Categories
Adolescence Bullying Self-Care Sexuality

Starry-Eyed and Lovelorn in Adolescence

adolescence

Remember when you were a teenager, falling in an out of love faster than your jeans could stay in style? Remember how devastating the subsequent heartbreak was when your current flight of fancy moved on? The drama and excitement of it all is exacerbated by adolescence. I can distinctly remember the all-or-nothing perspective I had when it came to love or what I thought was love as a teen. At times, it can be overwhelming and because there is sometimes a vacancy where parental trust should be, it can also be lonely.  Growing up is tough, and matters of the heart lend an element of pain to the already awkward, bungling nature of adolescence. And no, this isn’t a bash on being a teen. I was one once, and I will always remember the sense of untenable angst and confusion.

The truth is, relationships happen. All the time. They are an inevitable part of life unless you are a hermit, in which case, you may have some other issues to tend to. So, how do navigate that stormy sea? Let’s see:

  • Be yourself.  You are good enough just as you are. When we try to act like something or someone we’re not, we create expectations that may eventually lead to letdown. Ouch.
  • Mutual respect. You deserve to be being loved and respected for who you really are and not who someone wants you to be. Respect also means your partner will respect your boundaries without pushing you to accommodate their wants and needs.
  • Trust. It’s one of the most important ingredients in creating and maintaining relationships.  Are you overly jealous? Is your partner? Without trust, relationships tend to stand on rocky ground—this is true for friendships and romances.
  • Develop skillful communication: Ideally, you are in a relationship with someone who honors you and your feelings. If something is bothering you, talk about it. We hear this too often: “men and women speak different languages.” While this may be true at times, instead of shutting down, we can learn to ask for clarification when we don’t understand what’s being said.
  • Retain your autonomy. Sure, it can be fun to do absolutely everything with someone…for a while, but in doing so, have you made your boyfriend or girlfriend your “everything”?  Make time for those that were in your life before this relationship, and more than anything, make room for yourself. You should never have to give up things you like, or the friends you keep because your partner isn’t into them.

With the starry-eyed disposition of many adolescent relationships, it’s safe to say that many move with the tides, but sometimes things do go awry, presenting difficult challenges. Domestic violence can easily seep into teen relationships. The warning signs that this might be happening include:

  • Verbal abuse, including insults, unkind language, degradation.
  • Physical abuse, including slapping, shoving, of forcing sexual activity.
  • Control of who you spend time with and what activities you do: in other words, attempting to isolate you.

If you recognize any of these behaviors or recognize a friend or loved one who may be experiencing anything like this, get help. You deserve to be happy, not abused.

And remember: “Be who you are and say what you mean. Because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Seuss

Categories
Parenting Sexuality Transparency

Awkward Questions, Honest Answers

Teen sexuality is one of those subjects that inherently becomes the bane of a parent’s life. For some reason, talking about sex and sexuality is embarrassing for many, particularly when it comes to talking to their kids. Just like kids/teens can’t imagine their parents “doing it,” neither can we (parents) imagine our babies “doing it” either.

I’ve written before about the need for transparency in parenting, but those blogs were focused more on our sordid pasts, our own experiential behaviors with drugs and alcohol, and ultimately what led us to our recovery. I feel the same way about teens and sexuality. They are, by nature, sexual beings. Mixed with the inherent risk-taking behavior found in adolescence, the need for autonomy, and the biological reality that they are not cognitively developed enough to make rational decisions, what we have is a cauldron of disaster waiting to happen. We need to be able to talk about it—openly. The reality is, most teens are having sex and most parents would rather eschew reality.

Until recently, my thoughts on this were rather esoteric in the sense that I had no direct experience. Just opinions. But then my son came to me (he’s 10) and said, “Mom, why do penises enlargen?” I’m not going to lie: I had a moment of internal panic, but then I realized this was one of those opportunities to put my thoughts, beliefs and words into action. So I answered him: truthfully. Yes, Pandora’s Box was blasted wide open, but at the same time, it made space for honesty and trust. I am honored that at 10, my son feels emotionally safe enough to broach the tough questions with me, his mom, and not leave the gathering of this information up to schoolyard antics. Granted, it’s only the beginning, but it’s something.  I soon discovered this open attitude of mine wasn’t particularly common. In fact, it was met with some shock and adamant admissions of embarrassment. This was disheartening to me. Honestly, if we want our kids to behave responsibly, it’s best we arm them with accurate information, and provide them with the tools necessary to make positive choices.

