To my future teenage children,
As I write to you now my beautiful children, you are each so very young. You are full of innocence and wide-eyed wonder at the world around you – each new day an opportunity for exploration and surprise. I know this will not always be the case, and it hurts my mama heart to think that one day my sweet little ones will grow up. My wish for you is that you become strong, confident, caring people, and that you believe in yourselves and each other as much as I believe in you. But I know we have a long way to go, and there are so many twists and turns in the road ahead. I know that there are dangers waiting around every corner, crouched and ready to knock you down.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. And while I hope in my heart of hearts that you remain untouched by the awful darkness that lives inside of some people out there, I know that it is better to prepare you than to leave you without tools.
I know that I can only protect you from the world around you for so long, and that time is already swiftly drawing to a close. So while I can’t always be there to battle back the demons for you, I can hopefully pass on some lessons I’ve learned that may help you when I am not around.
First, it’s always ok – and never too late – to say NO. Whether it’s a hug goodbye from Grandma, or something much more sinister, your body belongs to no one but you. You never have to agree to any physical contact that you don’t want, and other people should respect that. Your value is not defined by others’ perception of or access to your body. In the same vein, pay attention to the feelings of those around you. Just as you should never feel like your body is freely accessible to others, you should never feel that you have the right to do what you please to anyone else’s.
Go with your gut. People are not always what they seem. If the “bad guys” all looked like “bad guys,” they’d never be able to prey upon anyone. If you are ever in a situation or with a person and you feel like something just isn’t right, trust your instincts. Leave, call a ride, or tell an adult that you trust. Find a way out. You should never feel the need to stay in an uncomfortable situation out of the fear of inconveniencing or upsetting others.
Drinking alcohol may seem like fun, but it is a recipe for teenage disaster. It dulls your awareness and may loosen your convictions. Worse yet, it could render you incapacitated and put you in greater danger from those who might seek to do you harm. On the flip side, alcohol can affect your young brain in ways that lead to your doing harm to others, in a variety of terrible ways. You are so young, and there will be a time and a place for drinking if you so choose when you are older. It’s just not worth the risk.
Love and pain do not go hand in hand. I hope you have many wonderful friends, and that you have the opportunity to experience the kind of love that only teenage hearts can conjure. But know this: Anyone who would attempt to cause you emotional or physical pain on purpose is not worthy of your love, and you are worth so much more than theirs. If a dating partner belittles you, hurts you, or pressures you to do things you do not want to do, they don’t deserve you, no matter how loudly or frequently they profess their love.
Lastly, you can tell me anything. I mean it. I was once a teenager too, and I was by no means perfect. There is literally nothing you can tell me that will make me love you less, and almost nothing you can tell me that will shock me. If you need help, advice, or just a hand to hold, I am here, just as I have been since the beginning of time as you know it.
And I promise, I will believe you.
According to the United States Department of Justice, every 98 seconds another American is sexually assaulted, and 9 out of 10 of those people are female. Between 2009-2013, Child Protective Services agencies determined that there were approximately 63,000 children per year who were the victims of sexual abuse. Of those children, the majority are between the ages of 12 and 17. If you or someone you care about needs help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673).