I Need You To Ask
Just talk to me. I might not listen, I might do anything to make you just go away and leave me alone, slam the door in your face, swear at you, or just quietly avoid you but please, please keep on trying to talk to me, to connect with me. I need you to know, I need you to ask. I need you to help me breakout from my internal prison of hurt, unfounded guilt, of shame, of confusion.
I want you to know, but I’m terrified of voicing what is happening to me. If I say it, it happened, it makes it real. I don’t want you to be disappointed in me. Disappointed that I didn’t do anything to stop it, disappointed in my weakness, my stupidity. I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed.
Although I might not show it, although I might often think you are the worst parents in the universe, you really are my world. And I don’t want to hurt you, to cause you pain, to share this with you, but if I don’t I will drown. So I swing from wanting to tell you and then not, to protect you. That’s why my behaviour can be so erratic. I’m so confused.
It’s not just me, all teens, would find telling a parent about any abuse- bullying, sexual, physical, psychological- impossibly hard. And often because it involves the hideous Jekyll & Hyde reveal where someone close to me is unmasked as my abuser- friends, family, boyfriends, teachers, coaches. It’s that twisting of relationship, no matter what level of abuse, that makes me feel so darn stupid and embarrassed to talk. I also worry that you might not believe me.
Which is why I need you to ask. If I’m somehow not myself – if I’m more aggressive, more withdrawn, more secretive, if I’m not eating, if I start doing risky stuff, anything from drinking to drugs – ask me straight.
I’m worried about you. You don’t seem happy. Are you afraid of something? Has anyone hurt you?
Don’t worry. If I am just on a weird behaviour bender for no particular reason other than teen hormones, I’ll just tell you to get lost. And don’t worry that you run the risk of unnecessarily introducing me to the darker side of life, particularly if there isn’t anything to be found, because I will interpret your question in the way that is directly appropriate to my life. So if there is serious abuse I will think you are asking me about that, and if there isn’t I’ll just think you’re asking me whether I’m afraid of the next test at school, or whether my best friend snubbed me in the lunch line.
You’ll most likely know from the look on my face in the split second after you ask the question whether there is something there or not. I’ll have a look of blind panic on my face, I’ll look like I am sick to my stomach because you seem to know. Or I might just crumple and it might all come pouring out. There will be a sense of relief that I didn’t have the burden of having to raise the issue in addition to dealing with the issue. Or I might still try and keep it from you and try to fob you off or tell you to get lost, but you’ll somehow know that there is something lurking there. It’ll be written in my eyes, in my body language. If I look like I want the floor to open up and eat me, there’s something there. In which case, you have to keep on asking, not like a jack-hammer but over a period of time. Show me that you are not afraid of addressing the issue, even if I am.
And please, don’t delay in asking me. By asking me at the first sign of unusual behaviour you might be able to prevent something that is relatively minor abuse, like feeling controlled by my boyfriend, or feeling that some of the stuff that my coach says is a bit weird, where the worst I experience is a discomfort and confusion about the whole situation, from escalating into something more serious in nature, or something more persistent.
Having a conversation with me I know can be hard sometimes, and you do have to work hard to connect with me. But please, I beg, don’t shy away from connecting with me on this most fundamental of issues when my behaviour seems a bit off-whack for some reason. Just ask me the question, just try to talk to me. You’ve got nothing to lose, and the ability to protect me, to gain.
Sam Ross, popularly known as the ‘Teenage Whisperer’ is an expert in connecting with and helping the most challenging, disengaged and ‘trash-heaped’ teens to turn their lives around. Really understanding them is the beginning, middle and end of her work and she helps professionals and parents achieve this through her website Teenage Whisperer, providing advice, insight and resources. You can also connect with her on Twitter @Teen_Whisperer