presenting as a totally different person to you then it may indicate either a mental illness or substance abuse issue.

Being a teenager is hard and most teens will try their best to hide their problems from their parents, which is why it is imperative that parents are attune with their teenagers. Today it’s even easier for teens to hide how they really feel through social media so parents have to be vigilant to monitor their social media pages as well in order to gain insight into what is really going on with their teen.

With the appropriate help, all mental and emotional issues can be treated and managed so if you  have to ask the question, “Is this normal”, chances are you should contact a qualified mental health professional for a further evaluation.

 

Study Links Shows Like 16 And Pregnant To A Drop in Teenage Pregnancy

Unhappy Baby and MotherThere have been times I’ve been critical of shows like 16 and Pregnant because I thought that they glamorize teenage pregnancy by exploiting the teenage girls on the show and even making celebrities out of some of them.

Having worked in a high school in the past with a fairly high rate of teenage pregnancy, I knew that teenage pregnancy wasn’t glamorise at all. All of the girls I worked with in the high school who became pregnant eventually dropped out. Some dropped out only to have another kid a year later.

In my article Young, Poor and Pregnant I discuss some of the downsides of programming like 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, but a new study called “Media Influences on Social Outcomes: The Impact of MTV’s 16 and Pregnant on Teen Childbearing” which was written by Melissa S. Kearny of the University of Maryland and Phillip B. Levine from Wellesley College, found that 18 months after the shows introduction, teen birth rates actually dropped 5.7 percent in 2010. According the New York Times, that 5.7 drop is an estimated 20,000 teenage births prevented.

The study also showed that using Neilson ratings, in areas where the show was highly popular, the rates of teenage pregnancies declined the fastest.

During their study, the authors found that search engine searches and tweets about  birth control and abortion grew significantly after the show was introduced. While I have written about some of the negatives of the show, I was surprised and happy to see that it had benefits that show that teenage girls aren’t as brainwashed and reality TV obsessed as some of us adults like to think. In fact, the study shows that many teenage girls can look at shows like this and not glamorize it, but recognize that they don’t want their lives to be as complicated, crazy or hard as most of the teenage moms on the shows.

One of the benefits of shows about teenage mothers is that they discuss an issue that is often shied away from and more accurately show the true effects of being a teenage mom, better than any sex education class or most lectures could. No one is totally crediting shows about teenage moms as the sole reason for the decline in teenage pregnancy. The rate of teenage pregnancy has been on the decline over the last 20 years and things such as the recession also bring the birth rate down.

However, what the show does do is make it more real so that teens can see that real teenage motherhood may not be the fairytale that they may imagine it will be (“now he will stay with me”, “I’ll feel more loved and supported”, etc.).  These shows alone aren’t enough to continue to prevent teenage pregnancy. There still needs to be good sex education and parental guidance. One potential negative of the show is that in the study there was a trend for teenage girls who watched the show heavily to perceive the teenage mothers as having easier lives and still have time to be a kid, which usually isn’t the reality. For the most part,  the one thing we can take away from this study is that teenage girls are more capable of learning from other teenagers mistakes than we may have given them credit for in the face of so much reality TV where the bad girls are celebrated and consequences seem few and far between.

Monitoring Your Teen: Your Perspective VS Their Reality

istock_000015515974small_2_2I recently watched an episode of Dr. Phil where a mother thought her 15 year old daughter was a popular teen and earning good grades. This mom thought she had the perfect teen, until one day her daughter disappeared and was found days later by the police.

Only then did her mother find out that this teen had not only recently witnessed a murder, but that the life she actually lived was is stark contrast to the life her parents believed she was living.

In reality, their daughter was not this popular teenager with good grades, but she was a drug using, bullied teen who was meeting and sleeping with older men she would meet online on a regular basis. Some were more than twice her age and married. One even committed suicide and she was the one who found his body.

This reality, was nothing that her mother could  ever imagine her daughter going through.

This got me to thinking about a lot of the teens I work with and how their reality often totally differs from the their parents perspectives.

Many teens I work with have parents who believe that they are doing good in school and are really active in after school activities like band and drama, while often these kids are failing school, skipping classes and using after school activities as covers to do other things such as having sex and using drugs.

As a matter of fact, I was so alarmed at the amount of teenage girls who told me that they were having sex after school (while they were supposed to be in drama or band) in an unsupervised location on campus, that I went to multiple school administrators and school resource officers to crack down on the number of teens on campus unsupervised after school.

Here you have parents thinking their child is staying after school to rehearse for a play, yet they are having sex in a storage closet, or leaving campus altogether to have sex or use drugs, but returning to campus later to be picked up by their parents who have the slightest idea of what is really going on in their teens lives.

I’ve sat down with numerous parents who were stunned to find out that their kid was failing multiple classes, missing dozens of unexcused days from school or wasn’t actually in the school play she had been supposedly staying after school for everyday for the past two months.

