Not Giving Up On Our Children

There has been a hot issue in the news in our community this week that I think represents one of the current problems with parenting.

It centered around the sex education curriculum at the middle school our kids attended. We liked their school and most of the staff. It seems, however, they are using a new curriculum. One component is to learn how people express their sexual feelings. Sounds appropriate enough. But upon closer inspection, I have to question. Things like hugging, grinding, holding hands, touching each others genitals are all expected. Even vaginal intercourse. {I do have to say even that was different -back in the day- when I was a teen. We called it sex, not vaginal sex. Why? Because that is what sex was. But not anymore, welcome to the enlightened era. Now there is so much more that we must differentiate. And yes, we probably owe that to one of our own Presidents.}

The way of expressing sexual feelings they think it’s important to teach 12, 13 and 14 year olds that frankly shocked me? Anal sex and oral sex. Don’t misunderstand me. I know this happens. I’ve heard the tales of the back row at the theater. And I know about girls who think if they have anal sex they are still a virgin and of course they can’t get pregnant so it’s a great option. What shocks me is that a group of intelligent, well-educated professionals decided this is the best thing to teach pre-teen/teens in their abstinence-based curriculum.

What I read here is, we know you have hormones and we think so little of you we are sure you cannot control yourself. So we are going to inundate you with information, make it seem normal and then “protect” you by telling you how to avoid disease while doing these things.

I think this is equal to raising the white flag. Saying, I have no idea how to parent you. I don’t think there is any way a teen can get through middle school without sexual activity. You are just a blob of hormones controlled by your genitals. Therefore, do whatever feels good at the moment. I will do my best to make sure there are no consequences for you.

I find it interesting that we don’t feel a kid is mature enough to enter a contract, make a decision about whether or not to smoke or drink until they are 18 or 21. But the most personal and intimate way you can connect with another human being…sure go for it at 12! If we applied that mentality to these other areas there would be no drinking age. We wouldn’t be outraged by the pictures that circulated a while back of the toddler smoking. Hey, they’re gonna do it eventually, what’s the big deal?

Laying aside the antiquated concept of saving yourself for marriage, what about the emotional consequences of sex? They are huge! How do I say I care about a teenager’s wellbeing and not consider the emotional impact of sex…especially at 12, 13 or14? I guess it fits with our society that values mental health like they value used news papers – kind of an inconvenience we just don’t want to deal with.

Encouraging teens to avoid sex may be an uphill battle – especially considering what they are exposed to on a daily basis. But does that mean we shouldn’t try? Do we simply give up on our children in other aspects of their lives? Would we consider saying, “I know you are not equipped to decide whether cheating is ok or not, so I’m gong to go ahead and teach you the best ways to cheat and not get caught.” Or “I know you can’t decide whether or not it’s ok to steal so let me give you some pointers on how to do it.” I’m sure some of that happens, but I doubt most parents would openly admit to this philosophy. And yet, parents are more than willing to admit to giving up on them in the area of sex. I have heard countless times, “they’re going to do it anyway best to make sure they are safe.” And this doesn’t just come from the parents who seem to have this attitude about most of their parenting. I think the issue of teen sex conjures a lot of emotion from parents as well.

So what is the answer? How do you keep your teens safe, and not bury your head in the sand? I have a few suggestions based on my experience as a teen and a parent of teens.

  1. Set the expectation that they will wait for marriage. I know this may not happen, but I want my sons to know that is my goal, my hope, my expectation for them. It’s no different than me expecting they will get a job, pay for gas in their car, get the best grades they are capable of, and be a respectful member of our family.
  2. Have rules in the house. For us, girls are not allowed here unless a parent is home. And then, only in common areas. They know that I am welcome in any room in the house at any time. I don’t abuse that right. I show them the respect they deserve, but they know it’s always a possibility.
  3. Know where they are, what they are doing and who they are with. Ask questions, set the expectation that they let you know when their plans change. The same rules apply about being at someone else’s house when no parents are home.
  4. My advice to our sons – Don’t put yourself in a position to have to make a decision in the heat of the moment. There is only one decision most teens will make when they are alone and worked up. So make the decision prior that. Make the decision not to get in that situation. Don’t allow yourself to be in the position to make that choice.
  5. Be a techie. Read their texts, follow them on twitter. Have the password to all their accounts. You don’t want me to have the password, I don’t let you have a phone. My philosophy is if you wouldn’t say it to me, you shouldn’t say it to the world. We all know that nothing goes away once it is put out there. Our teens don’t fully grasp that and the long-term impact it can have, so it’s my job to monitor what they do. Period. The beauty of this is, I rarely read their texts. They know it is an option and that’s enough.
  6. Communicate. Bottom line is you need to maintain open communication with your teens. They need to be comfortable coming to you with challenges. I’ve had many conversations about texts they weren’t sure how to respond to or concerns over friends’ risky behavior. They trust me enough to let me think through it with them. I offer them suggestions, talk through scenarios, and let them come up with a plan. They make the decision, but I help them see the bigger picture. This doesn’t work if you start when they are 13, it starts from the beginning.

All this takes time, effort and constant attention. Parenting is a full-time job. It’s exhausting – physically and mentally. But it’s also incredibly rewarding. Don’t give up on your kids! Stay in it with them. Help them navigate the perils of being a teen in our crazy messed up world. Don’t make them go it alone. They probably won’t tell you, at least not til they have kids of their own, but they will appreciate the boundaries, the structure, the high expectations.

As far as the school’s curriculum, we received word from the Superintendent that they have suspended use of this curriculum pending further review. I don’t know how it will ultimately be resolved. I’m skeptical at best. It will take diligence on the part of parents who are already overwhelmed with parenting.

2 Comments

Filed under Parenting

2 responses to “Not Giving Up On Our Children

  1. Barb

    I am in complete agreement with everything you said, Judy. It’s almost scary how similar our thinking is. Scary in a good way, mind you :-)

  2. Excellent! So few parents are willing to remain alert and fully engaged in their children’s lives and in their education. Our children are worth our attention. We had a similar situation with a school assembly and enough parents were so stunned, we visited the school board and had a policy enacted that children across K-12 were no longer able to attend ANY school assembly without parental consent.

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