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.