Think it's painful to watch? Imagine living it.
Many people have seen these videos, they typically go viral for a few days then live on YouTube, of mothers in our community speaking to their tween and teen daughters using language most folks reserve for, well, no one. And that is the issue. Watching Black women unleash their pain, anger, fears, frustrations and disappointments on the people they are most connected to isn't entertainment, it's scary.
This isn't a space of judgement. We know in many cases the inciting incidents leading up to the videos range from teens, really young girls, doing everything from flashing and selling their newly developed sex parts, to engaging in appropriate and/or aggressive activities. Clearly, the parents feel they've lost control. What's even more evident is that these parents likely never truly felt empowered, in at least some aspect of their lives, and that's a tough position to be in. But adults know about trauma and "issues"—well, at least we assume they do.
Here's the cheat sheet.
Whether you're raising children partnered or alone, if you haven't dealt with your own major traumas—heartache, abandonment, insecurity, physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, the list goes on—you are more likely to pass maladaptive coping mechanisms or dysfunctional behavior on to those you're around most.
Stopping that cycle isn't about speaking to the moms at this point (they have access to change), it's about the children.
The tweens and teens experiencing this dysfunctional behavior, whether they're cowering in corners, covering their faces with hoodies or defiantly looking directly into the camera, have some tough choices to make—now. Will they continue to seek attention, vent their pain and try to feel powerful by behaving in ways that harm themselves? Will they continue to hide the fact that they are struggling in school, missing mom or dad, tired of being yelled at or jumped on or neglected or touched, or longing for something and acting out?
And they are not alone.
Many of us are about 2-3 families away from, whether we know or acknowledge it or not, folks who live like what we see in these videos. Additionally, the young adults in our lives—children, nieces and nephews, neighbors, play cousins and younger siblings —are watching this content. It's time to start talking to them.
We're all under the influence of social media. We're all shaping our opinions on what's right and normal via social media. And, thanks to the pandemic, there are even less in-real-life encounters to counteract the messaging we receive. Children are even more vulnerable during this time. There's no school, playdates or even visiting other relatives to help shape standards. So, we have to talk about issues like emotional and verbal abuse, and how it shapes self-esteem and habits, in honest and uncomfortable ways, now more than before.
Talk to our children. Talk your children. Whether it's a young person who is simply exposed to social media, or one in a troubled home or one going just through a hard time, here are some things that are important for adults to share with teens.
Parents Get It Wrong. Let young people know adults are just people. They were once kids and if they are treating someone in a manner that isn't good or "right", they are wrong. There is no excuse for their behavior but there are reasons. Most important, poor behavior from adults doesn't give children a pass to continue with the same behavior or act out to show frustration.
You Are Not Alone. It's easy to feel like you're the only person in the world going through tough times, or stuck with a parent whose behavior and speech is hurtful. Remind the teen that he/she is not alone—and he/she doesn't deserve to be treated poorly.
The People Who Matter Aren't Laughing At You. Remind youngsters that the "friends" or adults in their lives that poke fun at the bad or embarrassing things that happen aren't there to help—they are taking out their own pain and insecurities. The people who will assist you, whether it's relatives or real friends or mentors, won't find humor in your humiliation. They also won't judge you.
You Don't Deserve to Be Treated Poorly. Making a bad choice—or choices— doesn't mean you deserve to spoken to in a way that is disrespectful. That doesn't give anyone the right to try to make you feel small or ashamed.
You Can Change Your Behavior, And Your Life. Remind teens that the have the power to stop making bad choices but no one can "make" them. And ultimately, he/she pays the consequence for not listening to the best parts of what his/her parents, or adults who are giving healthy suggestions have to say. Discourage teens from judging their parents' shortcomings and using them as a justification to continue down the wrong path.
You Will Not Be a Child Forever. The worst part of being a kid is feeling powerless, especially as you get older, feel more anger at being victimized by your parents and/or feel more judgmental of choices adults make. Remind them that adulthood will give them the freedom and power to control more variables in life, like where you live, who's in your household and how you spend money. They should channel their energy into preparing for what's next.
S. Tia Brown is a licensed therapist and life coach. She likes to talk about life skills and ways to cope that aren't easy, but are real. Follow her @tiabrowntalks.