***The author of this post has asked to remain anonymous. While typically we publish anonymous posts in our Confessionals section, we respected the author’s wishes.***
When I was a kid, my mom, who was also my Girl Scout Troop leader, made sure I and my fellow scouts knew something about our developing bodies. She invited a nurse to come and talk to us about how we’d be getting breasts, our periods, that our bodies were preparing for our oncoming womanhood and the capability to conceive a baby.
It may seem like my mom, and probably the other girls’ parents who would have given permission for their daughters to attend this event, were progressive, especially in the early 1980s at a Catholic school Girl Scout troop meeting.
However, this is about where any talk about sex ended in my family and social life from adults. I got sex ed in high school, where my classmates and I were shown pictures of what different venereal diseases looked like. I remember seeing how a condom worked in the sex ed class, and all the giggling. AIDS was just coming into the news for straight people, and I don’t recall much warning about it.
In another memory from Girl Scouts, my troop volunteered many years to put up holiday decorations at a half-way house for pregnant teens. The Catholic Diocese owned the house and nuns ran it, and parents could send their daughters there to await the birth of their babies. Once they were born, the babies would be given up for adoption, and afterwards the teen moms would go home. My mom and the other troop leaders never said anything in judgment of those girls or why they were there.
I remember the house being somber and quiet, and how bleak it seemed with no artwork on the walls, no TV, no music playing, no conversations. I never, ever wanted to be sent there to live. I was NOT going to get pregnant.
These memories came to mind after I heard a story on WBEZ and their Heroin LLC series in December. Greg Scott, the director of the Social Science Research Center at DePaul University, was on to talk about his studies on drug use. He told a story that I’ll paraphrase, but you can listen to it here.
When Scott speaks at conventions, he asks the audience to raise their hands if they have talked to their kids about the risks of sexual behavior. Most people will raise their hands. Then he asks how many have talked to their kids about the dangers of drugs. Almost all the hands will go up.
Then he asks how many people have talked to their kids about the pleasure and good things about sex, drugs, and alcohol. Almost no hands will be raised.
This got me thinking. In my generation, Generation X, our parents had become more open to talking about sex with their kids, more so than their parents had with them, the Baby Boomers. today, Gen X-ers and the Millennials are even more open to talking about sex and drugs, but mainly to condemn them. There are tons of websites like Drugfree.org or Webmd.com about how to talk to one’s kids, at what ages, and about what topics. Overall though, those sites talk about warning kids away from sex and drugs. At the same time, kids are more and more exposed to sex and drugs in the media.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse data shows that drug and alcohol use is down, a little. The Office of Adolescent Health states teenage pregnancy is down a little too, but according to the CDC, kids still don’t use condoms or the pill or anything to protect themselves. Half of all the new diagnosed STD cases in the US are for people aged 15-24. Heroin use is on the rise for teens and is cheap and easy to get, and a quick Google search on “teens and heroin” shows new stories from the last half of 2013 from many sources including the Chicago Tribune, Teen Vogue, and many major cities’ TV news stations like Portland’s KGW.com and Minneapolis’ CBS station. What does this tell us about teens? What does it say about how we talk to kids about drugs and sex?
There were so many opportunities for my mom and dad to talk to me about safe, responsible sex and how sex is supposed to be pleasurable, not as a trade of my body for attention or affection. Maybe the time I came home with a couple of hickeys and my mom teased me about “tree frog bites,” she could have instead asked why I had let a boy mark me that way. Maybe when I went on the pill to manage my out-of-control periods would have been a good time to talk about how yes, I was safe-ish from pregnancy, but even sweet-looking boys could have a disease. Maybe when I got involved with someone twice my age my senior year, more than a conversation could have taken place, but I only recall being ganged up on by my parents and young step-father and berated about how I should be more careful. A meaningful, helpful conversation in advance of anything going wrong never happened.
