"Make sure you are being safe", a dad says to his teen son.
"What's your body count?" one teens asks another.
"He wanted to have sex but I didn't so I gave him a bj", a teen tells her best friend.
The first comment seems appropriate. It is good for a parent to talk to their teens about sex safe practices. But that should not be the only conversation parents should be having. We also need to talk to our teens about respect, consent, and values. I know there are many different views and values regarding sex but not having a conversation with our kids at all is hurting them. We need to be talking to our teens about the emotional effects of sex.
I recently learned that the second and third comments are happening and more often than we think. More and more teens are taking pride in their "body count." For those that may not feel ready for intercourse, they engage in other forms of sex thinking that they have to do something. Many teens do not feel oral sex (especially a female giving to a male) is a big deal. No one can become pregnant, so why not. I know that in high school health class, teens are informed of some of the dangers of oral sex but a class lecture one time is not enough.
I encourage parents to talk to their tweens and teens about all forms of sex. Talk to them about what they hope for them, how they feel sex impacts a relationship, and how to handle themselves if they are not ready or their partner is not ready.
I had this conversation with my sixth grader on a very basic level that was appropriate for her age. As she ages, I will have additional conversations with more detail and depth. She already knows, though, my values. I hope she waits until she is married but, at the least, until she is in love (and obviously that no form of sex is okay at her age). It is okay if those are not your values, I'm not trying to push my values on you. But you must take time to think about your values and what you want for your children. If we don't share this with our children, they seek guidance elsewhere.
I'm not foolish enough to believe that talking to our kids about our values will mean there will be no more talk of body count and no more hook-ups. I do think, though, that it will help many teens find a better path.
I recently watched the second season of 13 Reasons Why. There was a scene where one of the characters was talking to his mom telling her that he has felt suicidal at times. She not only dismissed those feelings, but told him that he would have no reason to feel that way. She told him he was a "good boy."
The scene really spoke to me because I know it happens frequently. Loving, caring parents dismiss their children's feelings because they (the parents) can not handle them or understand them. They think only "troubled" youth (whatever that means) could possibly feel that way. They are scared of what it might mean if their child really has suicidal thoughts.
I also have had many parents in the past tell me that the youth is just saying it for attention. Maybe, but then shouldn't we give the kid attention before it becomes worse. This attention does not have to be in the form of extra privileges, gifts, etc but a youth expressing suicidal ideation (SI) needs our attention.
There are other scenes in the TV show where a youth expresses their feelings and the parent in one way or another tells them they are being dramatic. Again, maybe, but telling them that does not change how the youth feels. It does, however, increases the chances that the kid will share less with them.
As parents and caring adults, we need to listen and validate our kid's feelings. Validating does not mean we agree or even understand why they are feelings that way. It means we are showing our kids that we understand they are having strong emotions and can identify what those emotions are. For example, your sixteen year old son tells you he is really feeling depressed after a fight with his girlfriend and that life will always suck. Validate his feelings by saying something like "it sounds like you are really upset and sad over the fight. it is hard to fight with those we care about. Do you want to talk more about it?" If you don't have time in that moment to give your full attention, set up a time and make it a priority.
Just because something seems like a small deal to us, does not make it feel small to our children. Think about a time you were really upset and someone dismissed those feelings. How did that make you feel?
If your kid is having feelings that seem to much to handle or is expressing SI, seek out help. For SI, ask your child if they have a plan. If they say yes, seek help immediately by calling BHR (800-811-4760) or taking them to the hospital.
JENNIFER EULBERG, MA, LPC
Welcome Jennifer, our new blogger!
Jennifer is a counselor at Sandhill who specializes in depression, self-esteem, and grief & loss. Get to know Jennifer as she shares her perspectives on life, contemplates value themes, and offers gentle encouragement.
THANK YOU to Stefanie Pisarkiewicz, LPC for her blog contributions from November 2014 - February 2019!