So, when the time comes, and your kids start the incessant line of awkward questioning, here are a couple of useful tips that have worked for me:

  1. Don’t shame your child/teen for asking these questions.
  2. Stay age appropriate. Just because the question seems advanced doesn’t mean the one asking is ready to hear the nitty gritty. Answer honestly, but appropriate to the cognitive development of your child.
  3. Get a book! There are some good ones out there that will  provide answers to most of these questions and open a space for discussion.
  4. Teach media literacy.

Certainly, answering honestly in the early years is ideal, but if we set a standard with our kids and allow them to see that we will tell them the truth and create a safe space for them to be themselves, we are ahead of the game.

This is an ongoing conversation, one that will evolve and change as time goes on. Remember: every moment is a teachable moment.

Interesting reads:

Parents, Adolescents, and the Subject of Sex

Your Teen is Having Sex, Don’t Panic (necessarily)

The Horror Whose Name Can’t Be Spoken — Teen Sex

The Upside to Boy-Girl Friendships

Categories
Parenting Sexuality

New Study, Old Issues

Image via Wikipedia

Recent data from a new government report documenting the welfare of children shows a drop in teen births going from “21.7 births per 1000 girls in 2008 to 20.1 per 1000 in 2009.” Other aspects of the report weren’t as positive: the number of eighth-graders who’ve used illicit drugs has risen; more children are living in poverty; fewer children are likely to live with at least one parent who is working full time. The report was compiled by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, a “working group of 22 federal agencies that collect, analyze, and convey data on issues pertaining to children birth to 18 and their families.” The study is notably multidimensional, as it covers everything from teen pregnancy and drug use, to obesity, math scores, and poverty.

Still, this study doesn’t provide us with any answers in terms of how to continue to encourage the decline in teen births, or even how to decrease the rising numbers of illicit drug use. It is, however, a great marker for us to refer to as we continue on our parenting journey.  The crux of the matter is we still need to broach the thorny subject of sex, pregnancy, drugs, et cetera, with our kids. We need to talk about the uncomfortable issues before the theory of pregnancy or drug addiction becomes reality.
Talking about the birds and the bees includes more than just the covering the technical side of how babies are made. As much as we may be concerned about the outcome of unfettered sexual activity, there are still runaway emotions occurring simply because of a teen’s developmental status. Fortunately (and unfortunately), we live in a time where conversation triggers are everywhere: films like Juno, or Saved, and television shows like 16 and Pregnant or Teen Mom are certainly fodder for beginning this conversation. Just talk about it; take away the mystery. When that’s gone, the intrigue just may begin to wane as well. Think about it: When you were a kid, and someone implicitly told you not to do something or touch something, was your curiosity piqued? I know mine was.

This conversation is important and ongoing! If we begin to broach the subjectt early on and with as much candor as is age appropriate, we gain the potentiality for honest communication with our kids. Knowing that you can trust your parents and talk to them about the “big” stuff is important—in essence, try to be the one your kids come to rather than the one they hide things from! At the end of the day, it’s far better if this information comes from us as parents than the misanthropic, older kid your child might admire!

Some helpful links to refer to:

New Govt Report On Child Welfare Presents Mixed Picture

Report: Teen Births Drop, Middle-School Drug Use Up

LA Times

How to Talk to Your Children About Sex

Categories
Sexuality

National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month

It’s May. Do you know what that means? It’s National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month!

