Random equations in the mathematics of life

Posts tagged ‘teenagers’

(a + b) = (b + a)

The vast majority of parenting blogs deal with kids who are teenagers or younger. I’m late to the game, which is no shock whatsoever, but my kids are beyond diapers and elementary school drama. I find myself looking around for parenting blogs that I can relate to, ones written by parents struggling with the same issues I face.  So for now, I stagger through the chaos alone, hoping I’m not screwing them up too badly.

Some of the major issues that parents of teenagers face are those that surround sexuality and sexual activity.And the sad fact is that it’s becoming an issue for younger and younger kids.

In our family, sexuality is actually more of a non-issue. We’ve never cared one way or another about our kids’ gender orientation. Nearly every other parent we knew, when confronted with the question of, “What would you do if your child told you he or she was gay?”, reacted with a horrified expression and a very terse, “My kid is not gay.” For a lot of parents, this might have been true. But for a good percentage, their reality check was just about to come back with insufficient funds. But when the Scientist or I was asked that, we simply said, “There’d be nothing to do except to reassure our kid that we loved the person he/she is just as is.”

Sexual activity is a whole ‘nother ball of stress. Everything from STDs to pregnancy, sexting to pornography. How do we help our kids navigate through a near immersion of sexual misinformation and judgment to become healthy, responsible adults who are confident in their choices? It’s been proven time and again that teaching abstinence to the exclusion of reality fails miserably. Simply saying, “Don’t do it!” is not only disrespectful to your kids, but it also shows them a gross unwillingness to communicate about difficult subjects. If you react with cringing and a refusal to answer queries, or can’t bring your mouth to form the words “penis” and “vagina”, how do you honestly expect your kids to trust you enough to bring you other tough subjects? As parents, we need to put on the Big Kids Pants and be adults.

Basic anatomy is a must for any child. Everyone should know the basics of their body so that if something is wrong, it can be articulated to a parent and, if necessary, a physician. Hearing college girls snickering about boyfriends who didn’t know that “girls have three holes down there” admittedly made me laugh as I shook my head, but it also made me roll my eyes that our society has super-glued sexuality and shame. Hushed whispers of “privates” and “down there” are great for afternoon cotillion, but they’re pointless and even detrimental to the real world. Teaching every child respect for his or her own body paves the way to respect for each others.

Later on, when they swan dive into the sulfuric swamp of the dating world, the simple fact is that no matter what you may have told your kids, the possibility exists that they will still decide to have sex. Teens need to be armed with their own gauge to use when that option appears. Because in that instant, you cannot be there to say “no” or “yes” for them. Their own decision making processes will supersede any decisions made for them by other people.

I know people who determined what books their kids were allowed to read in their home library by using a simple, “If you can reach it, you can read it”. The more adult books were placed on high shelves, and so on. It was a physical representation of, “When you’re ready”. When my kids noticed that Pop-pop had guns, I told them very clearly their criteria for handling them. News story after news story has shown that even experienced enthusiasts have accidents. Lives have been lost by accidental incidents; we read about it every week.  So I told them flat out, “When you’re emotionally prepared to take a life, you can handle a gun. Until then, leave them alone.” I am not saying that they would ever take a life deliberately, any more than a normal gun user would do so. But accidents happen, and you need to be prepared for the consequences if they do. So goes with sex. No one intends to contract an STD. And no teenager intends to get pregnant, either. But ya know what? If you think it doesn’t happen every day, you really should leave a comment letting us know what color the sky is in your world.

No matter what your religious beliefs, each woman who gets pregnant has three options. Doesn’t matter if you’re ecstatic about the pregnancy or in despair, the same three options are there. Each of those brings with it both emotional and physical ramifications, some positive, some negative. No matter what the situation, pregnancy has a huge impact on a woman’s psyche and her body.

In order to convey the weight of their decision, I explained each option and each physical and emotional consequence, in basic, but clear detail. For my son, I also added that, while his situation wasn’t exactly the same, he would be financially responsible for the kid if his partner chose to keep it, he’d need to pay for half the clinic fees if she didn’t, and he would have his own emotional consequences with any of the choices. So, simply put, I told them, “Consider all of the implications of pregnancy. If you are ready to accept the consequences, then you’re ready for sex. If not, don’t mess with it.” (And yes, the STD conversation also happened in there as well.)

My other admonition with sexual activity was that of honesty. Nearly every kid lies to their parents at one time or another. It’s just a fact of life. And yes, even my amazing kids have lied to me, although it’s somewhat amusing that they think I don’t find out or just know when they do it.

