Monday, October 13, 2014

Why Teens Don't Tell

Today I told with my dad about my friend Janey, who was bullied throughout middle school. Boys shoved her in the hallways. Girls left notes I her locker urging her to kill herself. What did she do to deserve this?
A boy asked Janey if she thought he was cute. And she told him, "No. I think you're cocky."
When I finished this story, my dad turned away and said, "I have a hard time feeling sorry for Janey." I slammed a door but came back a minute later asking why. He told me, "Popular girls just have problems like that. Besides, she was born in America to a good religious family and she's an athlete. I can feel sorry for people with real problems, like disabilities, but not her."
I've been thinking a lot about the word trust. Every lecture I've heard-whether it's about internet safety or bullying or rape-closes with the words "tell a trusted adult." To me, trust doesn't mean someone I can count on to punish me. It means someone I can count on to listen.
At this moment, I don't trust my dad. Maybe the reason so many teen problems go unreported is we don't have adults we can trust. Specifically our own parents.
My friend Leah grew up with neglectful parents. She drank water out of a toilet bowl like a dog until the age of three. That's when her mom got custody and she learned to drink from a cup. 
In seventeen years of existence, I've never walked up to my dad and said, "Thanks for not making me drink out of a toilet." I shouldn't have to. I shouldn't have to be grateful that they have basic human decency. I've never thanked my parents for giving me a rent free roof over my head, for food and clothes, for love, for anything that children are entitled to. I assumed these were rights. That my parents weren't heroes for providing them. That any parent who didn't was substandard and mine were simply okay.
For some reason, it's not okay for children to compare themselves to other children. "But all my friends have smartphones!" Hypocritically, its perfectly acceptable for parents to compare themselves to other parents. "The Joneses didn't buy Cody a smartphone so you don't need one." Parents compare themselves, and when they find themselves just as good or better than the Joneses, they see no room for improvement. So when their children come running to them with a problem Cody doesn't have to deal with, they see no need to solve it. Their kid is fed and clothed and educated, what are they whining about?
Just because your parents aren't physically, emotionally, verbally, or sexually neglectful doesn't mean they are a good parent. A good parent is one who listens.
My friend Karyn confided in me that she was raped twice before the age of sixteen. When I shared this story with my mom, telling her no more or less than what I've told you, she cut me off. "She probably put herself in a bad situation."
I explained that no, that's not the case, and told her Karyn's story.
"How are you supposed to know if that's true?" she said once I finished.
I'm not supposed to know if it's true. I'm supposed to take her seriously whether it's true or not. I'd rather comfort a liar than make a true victim feel ashamed. This way I have my bases covered.
Do you want to know why teenagers run away from home? Commit suicide? Hide our eating disorders? Keep quiet about bullies? Because we don't trust our parents to hear us out. Its not that we haven't tried talking, its that we get turned down every time we try. Janey didn't go to her dad for more than a year because she didn't trust him to listen. Leah certainly didn't trust her father. Karyn's father is a cop, so he responded by giving her self defense tips. But not all girls are that lucky.
No parent is perfect. So when your children come to you with a problem, don't go, "Oh no! They're accusing me of parenting imperfectly!" 
Listen to them. 
Really listen.

Note: I wrote this post a few months back. My dad has since apologized for what he said about Janey. Also, all the names in this post have been changed.

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