There’s value in suggesting one can enjoy their teen years without the added stress of sexual relationships added to the mix, but that’s not always realistic. Adolescence means hormonal changes (puberty!), accelerated brain development, and of course a natural proclivity for recklessness.  Puberty is confusing: thoughts are scattered and often vacillate between sexual urges to feeling depressed and shut down; we are, by nature, unpredictable during this developmental period. But you know what? This is also normal!
So, it’s not only important to talk about pregnancy prevention, but also the emotional and physical states that tend to lead us toward getting pregnant in the first place. The pressure to fit in and do what everyone else SAYS they’re doing can be overwhelming. Adolescents are also prone to having a tight relationship with hyperbole when it comes to their sexuality.  Remember Jonah Hill’s character in Superbad and his exaggerated boastfulness about sex? Or how about the iconic scene in 16 Candles where The Geek borrows Samantha’s panties for 10 minutes so he can hold them up for his friends as proof of his sexual prowess? Anything to prove he’s not a virgin, right? Ironically,  statistics prove otherwise and frankly make The Geek look pretty average. In fact, “nearly 8 out of 10 guys say there is way too much pressure on them to have sex”!
Here are some things to think about before things get hot and heavy. Better to be preparedthan placed in a position to struggle with your own maturation in tandem with a child’s.

  • If you’re drunk or high, it’s hard to make good decisions about sex. Don’t do something you might regret or might not remember!
  • Did you know: Half of high-school teens haven’t had sex.
  • It’s OK to have friends without “benefits” — Sex ≠ love!
  • Think twice before pressing “send” on your phone or email. One third of teens say that those who share sexy images of themselves are “expected” to put out. Is that the impression you’d like to leave?
  • If you are going to have sex, use protection. Condoms are the only birth control method that can reduce your risk of getting HIV or STDs. Know your options.

Some statistics about teen pregnancy:

  • 3 out of 10 girls in the US get pregnant at least once before age 20.
  • Parenthood is the leading reason why teen girls drop out of school; less than half of teen mothers complete high school and fewer than 2% earn a college degree before age 30.
  • Having a baby won’t make him stay – 8 out of 10 fathers don’t marry the mother of their child.
  • More than half of all mothers on welfare had their first child as a teen.
  • The daughters of young, teen mothers are 3 times more likely to become teen mothers themselves.
  • The sons of teen mothers are twice as likely to end up in prison.

Have a plan. Educate yourself and start asking questions. Parents, school counselors, Planned Parenthood: those are all viable options. Also, if you aren’t comfortable having a direct conversation with your potential partner(s) about sex, you probably aren’t ready to have sex in the first place. Take some time and get informed!  And remember, it’s okay to say “No!”

References for this blog and additional information:
1. https://www.thenationalcampaign.org/national/pdf/2011/2011_ND_brochure.pdf
2: https://www.stayteen.org/teen-pregnancy
3. https://www.plannedparenthood.org

Categories
Bullying Sexuality

Love Doesn’t Hurt

(Image by Tayrawr Fortune via Flickr)

Teen dating is rite of passage. It’s part the induction into young adulthood, and the ground on which we begin to build the foundations of having a healthy relationship. Unfortunately, “healthy” isn’t always part of the equation, and as we come to the end of February, National Teen Dating Violence Prevention and Awareness Month, I thought it apropos to talk about what happens if/when a relationship goes awry. As if navigating adolescence wasn’t hard enough as it is, right?
Domestic violence is an insidious beast. It’s not always obvious to outsiders and can often go undetected until it’s too late. There’s a huge element of shame associated with being on the receiving end, as well as an untenable fear of incurring further abuse. Truthfully, it’s another form of bullying, and a bully’s usual tactic is to threaten their victim with fatalistic consequences, ultimately forcing the victim to suffer in silence, isolate, and not ask for help.

Some signs that someone may be experiencing dating violence are:

    • Physical signs of injury
    • Truancy, dropping out of school
    • Failing grades
    • Indecision
    • Changes in mood or personality
    • Use of drugs/alcohol
    • Pregnancy
    • Emotional outbursts
    • Isolation

Signs that your dating partner may eventually become violent:

    • Extreme jealousy
    • Controlling behavior
    • Quick involvement
    • Unpredictable mood swings
    • Alcohol and drug use
    • Explosive anger
    • Isolates you from friends and family
    • Uses force during an argument
    • Shows hypersensitivity
    • Believes in rigid sex roles
    • Blames others for his problems or feelings
    • Cruel to animals or children
    • Verbally abusive
    • Abused former partners
    • Threatens violence

Because teens often romanticize intimate relationships (particularly this generation, which has grown up watching glorified, sexualized violence in television, film, and media), there is an inherent  belief among boys that their masculinity is defined by aggression, while girls often see their role as problem solver and passive. These attitudes fundamentally perpetuate the problem of gender inequality which so often leads to the abuse of power and the use of control in relationships.

