Helping teenagers to protect themselves
Setting limits can include deciding on what to do if asked by friends to go along with something teenagers either like or do not really like or feel comfortable about. What if a group of friends want to go to the cinema, have a party, go to a pub, get drunk, shoplift, try drugs, go to a disco, go somewhere for a 'kiss and cuddle', or find some girls or boys 'ready for action'?
Teenagers should think about what they want before the opportunities are presented to them.
Communicating these limitsTeenagers need to be told to communicate their limits to others: boyfriends, girlfriends, friends or acquaintances. Although peer-group pressure is strong at this age, planning in advance makes saying no easier. For younger teenagers, using parents as an excuse sometimes helps: 'My mum won't let me. . .' Parents should not be misled by their teenagers' rebellious poses; many teenagers are secretly grateful to place the 'blame' on their parents.
Trusting intuitionOften teenagers do not trust their own feelings and judgement. Though they may sense they are getting into a difficult situation, they have not thought out what to do or do not want to appear silly in front of friends, so they go along until it is too late. By learning to trust that inner feeling, teenagers can avoid many potential problems.
For young people, or indeed anyone, trusting feelings includes taking action if they feel they are being followed. If this seems to be happening, they should immediately walk towards a place with people, like a shop or play area in a park. If there are houses nearby, they should go up to the door of one and either pretend to ring the bell or ring the bell if the person continues to follow.
Being aware of the behaviour of othersIf someone is acting in an inappropriate way, it is best to keep a safe distance. Tell teenagers not to get involved if, for example, a person in the group is making inappropriate jokes or comments, drinking too much, or not listening and offending others. If another person acts in an over familiar way, gets too close in a way that makes them uncomfortable, or begins touching them, teenagers need to know that they should say no forcefully and get help.
Avoid unnecessary risksHitchhiking, walking home alone, lifts off strangers - the only sensible advice is: Don't Do It.
Saying no and meaning itOne of the most commonly held myths is that when a girl says no, she means yes. To avoid any misunderstanding, girls should be told to look the person in the eye and say no in a loud, firm voice. They should make sure their body language conveys the same message. Teenage girls should remember that they have the right to say no and that kissing and cuddling should not be regarded as an open invitation to have sexual intercourse.
Becoming angryIn a dangerous situation, many people become frozen with fear and cannot think. Anger helps to focus energy and convert thoughts into action. Tell teenagers to think 'I don't deserve this' and use whatever force is necessary to get out of the difficulty. Teenagers should realise that by acting quickly and decisively, they may be saving themselves from potential harm.
Learning self-defenceTaking a self-defence course is a good idea for those who are willing to do the necessary work and practice what they have been taught. For most teenagers or adults, knowing and practicing three or four techniques would be more helpful than having so much information that it is all forgotten in a crisis. Learning how to get out of a hold, where the pressure points are on the body, and how to kick, bite or hit to get away would be useful information for most people.
Telling a trusted adultIf a teenager is sexually assaulted, he or she often does not tell, fearing censure by friends, humiliation or disbelief. Teenagers need a network of trusted adults to whom they can turn. Parents can help teenagers work out a list or teenagers can do it on their own. They should be told to keep telling until they receive help. Adults, too, must learn to give help without censure. One enlightened father has told all of his children that if they ever get into a situation they cannot handle, they can telephone him and he will pick them up, no questions asked.
Knowing that the offender is responsibleThis is an important message because most teenagers will not tell parents if they are attacked for fear that they will be blamed. They may also blame themselves, as many victims of assault do: 'I did not follow the rules, so this is my fault'. Parents and others who deal with teenagers should emphasise that it is the offender's fault.
The facts about sexual abuseSince many people are misinformed about the realities of sexual abuse, discussing facts will lead to a better understanding of the problems. If boys and girls examine the issue together so that the message is the same for both, then they can begin to understand what to expect from each other and communicate in an open and honest way.
How parents, teachers and other adults can helpWith the increase in concern about children's safety, teachers and other adults who work with children are asking how they can help. Teaching personal safety covers a wide range of problems, from getting lost to being bullied, to being approached by someone who is intent on harm, whether it is a stranger or someone known to the child. The lessons can be fun and children often enjoy them.
Before talking to children about personal safety, it is essential to enlist the support of parents and other people in the community, for several reasons. Community sensitivities must be taken into account, and classroom discussions must be kept within guidelines that are acceptable to parents and the school.
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