More than just the facts, ma’am
I certainly haven’t been avoiding “the talk” with my teenage son. In fact, we’ve been openly ” and age-appropriately ” discussing sex since our 9-year-old neighbor, Jimmy, blurted out the facts to my then-preschooler in gory detail. Anatomically correct gory detail.
Typically, I wait until the subject comes up in some way ” usually as in “you need to sign this permission slip so I can watch a movie in health class.” But when last week’s front page news announced for all the world to see that one in four teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease, I decided this was not typical. And while I hope to protect my kids from the barrage of seedy activity in the world, I am quite clear about this: Innocence and ignorance are not the same thing.
Case in point: While I planned to discuss the article on STDs with my son, I deftly folded the newspaper in half to avoid chatting about the day’s other lead article, the rise and now very public fall of New York’s Gov. Spitzer and his prostitute ” er, I mean “escort.” (Gee, anybody else see a link between those two stories?)
“Did you see this?” I pointed to the newspaper as my son poured himself a glass of milk after school.
“Oh, yeah, we talked about this in Health,” he said. OK, good opening, I thought. Just the facts. I condensed the information in the article and elaborated on a few choice diseases one can contract from having unprotected sex at any age. And I noticed Nick was all ears.
So I dove in a little deeper, offering my own commentary about appropriate intimacy between adults and about some of the consequences ” both physical and emotional ” when kids get too involved too quickly. I stressed the importance of being mature enough to handle those consequences, and by mature I mean, adult, and by adult I mean … well, a lot older.
At this point Nick could have said, “Yeah, OK, well, I have lots of homework, Mom. See ya.” And, to be honest, I half-expected it. But he did something altogether different. He set down his milk, hopped up on the kitchen counter, and started talking.
If I had an uncomfortable moment at all, my son’s face didn’t reflect it back. All I saw was curiosity ” about how I felt, what I knew, and what I wanted to know about what he knew. And I realized it wasn’t enough to just share the facts anymore. There is age-appropriate, factual information we must give our kids in life ” where babies come from, how bodies change, why Santa doesn’t ever get stuck in the chimney.
And then there are values. If we don’t share our values along with the information we give, then kids are forced to look to society to define the values for them. And on any given day, that can be a crap-shoot. Just ask Gov. Spitzer’s three teenage daughters.
If we don’t share how we feel about 15- and 16-year-old girls having sex, they’ll wrongly assume from the cover of US magazine and Jamie Lynn Spears that it’s no big deal. The fact that 25 percent of teenage girls are infected with an STD is an alarmingly high number. How many more aren’t diagnosed and, for that matter, what percentage have to be having sex to begin with in order to create a 25 percent infection rate? It boggles the mind that we have created a culture in which a young person is allowed to share her body before she’s even gotten to know it herself.
Maybe it’s time we inject our conversations with not just what we know, but what we believe. You may not have a child who hops up on the counter ready to chat. But then again, you just might.
Charla Belinski’s column runs every other Sunday in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent. Contact her at Belinskis@comcast.net.
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