If you are experiencing any facet of dating/domestic violence, please seek help. There are anonymous, 24-hour helplines available to you, your teachers and parents will help you, you just have to speak up. You don’t deserve to be abused. Love is respect, and it certainly shouldn’t hurt.

Categories
Sexuality

Teen Pregnancy: Education vs Ignorance

Image by Slaff via Flickr

      I wonder, is the latest reality TV craze of highlighting the trials and tribulations of teen pregnancy actually helping teens in any way? Or are we once again stuck on the reality-television treadmill, watching someone else’s tragedy unfold, happy it’s not us? Getting pregnant as a teen is hard. The repercussions of the fly-by-night fancies of our youth are often life-changing. As parents, we need to know how best to handle that, and as teens, we need to be informed.
    The issue here isn’t how our teen got pregnant in the first place. I think we all know the hows and whys if one is already in that position. The truth is, parents NOT speaking to their kids soon enough about the toughest, yet most important issues is where the trouble really starts. Issues like:

Sex, drugs and alcohol, violence, race, HIV/AIDS, information gleaned from the news and other media, accidents and disasters, sickness and death, and divorce. 

     Yes, these are tough things to talk about, but isn’t it better to be a teacher to our kids, rather than the one undoing the mess of misinformation?  This is an opportunity to have a dialogue and provide a safe space for our kids to open up. When we take away the mystery, the subject of sex and even drugs are potentially less interesting. At least, that’s the goal. Here are some viable tips that might make talking to your kids about this a little bit easier:

  1. Start early
  2. Initiate conversations with your child, even about sex and sexuality
  3. Create an open environment
  4. Communicate your own values
  5. Listen to your child
  6. Answer honestly 
  7. Be patient
  8. Use everyday opportunities to talk
  9. Have an open mind
  10. Talk about it again and again.

Categories
Sexuality

Adolescents and Sex: When Curiosity Becomes Addiction

Image via Wikipedia

Ah, the adolescent years: they are rife with curiosity, rebellion, changing bodies, emotional upheaval, you name it. Heck, no one said it was easy being a teen. If anything, it’s one of the most difficult periods in one’s development. There’s already so much to deal with, as teens learn to adjust to their physical changes along with the accompanying emotional ups and downs, their increased freedoms as high-school begins or comes to an end, and the heightened expectations from parents, teachers, and friends. However, the prevalence of hyper-sexualized imagery used in advertising, on television, in video games, on billboards and magazines, lends itself to inevitably skewed ideas and expectations regarding sexuality. For instance, online pornography is easily attainable, and often for little to no cost. Add the instant gratification of text messaging and the increased use of smart phones, and all of a sudden, not only is sexual content readily available, it’s often viewed surreptitiously. In fact, communicating via text message is the preferred means of contact for teens, so it’s not terribly surprising that sexting, sending provocative self-portraits, and using suggestive apps are a heady component in the adolescent vernacular. For some, however, this behavior can become compulsive, which can mean:

  • Loss of control over their behavior with sex
  • Continuing to participate in that behavior, regardless of its negative consequences
  • A preoccupation or obsession with the sex, porn, etc.

There is also a lot of shame associated with acting out sexually, particularly when it’s driven by addiction and compulsion. Like using drugs or drinking, there is a “high” associated with it, and addict behavior will prevail with sexual addiction, just as it does with drugs and alcohol. The truth is, as a culture, we are encouraged to be sexy but not sexual. Additionally, there is a double standard regarding sexuality, ie. the idea that “boys will be boys” or “girls are just more promiscuous.” There’s also a double standard regarding sex itself: hypersexuality in boys is frequently considered “studly,” while the same behavior in girls is often perceived as “slutty.” Sadly, that thinking lends itself to secrecy along with a heightened sense of shame. Couple that with an inclination toward addiction, and you’ve got a cocktail of doom. Fortunately, as more therapists and counselors become aware of sexual addiction, it’s more likely to be addressed in treatment. Also, as people enter treatment and begin to open up, any issues with sex addiction tend to come out. Not only does this process help alleviate their sense of feeling alone, it also provides a healthy environment of support, which allows for healing and change.