Handling unwanted attention (and peer pressure)

Tween girl and bald mother hugging by a pontoon boat at a lake

I’d planned to shelve this idea for a (much) later date. Like, when I begin writing the letters for your college and beyond years. But my eyes have since been opened to the fact that whether I like it or not, we are rapidly approaching the grade where kids ask each other to send “sexy selfies,” often leading to situations far too intense for any 14-year-old to be expected to handle well.

At this point in the parenting season, I can either go full-on ostrich mode and ignore this reality completely, or, we can speak candidly, even if it feels a little uncomfortable.

First of all, I flat out refuse to paint an erroneous, black-and-white picture that the problem is bigger than it actually is, or that if you or your friends are out enjoying typical teenage social situations, that you’re going to need to be on high alert because there is all this danger lurking and just waiting to corrupt you. But I’m also not going to pull any punches about what I’ve experienced. I don’t want you blindsided.

In reality, unwanted attention can be sneaky, and the circumstances are often far more nuanced than the predatory stuff we see portrayed in TV and film.

The workforce I entered 22 years ago was much different than it is today. And being a young, single professional woman in a male-dominated industry, I was often, I am disgusted to say, on the receiving end of lewd and vulgar attention.

It was one thing when attendees at the World of Concrete looked at me and talked to me like I was some trade show booth attraction, there for no other purpose than their amusement. That garbage I could handle.

It was however, quite another matter when later in my career, a boss leaned over and tried to kiss me in the back of a taxi cab after a professional business dinner. At the time your dad and I were practically broke newlyweds, both busting our butts at work and combining two slim incomes to scrape by just enough to afford once a month luxuries (i.e. a dinner, usually cheap Mexican, that we didn’t have to cook, and maybe a movie at the Vestavia Rave).

I needed that job, and the “incident” hardly felt egregious enough to merit a mention to HR. Plus, I had (and still have) a feeling that had I done so, it would only have resulted in me being managed out the door. DO NOT follow my example here. I absolutely should have reported it. I pray that you are never in a situation like this, but if it were to happen, stop the inappropriate behavior at the source and then yes, abso-freaking-lutely you report it.

Unfortunately women can contribute to the problem too. At that same job, a woman in our department abruptly quit. IT synced her email account to mine, and goodness I wish I could’ve unread what I found in her messages. I had been newly and deservedly promoted; by all accounts I was doing a great job. Needless to say, it stopped me in my tracks to read a question she had posed to a mutual coworker of ours:

“Do you think Rebecca got promoted because she is sleeping with [Name]?”, referring to the president of our business unit.

I was all at once horrified and royally pissed off. This woman couldn’t possibly have known the harassment I’d already dealt with privately, but even if that hadn’t happened at all (and it shouldn’t have) – to tear me down like that and to assume that I’d “slept my way” into the position I’d earned through nothing more than hard work and being good at what I do? I was outraged.

Let me be very clear here. Not all men or women are like this.

I am where I am in my career today largely because of remarkable servant leaders who have seen potential in me, investing their time and counsel and networks.

That’s the kind of person you already are, even though your working years are still quite a ways away. No matter what comes these next few years, into college and beyond, keep being, as we’ve talked about before, “one of the good ones.”

From a purely practical standpoint, I would ask that you do these three things:

1. Know where you stand.

Some of the friends I respect the most are those who went to college (I guess now let’s make it high school) knowing exactly what they would and would not do. With regards to sex, drinking, drugs, all of it. They had drawn a hard line for themselves and they stuck to it.

As an important aside here, keep your street smarts finely tuned (without being paranoid – it’s a balance). People can surprise you for better and for worse.

I’d once gone on a handful of dates with a guy I’d met at a Halloween party. All was well at his house, which he shared with a very grounded, very Christian and very normal roommate (you would presume like attracts like, right?) watching Friends reruns until…he asked me if he could take a picture of my chest with his webcam. Um, goodbye and please lose my number, mmkay? P.S. – not until you’re older (I’ll tell you when), but on the whole note of “good guys” doing not good things, you must watch the movie Promising Young Woman.

2. Make the Godly decision.

We live somewhere in the vast middle between Dateline episodes that’ll have you jumping at your own shadow, and believing that everyone’s motives are pure and their intentions are good.

Even if you have the strongest inner moral compass, it can be a weird world, Baby Girl. In those moments, open your Bible. I don’t know it nearly as well as I should, but I do know at this point in my life that it’s the best source of truth if you feel like your worldly guardrails are off-base.

Another aside here, and it’s got nothing to do with faith but it’s funny and relevant, and who doesn’t love Topher Grace? Always remember Pete’s advice to Rosalee when she’s being whisked away after she actually wins the date with Tad Hamilton. “Guard your carnal treasure!”

This is not at all what I want to be talking with you about so early, but isn’t that why it’s important? There will be scheming, gross types, and there will be the sincere ones who think you’re pretty amazing, and maybe you’ll think they are too. In every circumstance, be the alert, aware, and Godly young woman we are raising you to be.

3. Enjoy your now.

A couple of years ago, I was invited to join a Priscilla Shirer Bible study on her book, “Discerning the Voice of God.” It was so very relevant and good that I will probably re-read it here again soon.

What’s germane to this Letter is the lesson in which she focuses on being fully immersed in whatever life stage you’re in. Her larger point is that God is always preparing us for what comes next, but that what comes next is none of our business until He reveals it to us. She explains that we are to be fully present where we are – enjoying our now – because this season is preparing us for what He knows is around the corner for us (even if we don’t).

The whole “no peeking” principle is rooted in the fact that if we knew what was coming, we’d either a) rush toward it (if good news) or b) flee from it (if bad news). In either scenario, we’d be anything but focused on the now, which is where He needs us to be.

Bottom line – trust in Him, (and also) practice your self-defense savvy, maybe with a mace keychain and one of those Birdie personal safety alarm things in tow. I love you.

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