Sexual activity is something that should only be reserved for adults. It requires reasoning and emotional maturity that teens simply don’t have. Kids know full well they’re doing something wrong, which is why they lie about it. Duh. So my last measuring point for the, “Am I ready for sex?” question is this: If you cannot look me in the fact and tell me that you had sex, that you used adequate protection, but that  you have considered the possible consequences and feel emotionally and physically and financially ready to accept them, then you aren’t ready to have sex. Of course, there are always those people who gasp and say that they could never tell their mother they were having sex, even after having a few kids. Those people are the reason why we have such a stupid rate of teen pregnancy and a society that still refers to the sexual organs as “down there.” Pathetic.

Parents have a responsibility to their kids to teach them about moral, physical and emotional pitfalls along the course of their life.  Sexuality is one of the toughest ones, but we have to put our Big Kid Pants on before we can expect them to do the same.

The effects of subtracting one

My kids tell me that I brag about them too much.  I’m sure my friends would probably agree.  Know what?  They are absolutely right.  I do brag about my kids.  I’d like to tell you why, and encourage you to do it, too.

Consider, if you will, this website, which is all about Empowering Parents.  Wonderful!  Let’s teach the people who already hold the power cards how to handle the brats they were dealt!  Or maybe this one who thinks we should teach kids to “avoid negative thoughts”.  All of them?  How are kids supposed to learn to handle adversity, to persevere when their life gets tough?  How can we expect kids to “grow up and act like adults” if we don’t give them the tools to do so?

Teenagers are barraged on all sides with negativity.  The media, the stresses of school, work, family dynamics, peer pressure, it all adds up.  Society has drilled it into our heads that teenagers are a pain in the ass – does it not stand to reason that teenagers hear it, too?  Why shouldn’t they fulfill what “everybody” knows to be true? That one blog I referenced above even goes so far as to call their page “My Problem Child”. Maybe it should’ve been, “My Problem Parenting”.

Like anyone else, if we hear something enough times, it becomes the Truth.  (Yes, I meant to capitalize that.)  I grew up with my father telling me that I was a mistake, a regret, and a few other things I won’t repeat in public.  When he died, I did attend the funeral and the burial, out of respect for my mother.  However, I have no clue where the cemetery is now.  I know what town it’s in, and I know a vague direction within the town.  Other than that?  Nada.  I couldn’t find the place without a gps if my life depended on it.  Are you really surprised?

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if there was a way around the misery?

If our teenagers hear their parents tell other people how lucky they are, how proud we are, how happy we are that these teens are in our lives, they believe they have worth.  And they do!  Teenagers, if you just stop bitching about them for a second, have amazing insights.  They observe their world from such a perceptive place; the information saturating their minds.  So many different perspectives are thrown at them: political views conflict with religious upbringing, people they meet are different from what they’ve been told.  How can they possibly make sense of it all?  The overwhelming input leaves them dazed and confused.

You are the adult, right?  You are the older, supposedly wiser person in the relationship.  So use your superior cognitive skills and reshape your own words.  Does your child dress “weird”?  Why not value her sense of individuality and style, and be proud of her ability to go against what everyone else is wearing?  Is she opinionated?  Be proud that she can stand for what she believes in.  Instead of barking, try asking.  You want politeness?  Say “please” and “thank you”.  Respect your child, speak to him like a person; it’s amazing what you’ll get back.

I promised to tell you why I brag about my kids, and I know I haven’t yet.  The answer is really quite simple.  I want my kids to know for sure, every second of every day, they are valued and prized by me.  I do not want them to ever doubt my love for them, my pride in the person that each is becoming.  Because every day that I am so blessed to have my children in my life, another mother is grieving, wishing with all of her being for one more day with her own.

I’ve attended two funerals inside of two weeks for teenagers.  One died of an overdose, and one from a brain tumor.  The anguish and grief in the mothers’ faces tore my heart out.  I have cried more in these two weeks than I have in years.  It isn’t that I was close to either child; I wasn’t.  But I am grieving for the heart wrenching loss that my son is feeling.  I am grieving for those two mothers who will never again see their children smile, hear their children laugh, or hold their children in their arms.

If for no other reason, consider this: if you knew that the teenager in your life (and I know there’s one somewhere, or you wouldn’t be reading this!) was going to die next week, would you want that teenager to die knowing in his heart that he is a “pain in the ass” or would you want his last thoughts be to know that he is loved, valued, and respected as a person?

The next time you speak to or about a teenager, stop and think first.  What is your goal, here?  Change your own paradigm and you can change a teenager’s world.

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