Teens want to talk

“It might be easier if you talk to my teenagers and I talk to yours.” That’s where a chat with a good friend went when we realized our teenagers no longer wanted to discuss sex with us or their dads. Even though I have had pretty frank conversations with them in the past about emergency contraception, responses to street harassment, and grinding at dances, I understand that I’m not their only source of information. Most teenagers I know think that conversations at home, school health class, and with their friends are all they need. Maybe so, but I know my daughters forget things and don’t always have the most current information. Sometimes they are just plain wrong. And I’m sure they’ve never practiced telling someone they care about “No, I don’t feel comfortable doing that.” Whatever that is—sex acts, drugs, drinking, or anything else.

Some of the complicated conversations I want someone to have with my kids:

  1. Medically accurate information about all available forms of birth control
  2. Knowing how to respond when a friend or potential partner oversteps their boundaries
  3. Deciding when is the right time to have sex
  4. Knowing how to freely say yes or no to anything involving your sexuality
  5. What to do or say if a friend has difficult questions or secrets they don’t feel comfortable keeping
  6. Knowing where to get good information and help—online or in-person
  7. Strategies for stepping in to help someone else
  8. Knowing the qualities of a healthy relationship and believing they deserve it
  9. Knowing how to talk to a friend about his or her relationship

teens-talkingI think teenagers want lots of chances to talk about these things. As a parent, your best bet may be to find the right person to initiate those conversations. Think about a terrific woman or man that you trust who could engage your teenager. It might be a relative, friend, or an educator from Planned Parenthood. You could set up one or several conversations with this trusted adult, add some food, a couple of your teenager’s close friends and leave for a few hours. I did this with my daughters. I know it was a success because one of my daughters said to me “we talked about a lot of things that I wouldn’t want to talk about with you.” I understood what she meant. With me, she has to worry about my judgment or if I’ll ask too many follow-up questions. This way, we can pick up the conversation whenever they want and I sleep a little better at night.

What next? Part 5

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Here is the next installment of her speech. (Or jump to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Point #4: Love those teenagers 

We often talk about the need to shift popular culture and change social norms. This is the language of primary prevention, and it is gaining momentum throughout the mainstream domestic violence and sexual assault field. For the past 8 years, I have watched the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many of our colleagues on the mainland strategize about how to integrate prevention activities into our work, and we are now beginning to see these efforts take root in some of the target communities.  Almost all of it involves teen and youth engagement.

While I’ve been largely uninvolved in the CDC initiative, I have been hard at work closer to home. Unfortunately for my 15-year-old son, Hanson, and some of his friends, they too are participating. My frequent announcements of “I feel a lecture coming on” are met by loud groans and an occasional “oh god.” Video games, music, TV, certain levels of Angry Birds―nothing is held harmless. I’ve played “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto,” watched “Jersey Shore” and two of the “Jackass” movies, and danced to “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and “Teach Me How to Dougie.” I am offended by almost all of it, but Hanson is at an age where he is regurgitating the advice he has received his whole life. Don’t reject something without trying it first. And you can’t change what you don’t know. So I study what I can, and go about my parenting in fits and starts.

There is very little polish on most of what I do as a parent. Some day in the future, Hanson and I will thoroughly evaluate my briefings on pornography, condoms, sexting, and what girls like.  Someday, I hope he will understand that my social norms work with him really boils down to a mother’s love for her son.