Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Parent Needs to Have Conversation With Teens

DEAR HARRIETTE: I have teenagers who are just starting to date, and frankly, I am concerned about all of the talk of sexual misconduct in the news and how that might affect their choices. My kids are the same age as Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his high school accuser at the time of the alleged incident. They know what the allegations are.

Forget whether he becomes a Supreme Court justice for a moment; I’m worried about my kids possibly becoming numb to hearing about sexual misconduct and for it to seem commonplace and not worth reporting. I don’t know how to address this situation to make it real for my children without getting involved in a political discussion. It’s not that we avoid politics. We talk about that, too, but this is real and could happen to them.

I want to talk to my daughter and son about what they would do if they were faced with a potentially dangerous situation like the one being described. How do I approach this? -- Having the Conversation, Seattle

DEAR HAVING THE CONVERSATION: What we as parents learn is that virtually every situation can become a teachable moment. Your children see things going on in their world and experience challenging situations or assaults on their values, and they rely on you to help them understand what to do. As the groundswell of awareness around sexual misconduct grows, you must talk to your children about their choices, their actions and their ability to protect themselves.

The way I approached the Kavanaugh accusations with my teenage daughter may be helpful to you. I asked if she knew the allegations. She did. Then I put her in the moment. She likes to go to parties and hang out with friends. I reminded her that this type of incident is part of why I do not ever want her to go to someone’s home when an adult isn’t there, especially not to a party. I asked her what she would do if someone attacked her or one of her friends. When would she call the police? That was a scary question for her and got her thinking. God forbid, if she were attacked in any way, or even if she finds herself in a compromising or unsafe situation, I let her know that she can always call me (or tell me later), and I will be there -- without judgment. We established a safe word she can text me that serves as an SOS. Our children need to know that we will support them. They need to trust that they can reach out to us for help no matter how bad the situation may be.

Our children also need to understand that in today’s world, every single thing they do can be and often is recorded via smartphone and social media. The difference between the Kavanaugh situation and today is that Kavanaugh is facing allegations that amount to he said-she said. Whatever our teens do today will likely be documented in photos and video. A record of their actions will live in perpetuity. Our job is to help our children recognize the impact of this reality. Every thought, word and deed counts and can affect them many years later. They do not have the luxury to make repeated bad choices without the possibility of penalty in the future. Whatever they do, they must learn that they absolutely cannot lie about it.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)