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Talk to them, talk to them again, and then talk to them some more. I’m a realistic and modern mother – I didn’t make her promise not to drink or have sex. My rules centered around her personal safety and it was honestly my greatest fear. Any other mistake, not related to her personal safety, could be fixed, moved on from, or learned from.
I shared with her every article and news report I saw about girls who were sexually assaulted and, in some cases, never seen alive again. You might criticize me for trying to scare her, that’s okay – I can take it. I was trying to scare her. I was trying to impress upon her in the most profound ways I could, how one choice, one decision, one momentary lapse in judgment, could alter her future, forever. After all, no story that ends up with, “and she was never seen again,” starts with, “Five girls went out together and stayed together the whole night.”
They’re eighteen-years-old and we’re sending them away from home, sometimes for the very first time. They are legally adults, but the part of their brain that can see around corners and spot potential dangers isn’t yet fully developed. Scientists and physicians now know that our brains are not fully developed until about the age of 25. Car rental companies are familiar with this research – why do you think they will not rent a car to anyone under the age of 25?
It doesn’t matter how smart teens are or how well they scored on the SAT or ACT. Good judgment isn’t something they can excel in, at least not yet.
The rational part of a teen’s brain isn’t fully developed and won’t be until age 25 or so.
In fact, recent research has found that adult and teen brains work differently. Adults think with the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s rational part. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. Teens process information with the amygdala. This is the emotional part.
In teen’s brains, the connections between the emotional part of the brain and the decision-making center are still developing—and not necessarily at the same rate. That’s why when teens experience overwhelming emotional input, they can’t explain later what they were thinking. They weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.
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1. Leave no-one behind – This, I believe, is THE most important rule. Whoever you go out with, you stay with, and leave with – NO-ONE GETS LEFT BEHIND, PERIOD! There is no situation and no exception to this rule as far as I’m concerned. If five people go to a bar or party together, all five stay together and leave together. This is discussed and agreed to beforehand. No one person from the group is allowed to wander off to another area, out of the view of the group either, period! We can discuss a million different scenarios – I don’t care, you stay with who you went out with and no-one gets left behind. No one goes to the restroom alone. No one steps outside to take a phone call alone. No one is left alone, period.
As parents, we all wonder if our kids are listening to us when we talk – I know I do daily. So, I was so pleased with a story my daughter shared with me a few months into her freshman year. She was out at a party with a group of friends. A few feet away she was observing a girl she knew lived in her dorm but not someone she knew personally. My daughter reported that the girl was obviously intoxicated and talking with a young man who was trying to get her to leave with him; the girl was protesting weakly but they young man was relentless. Finally, my daughter marched over, put her arm around the girl, looked at the boy and said, “She’s with us. She’s not going anywhere, sorry.” The group my daughter was with saw the girl home safely to her dorm and her roommate. Proud mama moment.
2. Watch when your drink is poured, keep your hand over your drink at all times, never leave your drink unattended – This danger wasn’t part of my teen years but it is a very real danger now. It is very easy to slip something into someone’s drink who isn’t paying attention and unfortunately, there are people who take advantage of this opportunity. If you need go to the bathroom, you finish your drink first or leave it with a trustworthy, vigilant friend – and visa versa. If you think, for any reason, that your drink may have been tampered with – get rid of it!
3. NEVER go anywhere alone after dark, PERIOD. I don’t care how close you live to the library, how close the dining hall is, that you really want to go to see your friends at another location, that you need cash from the ATM, or your friends are already out and you want to meet them. If you can’t find someone to go with you, you don’t go. Many schools now have nighttime safety shuttles that will pick you up wherever you are on campus and deliver you right to the front door of your dorm, free-of-charge. The one at my daughter’s school runs until 3am, so there was no reason that she ever had to walk back to her dorm from the library or dining hall alone at night. Each school has its own name for this transportation and many make it as simple as clicking an app on your phone.
Besides the three rules I had for my daughter, I would also make the following recommendations:
Get the phone numbers of one or two of your child’s friends, and make sure they have your number too. I made sure when I met my daughter’s roommate at freshman drop-off, that I got her phone number and gave her mine. This was not to stalk my daughter, but it made me feel better to know that if I was unable to get in touch with my daughter and had a genuine concern for her safety, there was someone in her life I could contact. I have never abused this, although I did call her roommate to help me plan a surprise for my daughter’s birthday. I also wanted her friends to know that they could and should reach out to me if my daughter was every hurt, sick, or for any other reason.
Sign up for the university’s alert system and make sure your child has as well. I would think just about every university now has an alert system where they send out text messages and/or email messages if there is something of concern going on, be it weather, safety, or campus issues.
Put the contact numbers for the campus police and a direct dorm line on your phone. Should you ever have a moment of panic, you aren’t going to want to have to search for these. It gives me peace of mind to know I have these and, thankfully, I’ve never had to use them.