Teens will be teens, and most of these parents I spoke with took it for granted that they had “good kids” so they rarely checked on them or monitored their activities. They just assumed that they were always doing the right things.

On the Dr. Phil show, he drew the contrast between this young girls realty and her parents’ perspective:

Her Parents’ Perspective                                                                                    Daughters’ Reality

Spent time playing computer games                                                         Spent time meeting men online

Spent the night at friends’ houses and didn’t leave                          Snuck out of friends’ houses to meet men

Popular at school                                                                                                 Bullied at school

Relationship was wonderful                                                                         Parents were distant

I don’t mean for this to scare any parents, but I want you to understand the importance of monitoring your child, even when they are teens… especially when they are teens. It’s important that you trust your teens, but it also important that you verify what ithey tell you is going on.

Monitoring Your Teen

Monitoring your teen means asking questions. It means knowing where they are, who they are with, what they are doing and what time they will be back home. It also means having them check in regularly. Your teen may not like this, but over time they will grow accustomed to it if it is consistent and they know what to expect.

This is especially important when your teen starts getting involved with more activities outside of the home including school activities. Many parents think that as long as their child is at school they are safe and being monitored, but that often is not the case. After school activities can create time and opportunity for teens to get themselves into trouble.

If your teen stays after school for an activity, drop in every now and then to make sure they are where they said they will be.

You don’t have to make it obvious. Maybe bring them a snack or genuinely be interested in whatever the activity they are involved in. The same goes for school. If you can’t drop in every now and then to make sure they are at school, most schools  have websites just for parents where you can monitor your child’s attendance, grades and assignments.

Monitoring your teen is about communication and respect on both ends. Here are a few tips:

  • Let your teen know that you will be monitoring them so that they won’t be surprised. Like I said, they may not like it but they will grow used to it if they know what to expect and it is consistent.
  • If you sense trouble, make those surprise visits to the school, the park, the football field, or call their friends’ parents to make sure your teen is where they said they would be. Let your teen know this is something you may do sporadically.
  • Get involved in the activities your teen is doing at school. If your teen is in band, try to become a band parent, or a drama parent, or just show up to support your teen and the school. The more likely the chance that you will be around, the less likely your teen will do things you disapprove of.
  • Have a rule: “No parents, no party”.  The amount of unsupervised parties the teens I work with go to that are filled with sex, drugs and alcohol is astonishing. Make sure that if your teen is going to a party there will be adequate adult supervision.
  • Get to know the other adults in your teens’ life such at teachers, mentors, coaches, employers, etc. This is important for a number of reasons, but this can also be a network where you can compare notes. If you think your teen is doing great in school, a teacher could tell you that they are missing class a lot or getting bullied for example.
  • Monitor how your teen is spending their money. You wouldn’t believe how many parents I work with who would give their kids money and have no idea what they are doing with it.
  • Monitor your teens online and electronic devices such as phones and ipads. Teens get in all sorts of trouble online and they generally don’t want you in their online lives, but when their safety is your priority then compromises have to be made.
  • Monitor their physical and mental health and look for signs of changes so that you can address them early or seek professional help if needed.

There is much more that could be added to this list, but this is a good start. Most parents will add their own tailored made to their child.

How much monitoring is enough depends on your teen. If they show you that they can be trusted, are accountable and reliable, then you may back off some and only monitor them every now and then, but if they have shown you that they can’t be trusted, you may have to monitor them more.

Look for changes in your teen such as new friends, different behaviors or activities. These are signs that you may want to monitor your teen a little more; also when things are changing such as moving to a new neighborhood, school or when things at home are changing such as divorce or a death in the family.

We all did things as teenagers that make us uncomfortable to think about today, but we are glad that we came out relatively un-scathed. Monitoring your teen so that your perspective matches closely with their reality will hopefully help your teen avoid some of those unnecessary situations, some of which can be life altering and deadly.

Have Your Teens Been Looking For Molly?

PinkPillWhen I am doing presentations on drugs to high school teenagers, one of the many questions I get asked is “What is a Molly?” Many teens have heard of the drug Molly, some have even tried it while many more are simply curious about the drug they are hearing so much about through the music that they are listening to.

If you have never heard of the drug Molly, chances are that the teen in your life has. Molly is an innocent sounding name for a form of ecstasy that usually comes in colorful pills, powder or crystals. Some people mix it in their drinks to mask the taste and because it often gives drinks a different color or flavor.

Many teens think that it is harmless, mostly because so many of their favorite entertainers celebrate using it regularly, but it is not harmless. Part of the lure of the drug Molly is that there are few negative side effects, few verified long term effects (although depression may be one of them), and not a high risk of dependence. The real danger of using a drug like Molly, is not knowing what is really in it or how much.

