If you are a parent, especially a parent of tweens and teens, I sincerely recommend you watch the series “13 Reasons Why” on Netflix. I recently watched it on the recommendation of a friend and was gripped for all 13 episodes.
As a person who works on sexual violence prevention, it was fascinating to watch how well the show depicts the environment that lead teenagers to be perpetrators or victims or passive bystanders of sexual harassment and assault.
“13 Reasons Why” is an explanation of a young teenage girl’s suicide. She explains the circumstances that lead to her eventual decision to slit her wrists: essentially, she felt there was no way out of the trauma she was experiencing and no help possible. Each episode explains how a person in her circle of influence – adult or peer – either perpetrated the violence directly or indirectly, let her down emotionally and psychologically or just turned their back on her. It gives you a close peek into the challenges that teenagers face and the immense pressure they face from their peers to conform.
The TV series is a good reminder that as a parent, you must involve yourself in your child’s life and be conscious about the following:
Need to conform to gender stereotypes – Young girls are expected to behave in a certain way, always take a back seat to their male peers especially sportsmen and wear certain clothes, whilst the young boys are expected to be macho and good at sports. Often it seems that the wins by the boys seem more important than any by the girls.
Peer pressure - The need to meet the expectations of one’s friends circle is immense and can lead many a young person down the wrong path. This could include drinking, taking drugs, indulging in sexual relationships and one night stands, bullying and sexual violence.
Bullying - This is a reality which affects many young people. It could include physical, mental and emotional violence. It has a lasting effect on the victim and there are other consequences, like low self-esteem and confidence, quiet resignation to give in to peer pressure, an inability to concentrate and poor academic performance.
Use of technology – Whilst technology makes life convenient, this age group uses it a lot to establish their personality and make their mark. However technology can be misused too. Sexting, taking pictures without permission, virtual stalking and inappropriate commenting are some of the common forms of harassment and abuse.
Reluctance to break the silence – Teenagers feel that everyone in the “system” is against them and there is reluctance to speak up and break the silence around issues they are facing. There also seems to be a code of conduct to not “squeal” against their peers.
As a parent, some of the ways you can alleviate the situation and be more in touch with your child’s reality would be:
Ensure you keep an open line of communication with your children at all times.
Encourage them to speak about difficult topics and not hesitate to escalate any issues to you.
Listen more than you speak. This will reinforce the idea that you are there for your children and not always preaching.
Do not judge or jump to conclusions. Listen with an open mind and no matter what the situation, reassure your child that you are on his/her side.
If you see behaviour in your child that is inappropriate – bullying, harassment, disrespect - nip it in the bud, do not ignore it. Instead, sit your child down and have an open conversation about why it is not okay.
Try to establish a relationship with the parents of your children’s friends. It will be harder for your children to lie to you knowing that facts can be cross checked.
Keep an open line of communication with the school management and teachers so that you can understand your child better and know immediately if there is any change in behaviour.
Lastly, if there is a situation, do not hesitate to seek professional help. There is no shame in it and it can save you a lot of distress later.