The sexual abuse of teens by powerful adults (teachers, coaches, priests, family members) is a trauma double whammy: teens damaged by the abuse AND they are often blamed for the abuse by community members who say that the teen wanted it, was a slut, or should have known better.
What these people don’t understand—but predators do—are the intricacies of a teenager’s brain.
I’m not talking about hormones here. I’m talking about the physical, mental and emotional maturation of the white matter between a kid’s ears.
In his book Brainstorm, Daniel J. Siegel talks about why teenagers act the way they do. Without getting into the meat of the book (which is a must read for teens and parents), there was one specific point he made (among many) that shows why predators who target teens are far more likely to use alcohol to groom their victims.
According to Siegel’s studies, the teenage brain is subject to much greater dopamine releases than either children or adults. That is, they get much greater pleasure and a much bigger “rush” from alcohol, drugs, or dangerous behavior (sex, fast driving, BMX racing, etc.). So the euphoria a teen feels after drinking is much more intense than what an adult feels. Therefore, it’s harder to resist … or stop.
Siegel takes it a step further. In the studies he cites, teens are also far more susceptible to addiction, because their brains’ “pleasure receptacles” haven’t developed enough to help the brain engage in self-control.
Put those together with a powerful and influential adult, and you have trouble. Predators who target teens know: a) teens are more likely to accept alcohol, b) they are more likely to drink to intoxication and addiction, c) they get a rush from the excitement of breaking the rules and feel “adult,” d) they know it’s wrong and are unlikely to tell a parent if something happens to them while they are drunk (especially if the teen is a boy who was abused by a man), and most importantly,
e) the teen is likely to be blamed for the abuse (“You were drunk! What did you THINK would happen?”).
How do you prevent this from happening you your teen? It’s easy: TALK ABOUT IT. Be blunt. Show them what you have read and ask them what they think about it. Ask them what they have seen. Ask their opinion … and value it. Tell your teen that if an adult tries to give them alcohol “in secret,” (it’s illegal, and) that adult has serious issues and must be reported. Tell your teen that if something like that happens, they can tell you safely. Tell your teen that if they know of something that has happened or if something happened to them, they shouldn’t be scared or ashamed.
Come to your teen from a place of conversation, not one of lecturing or shaming. Don’t talk about “your time” as a teen—ask them about theirs. It may take a couple of days of innocent questions, but if they think you are really interested in what they have to say, they will come around. And don’t be embarrassed or discouraged.
There is a lot more to talk to you teen about when it comes to alcohol … but this is a good start.
And starting the conversation is the first and most important part, right?
I’ll cover this and other issues with teens far more in-depth … but you’ll have to buy the upcoming book.