When Molly is mixed with alcohol, as it often is, the risk for negative side effects increase from dehydration and exhaustion, to more severe side effects including hyperthermia, seizures, electrolyte abnormalities, cardiac episodes and even comas.

The name Molly is a play on the word molecule and it’s supposed to be a pure form of MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxy-N-methylamphetamine), but often isn’t. Some labs that  have been busted by law enforcement had the ingredients for chemicals such as bath salts mixed in.

MDMA can come from as far away as Canada, Asia and the Netherlands and can be created in labs with unknown health and safety dangers.

The scary part about Molly is that it is the latest club drug that rappers and other musicians are singing about as if it’s cool and fun to use.

Because popular rappers like Trinidad James, Future and Soulja Boy are practically promoting the drug, teens who may have not ever heard of or been interested in using drugs are becoming more and more curious about what a Molly is and what exactly does it do.

Here are some lines from some popular rap songs that mention Molly:

  • “pop a Molly I’m sweatin.”-Trinidad James
  • “”MDMA got you feeling like a champion/the city never sleeps better slip you an ambien.”- Jay Z.
  • “Something about Mary, she gone off that Molly/Now the whole party is melted like Dali”- Kanye West
  • “Talkin four door Bugatti/ I’m the life of the party/Let’s get these hoes on the Molly”- Rick Ross
  • “Take the blunt, dip it in the lean, then light it/Pop a Molly, drink some orange juice, get higher”- Juicy J.
  • “Pop a molly smoke a blunt/That mean I’m a high roller”- Lil Wayne
  • “Every Molly got my body feelin’ like I’m outer body/I’ll be high and above the rim, Amare Stoudemire”- Gun Play

A lot of these rappers and songs you may have never heard of, but many of your kids have or at least have heard other songs mentioning taking Molly as if it were as harmless as taking a sip of water. Even Madonna yelled out to a crowd during Miami’s Ultra Music Festival, “How many people in this crowd have seen Molly?”.

One of the side effects of taking MDMA is sweating profusely (“pop a Molly I’m sweating”), because people may not realize how hot they get and start sweating. Using Molly just like regular ecstasy can make you feel happy, sexy and less inhibited which could lead to unintended sexual encounters, but some experts report that just one hit of Molly can damage your brain forever.

Rapper Joe Budden told Fox News in New York that after a summer of using Molly, he started hallucinating and not sleeping for days. He reports it took people around him that cared about him to save his life.

Teens are young and impressionable. It’s easy for the music and entertainers they listen to to influence not only how they talk, and dress, but also what they do.

When their favorite entertainers are making casual drug use seem fun, exciting and happening, then it’s only natural that they become curious about and even become tempted to experiment with the things they reference.

Entertainers are always quick to remind us that they are not role models. They think this frees them for being responsible for their actions and words. Well they are Role models, good or bad, but it is our responsibility as responsible adults to be the good role models and to help our kids stay away from bad influences by educating them on drugs and other references made in the movies and music they watch and listen to while answering any questions they have.

Keeping Teens Safe During Prom Night

bc-web-liquor0107It’s Prom season again and teenagers across the country are getting ready for the big night, spending lots of money on dresses, hair, make up and alcohol.

Yes, alcohol.

The other day I happened to glimpse at one of my 17 year old client’s cell phone screen and saw that she was in the middle of texting someone about Prom. The last message read, “Are you sure your cousin is going to be able to get us the alcohol?”

I wasn’t shocked, but disappointed. After all, this client is one of my “good” kids who generally doesn’t give me any trouble at all, but I was disappointed that she was planning on drinking on Prom night, just as thousands of other students will be doing.

Teens and alcohol simply don’t mix, they never have, and Prom and alcohol definitely don’t mix.

Teens want to party and celebrate, to be “grown” for a night which includes partying and celebrating the way they see or think grown people do, with alcohol which is why Prom and Graduation season are so deadly for teens when it comes to alcohol related accidents and deaths.

For example, in 2005 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 676 high school students were killed in alcohol related traffic accidents.  One third of all alcohol related traffic accidents involving students happen between the months of April, May and June.

Drinking alcohol can cause adults to make poor decisions, imagine the poor decisions involved with underage drinking.

Young drivers are less likely to wear their seat belts when they have been drinking.  In 2005, 64% of young drivers involved in fatal crashes who had been drinking were not wearing a seat belt (NHTSA).

Teens who have been drinking or aren’t thinking about possible consequences, are also more likely to get into a car with someone who has been drinking, which of course puts their lives at risk even if they avoided alcohol themselves.

According to a 2005 report by the CDC Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance, in the last 30 days, nearly 30 percent of high school students reported getting in a car driven by someone they knew had been drinking alcohol.

