Being a parent of a teenager today can be overwhelming, especially when print and television media constantly surrounds us with sexually explicit images and messages. Even our children’s own peers may expose them to graphic sexual words and images through social media and the use of smart phones. Who knew what “twerking” was before the Miley Cyrus “performance” at the MVA Awards? I certainly did not.
Educate yourself, and then empower your teen. Here are a few tips.
- Don’t wait to have a “big talk” about sex or sexual issues. Make it routine and not something to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Make them to feel comfortable to ask YOU questions when they have them—which they are bound to have.
- Teach them that sexuality and sexual abuse don’t need to be “secret.” Abusers will often tell a child that the abuse is “their” secret. Let your children know that if someone touches or talks to them in ways that make them uncomfortable, that experience should never be secret. Teach them to trust their “creep out” instinct. Make sure to tell your teenagers that they will not get into trouble if they tell you this kind of secret.
- Don’t “tune out” the music or media they listen or watch. You should know the type of music playing constantly in their ear buds and what shows and video games they like. Watch their “favorite” TV shows with them. Not to sound like an old curmudgeon but most of the music “young people” listen to today is sexually graphic in language or content. Some are degrading to women and totally inappropriate for children of both sexes. Many TV shows (for example, Law and Order, “Teen Wolfe” and “Reality” shows) depict physical violence or sexual violence or have graphic sexual innuendo or images. Some video games (for example, Grand Theft Auto) allow the user to engage in sexual violence. Discuss with them what you believe is inappropriate and why. They may roll their eyes at you but they ARE listening. Take every opportunity to educate them and yourself.
- Ask your teenagers about the “drama” in their lives. