Posted: Jul 24, 2013 10:00 AM
Recent headlines have made it clear that today's teens face grave situations more often than we'd like. Talk to your kids about accountability and the importance of going to an adult for help.

Stories of cyberbullying and assault have reached a frenzy lately, with devastating reports of teens committing suicide after being assaulted and bullied. In each of these cases, it's impossible not to question how adults were unable to intervene. Sadly, many teen bystanders don't feel empowered to step in or report incidents to a responsible adult. Learn how to talk to your kids about holding their peers accountable for their actions.

Understand why adults and teens become bystanders

Mike Dilbeck is founder of the Response Ability Project, a nationwide initiative focused on encouraging bystander intervention and heroism. He addresses reasons why teens might not report a crime or other incident.

"Teens definitely have their set of pressures and fears related to this specific time in life. Also, teens tend to be influenced by others more because this is the time of life [when] they are developing who they are and their own self-confidence. Teens have a higher probability of being a bystander due to the fears of retaliation, embarrassment, and not fitting in with the rest of their peers."

Work on your relationship with your teen

The first step toward hearing about incidents in your teen's life is to establish and maintain a good relationship with your teen. Lynette Louise, M.S., BCN-T — aka The Brain Broad — has extensive experience parenting teens. She recommends being present and asking about feelings, friends and experiences from an early age.

"Generally speaking, a child who is accustomed to telling the details of his day to the adults around him, a child who is encouraged to logic out the best next step via brainstorming with elders, is a child that keeps you in the loop."

Be a receptive parent

She may fear not being taken seriously, especially if her parent neglects to take other issues seriously.

Make yourself available as someone your kids can turn to. A teen may keep information to herself out of fear of inconveniencing or burdening her family. She may fear not being taken seriously, especially if her parent neglects to take other issues seriously. So be attentive when it comes to what your teen shares with you. When your teen wants to share something, give her your complete attention. Ignore your phone, your work or the television and listen.

"Being in your child's life should be a well-established habit by the teen years," says Louise. "That way it is obvious when something is up."

Encourage intervention and reporting

Have open discussions about the value of coming forward when we observe bullying, assault, substance abuse and other harmful behaviors. Let your teen know that you're committed to keeping her safe regardless of what she brings to your attention.

"I believe that parents can encourage their kids to respond to inappropriate, unhealthy and unsafe behaviors by constantly reinforcing these values of high character: kindness and generosity, empathy, sympathy, courage, curiosity and integrity," Dilbeck says. "When living from these values, teens — and really all of us — are more likely to intervene against these behaviors."

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