This is heavy and hard. It’s also exactly what we’re worried our kids might do or experience. It’s a perfect opportunity to talk.
Take a deep breath. Ready? Let’s parse it out.
She was at a party she knew was out of bounds
No parents home, teens drinking, and drinking too much. She didn’t want to tell her parents because she feared their reaction.
This could be any of our kids.
She didn’t report, nor did anyone else. That’s so common. It was the norm then, and we’ve progressed in the right direction since. It’s easier for victims to come forward now, because we’re more open to believing and supporting them.
It’s totally understandable that after such a hard blow, a person would just want to focus on breathing, on the day-to-day needs, on moving forward. That’s all the energy they have. None is available for anger and fighting back – that comes later, after the healing, after strength has returned.
Her memories are incomplete, and it’s hard to tell a cohesive story
Trauma is like that. Some memories are vividly etched and others are missing. There are gaps. This is to be expected; it’s normal – but it feels wrong to those who’ve never been traumatized.
It feels like a person should be able to remember it all and tell the story, but that’s not what happens to the brain. Parts of the experience freeze. Parts of the brain disconnect. It’s very common for a traumatized person to have trouble articulating what happened.
Understand that. Explain it to your friends and family and kids.
We’re all watching to see how both sides are being treated
Do powerful people stand with him and brush this aside? Does her bravery and leadership earn her recognition and justice or more hardship?
Does it matter what crimes you commit as a “stupid teen”?
I’d love to see more humility and reconciliation. If he showed more concern for her, I’d have much more respect for him. If I were accused of this crime, I would want to say, “I don’t remember this happening, but if it did, I am so deeply sorry for hurting you. Let’s get to the bottom of this.” That would be partnering rather than stonewalling, taking responsibility and showing the kind of moral leadership I hope for in our highest court.
How should we, as parents, turn this tragedy to good for our kids?
It’s something they’re hearing about. If we don’t talk about it with them, we’re missing a huge opportunity.
If your child is in nursery or elementary school, you’ll know best how much they can handle. Rather than getting into the details of sexual assault, frame this incident as bullying and ask if they can relate. Ask if they’ve ever been bullied. Ask if they understand why bullying happens (generally speaking, the bully has gone through a terrible experience and is horrified by their own weakness, which then leaks out as intolerance for the weakness they perceive in others).
Acknowledge your own emotions. It’s ok to be sad in front of your kids, to relate to the pain we’re witnessing. If it’s overwhelming for you, delegate the task of talking about this with your child to someone else. When you can dip in and out of your own emotions, then you’re able to be both transparent and serving your child.
Middle school and high school kids need the opportunity to talk about this
Both this incident and these issues. They’re ready. Don’t shy away.
Share Dr. Ford’s story: Help them understand that our supervision is still needed. It’s literally dangerous for them to be off partying with their friends without a sober adult ally ready to intervene.
Talk about how it should be: Of course we wish the assault had never occurred. We can talk about what should have happened instead, in the moment between the teens. And what should have happened afterwards when she was safe. And now that she came forward. And now that he faces these allegations.
Express gratitude: Hallelujah that our society’s tolerance has changed. Sexual assault was accepted in the past and isn’t any longer. Victims are believed and encouraged. There’s more work to be done, but we’re on the right path.
Be your teen’s ally: We can be the parent who holds limits firmly without big emotions and who refrains from punishing. Someone they are NOT afraid to admit their transgressions to. Someone they can approach for help. This has little to do with YOUR feelings, and everything to do with how emotionally safe THEY feel with you.
Let’s use this national drama to teach the next generation about sexual assault, consent, and listening to your inner warning signals. About how trauma manifests and how reparations should be made.
I hope these suggestions are helpful. Let me know what you need as you have these conversations with your kids.
In support of you,