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Better They Learn It From Their Friends …

May 18, 2009
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This is a parenting rant; this is more conceptual than particular, and directed to more than one person.

“But she doesn’t know about that yet” is not an answer. That’s when she needs to know it: before she needs to know it. If she already knew it, she wouldn’t need you to tell her. So tell her now, when she doesn’t need to know it.

The time to tell her is when it’s a strange rumor about someone’s friend’s cousin at another school. She’s fishing for information. If you dodge the question, she’ll let you. And she’ll know not to ask again. “You can talk to me about anything” is a platitude. She’s not stupid; she knows it’s a platitude. She knows it’s a platitude because she sees that you don’t want to deal with the questions when she raises them. When you dodge, she knows she can’t talk to you about anything; only things you’re ready to talk about. That’s why you shouldn’t dodge it.

Even in what passes for comprehensive sex ed, they won’t cover it. Popular culture won’t teach her, they just pitch jokes that assume knowledge. So that leaves her friends, who are all 14. I didn’t have much access to accurate information then and neither did you. Do you think they are much better?

If you wait long enough, you can avoid the conversation entirely. She’ll get inaccurate half-assed information from somewhere else. This is not the best outcome, though it may be the least embarrassing.

Nobody will do your job for you. If you don’t do your job, it won’t get done. Not the way it ought to be, anyway.

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. May 18, 2009 9:42 pm

    this was great. exactly how i have always felt…as a teen, seeking info (and I was the go-to person) and as an adult.

  2. Ananda permalink
    May 19, 2009 11:03 pm

    As a woman and mother, I couldn’t agree more. I have 3 sons, and my attitude towards sex-ed has always been that if they want to know it, I’ll answer the question. Be it sex-ed, or just friends problems. If my child has the mind to ask a question, they deserve an honest answer.

  3. fas permalink
    May 20, 2009 7:42 am

    I am a young man and grew up in the age where every information you need is at your fingertips. I developed a healthy sexuality without being educated by my parents and I can assure you, I was not missing any important information and have not gotten inaccurate informations.

    If you can talk about it to your children/parents its good. If not, it is in most cases not problematic at all.

  4. May 20, 2009 10:54 am

    Fas, do I really need to go find a bunch of statistics about the just-plain-wrong stuff that people believe? Even if I take at face value your claim to have a healthy sexuality (whatever that is) and to have no inaccurate information (how do you know what you don’t know?), do you really think most teens self-educate that well? Do you really think that fourteen year olds walk around with accurate information about contraceptive effectiveness and clear ideas about consent and boundaries? For that matter, when kids get flat-out misinformation in school, for example this nonsense about condoms not protecting against HIV, do you really think they just ingore that and find accurate information on their own?

    • fas permalink
      May 20, 2009 5:59 pm

      Thomas: I understand what you are saying. And I still think that most fourteen year olds that are willing to will get accurate information in one way or the other. If they are not willing, getting the education at home will not change much. It is really up to the person.

      But don’t get me wrong. I think it is very valuable to get the education at home. But only if the kids are willing to! Many teens do not feel comfortable to discuss that kind of topic with their parents (probably even more than the other way round). When I was that age I was like that, and I’m glad I was not forced to be educated by my parents.

      About how I know what I don’t know: Of course I know (to a reasonable amount that is). Why do you think *you* know what you presumably intent to teach your kids?

      • May 21, 2009 11:23 am

        There’s a big difference between a kid who thinks he or she has no information going and looking for information, and a kid who gets bad information. The latter may not know to look for more information. And there’s a lot of bad information out there, including in our schools, where anti-sex ideologues have received funding to promulgate lies and half-truths for years.