Other than drinking and driving, there are the other issues that come along with being intoxicated, such as leaving oneself vulnerable to sexual assaults, theft, violence and a host of other reckless, stupid behaviors and decisions.

One statistic I saw estimated that 90 percent of all crimes on college campuses including rape and murder involved alcohol.

Ask your teen how much would it suck on Prom night to end up:

  • on their knees somewhere throwing up or passed out
  • embarrassing themselves, their friends or their date
  • on a Youtube video doing something they wish they could take back
  • not remembering much of this supposedly unforgettable night
  • suspended from school or worse, arrested

Some people will say that teens will be teens, they will party and drink, but so what? Well if the statistics about alcohol related traffic accidents above doesn’t cause you to pause, think about these numbers from about.com:

  • 3 million children ages 14 through 17 are regular drinkers who already have a confirmed alcohol problem
  • Ninth graders who drink are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who don’t
  • 40 percent of children who begin drinking before the age of 15 will become alcoholics at some point in their lives

We can’t ignore the problem of teenage drinking. I am almost positive that the client I spoke about above, parents have not talked to her at all about drinking on Prom night, because she is an excellent student who never has behavioral problems. They would be shocked to know about her intentions, which is why I let her know I saw her text and spoke at length with her about underage drinking.

Parents, talk to your teens about staying safe and away from alcohol and drugs during Prom. Not only should you talk to your teen, you should also speak with their dates and even friends to try to make sure everyone is on the same page. You can even have your teen, their date and friends sign a sobriety or Prom promise, that says something as simple as:

I,__(name)_________ hereby commit to having a safe Prom by not using alcohol, tobacco, or any other drugs. I will also encourage those with me to remain alcohol and drug free and I will not get into a vehicle driven by someone who is not sober.

Have your teen sign and date it. Sounds simple, but this little method has proven to be powerful on high school campuses across the country each Prom and graduation season.

Lastly, parents:

  • Let your teen know that they can call you or someone else you both trust and agree upon, to come and get them anytime from anywhere
  • Know your teen’s plans for before, during and after Prom
  • Know who they are with
  • Come to a fair and agreed upon curfew
  • Let them know your expectations for an alcohol and drug free night
  • Check in with them during and after the Prom, or have to check in. A simple text, “I’m okay” may suffice

Prom is an exciting, memorable time that unfortunately ends in tragedy for far too many young people. Let’s try to keep them safe while allowing them to prove that they are ready for the responsibilities that come along with being young adults.

Why Are Teens Inhaling Condoms and Cinnamon?

istock_000014270011xsmallTeens are great with coming up with pointless and sometimes dangerous fads that prove to us adults that their brains still aren’t fully developed.

Thanks to the internet, those fads spread like wild fire, putting more and more teens in danger.

Remember The Cinnamon Challenge? If you have no idea what I am talking about, it’s a “game” where you are supposed to put a spoon full of ground cinnamon in your mouth and attempt to swallow it without anything else to help wash it down.

The challenge is pretty much impossible.

There are plenty of YouTube videos demonstrating the challenge with the results usually ending with someone gagging, vomiting, coughing and/or choking.

Why this may sound stupid to us with fully developed brains, thousands of teens have taken this challenge with some ending up in the hospital.

According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there were 222 cases of abuse or misuse of cinnamon last year with the numbers steadily increasing.

Trying the cinnamon challenge can be damaging to the lungs with at least one teen being hospitalized with a collapsed lung when she attempted the challenge.

A newer, potentially even more dangerous fad is the The Condom Challenge. 

In The Condom Challenge teens open up a condom, snort it through their nostrils, and then attempt to pull it out of their mouths.

You can see the health hazards in this.

Condoms can easily get lodged in the windpipe, causing a person to have trouble breathing or not be able to get any oxygen at all. I haven’t heard of any deaths yet, but as this fad spreads, it’s most likely only a matter of time.

Teens do a lot of stupid things when they get bored and are around or influenced by other teens, including doing drugs,  drinking alcohol, and now apparently trying to swallow ground cinnamon and inhaling condoms.

Teens who have better things to do, like go to parks, participate in recreational activities, school sports and/or clubs are less likely to find themselves bored enough or interested enough to try the new fads.

Teens think that they are invincible and nothing will go wrong, but they do go wrong, often very quickly and un-expectantly.

It’s important that teens realize that they are their own person and they don’t have to follow other people in their real lives or in their online lives to be popular or cool.

As parents, caregivers and adults, we have to be aware of the fads our teens are facing and the hazards that go along with them.  What may sound stupid, idiotic and dangerous to us most likely sounds harmless, challenging and fun to them.

Teens will be teens and they will be reckless and risk takers. It’s all a part of their developmental stage. Still, our jobs are to educate them and keep them safe the best we can so they can live long enough to become adults and reflect back on how stupid they were when they were teens, just as most of us do.