I wasn’t introduced to drugs or smoking mainly because I was never offered any by friends. My parents let me have a little alcohol at home, but again, there were never any conversations about safe use. My first college party taught me about getting drunk and hangovers. Being drunk and sexually active taught me the worst lesson of all. My mom’s reaction after I was raped was that it was “bound to happen” given my sexual activity in high school that she was aware of. Here are some things I wish had happened when I was a teen between my parents (mainly my mom) and me.
- The gift of a sex toy. This may seem weird, but I know most teens are NOT going to go get themselves a dildo or a “helping hand”, and they think that sex toys are only for masturbation. A present of a toy, with a brief note that “nothing need ever be said about this, and there are batteries in the junk drawer” would have satisfied sooo many of my urges. A longer note about how guys can feel just a great with an awesome hand job and the Helping Hand, and girls can have penetration with a dildo held by a guy instead of his penis, would have been better. If you think your kids aren’t having sex, about half of teens say they are. Want to take a 50/50 chance on your son or daughter getting naked with his or her partner? Give them some help in staying a little farther apart, or alone.
- Explain how much better sex is when both partners are mature, equal and in love. Has your teen had a first kiss? Can he or she tell the difference between the feeling of a first kiss and the 20th? Tell that kid that sex is the same way. The first time might be tingly and fun, maybe painful and awkward, but you never get that first kiss feeling back again. It’ll never be the first time again. Ever. And a kiss is a tiny portion of the amazing feeling of sex, but sex can also be boring, mundane and average sometimes. There’s a reason most women have faked at least once in their lives. Explain why. Yes, teenage sex is exciting because it’s new. It’s also over too fast which means boys can’t figure out what really feels good to a girl, and he may not even care.
- Talk about how much fun a little alcohol can be, and how awful too much can be. I grew up with Jon Hughes movies. One watch of the party scene from Sixteen Candles shows how much fun drinking can be. I also grew up with parents who drank pretty responsibly, a beer or two in an evening, sometimes having several friends over to share a jug of Gallo wine. I never heard about hangovers, but evidently my dad had one more than once. What I took for a Sunday afternoon nap in front of the TV was his sleeping a bender off. Don’t hide drinking at home, and be honest about why you’re having that drink. “A glass of wine helps me to relax. Adults need to relax so much more than kids because we’re responsible for keeping everyone fed and safe. Being a teen is stressful too, yes, but that’s why I gave you that new ‘present.’ Go use that.”
- I know it may seem weird that my Girl Scout troop went to the halfway house every year, but it made a lasting impression on me. Make arrangements for a field trip to see a rehab unit and talk to someone trying to get off of heroin. Find a documentary about drug use and abuse like Dying for Meth. There’s a list here on The Fix. Show your kids what real drug use looks like. If they think shows like 16 and Pregnant are funny, have them baby sit a cousin or friend’s toddler for a weekend. Not a few hours while the parents go to a movie… a WHOLE weekend, 48 hours. I had vowed never to get pregnant, but the pill doesn’t keep STDs away. Do some research on what it’s like to have herpes. A baby will grow up and eventually move out. Herpes, like a diamond, is FOREVER.
- Remember that your teen is already embarrassed of you. Think giving a sex toy might be embarrassing? At least it’s in private at home, maybe even so discreetly that no words ever need to be said about it. Think sitting down to watch a documentary about heroin and then talking about it is hard? Listen to this WBEZ radio story that includes a mom speaking about her daughter, who died of a heroin overdose. The mother found out much later that what she thought was her daughter’s embarrassment over sitting with her at a movie, was really her daughter wanting to take LSD with a buddy and watch Alice in Wonderland. Do you think that mom would rather deal with some embarrassment rather than not have her daughter in her life?
Take a risk so your kids don’t feel they have to. They’re going to make mistakes, and some of them will be with them forever. They will get drunk, maybe high, probably have sex, and maybe do all three at the same time. Help them be prepared. Help them to enjoy it when the time is right. Remind them that their brains aren’t fully developed until they are in their mid-20s. Talk to them about stuff. About everything. And keep doing it.
Featured Image: Alison Scarpulla