        Regarding whether kids are comfortable being parented … they never are, and that’s not particular to sex. Further, if they are particularly appalled that their parents discuss sex frankly, it may be because their parents have not done that for the first decade or so of their lives, and decided that the “big talk” method was the way to go. It isn’t. The “talk” starts with toddlers and proceeds smoothly through adulthood; done that way kids won’t be any more shocked that their parents give them information and advice about sex than about alcohol, drugs or any other loaded set of personal conduct. You admit your parents didn’t give you much in the way of sex ed; maybe if they had started young with anatomy, you wouldn’t have been so uncomfortable later discussing contraception, STIs, limits and consent.

  5. ggg_girl permalink
    May 26, 2009 7:55 pm

    I have to agree with fas. My parents never talked about sex and I looked up everything I wanted to know on my own just fine, I was a resourceful teenager.

  6. May 27, 2009 3:34 pm

    I speculate that ggg_girl and fas do not have any adult experience with today’s adolescent population.

  7. ggg_girl permalink
    May 27, 2009 3:40 pm

    I am 21 years old; I was an adolescent not long ago. People don’t give teenagers much credit. If a teenager seems emotionally mature and intelligent, I really do believe a sex talk is unnecessary. I don’t want to know anything about my parents’ sex lives, they don’t want to know anything about mine, it’s been this way since I was a teenager and it works out quite well for all of us.

  8. May 27, 2009 3:47 pm

    People don’t give teenagers much credit.

    Under what situations do people not give teenager much credit? And depending upon the answer, there may be a very good reason for it.

    If a teenager seems emotionally mature and intelligent, I really do believe a sex talk is unnecessary.

    “Seems” being the key word. But how do you know and are you willing to take that chance on SEX? A sex talk is MANDATORY if you want an open, honest communication and relationship with any child/teen/whatever.

    I don’t want to know anything about my parents’ sex lives

    And you’re entitled to hold that opinion. But equally, your parents probably don’t want to use themselves as examples in the sex talk.

    they don’t want to know anything about mine,

    If you were a teen, they do want to know about–they want to know that you are doing it, but if you are, that you’re doing the right thing.

    it’s been this way since I was a teenager and it works out quite well for all of us.

    You are not in the majority.

  9. May 27, 2009 3:48 pm

    I meant they want to hope that you are NOT doing it.

  10. May 27, 2009 5:27 pm

    As long as we’re throwing around anecdata, we might as well let a teenager speak for herself. She’s begging people to talk about sex, because she knows she didn’t know, even though she’s obviously smart and wanted to know.

  11. June 5, 2009 2:57 pm

    I’m the mother to two teens, a boy and a girl. I’ve been talking to them about their changing bodies and sex since elementary school. I don’t just wait for them to ask questions; I bring up topics if I think the time is right, or I react to stuff I read or movies we see together. I’m careful not to lay too much on them for their age, but I want to make sure they get accurate information to they can act with a knowledge of the consequences of their actions.

    The most surprising thing has been how little they retain. I sometimes feel like the rule of marketing – that something has to be repeated x times – applies to sex talks! I’ll think that something is so shocking and new that they’ll never forget it, but then a year later they’ll have no idea what I’m talking about.

    The key is to keep the dialogue going!

  12. Claire permalink
    April 24, 2010 9:50 pm

    The internet has definitely helped with this, although there is a lot of misinformation out there. It can also be used as a tool by parents who want their kids to know, but are embarrassed talking about it themselves. Sit you kids down and show them scarleteen, and tell them if there’s anything that they’re still wondering after they’ve read to come and ask. I think it’s kind of a cop-out, and being embarrassed to talk about sex enforces the idea of sex as dirty and taboo, but it’s better than letting them wonder.

    My mom did the old-fashioned version of this cop-out. She handed me the illustrated dictionary of sex, blushing furiously, and told me I should read it. I was 18, and it was a bit late for it, but I was lucky enough to have relatively progressive sex ed at my school, and to have done my research and found most this stuff out myself. (It’s a good thing I did actually, since that book was written in the 70’s. It was progressive for it’s time, but there was still a lot of error.)

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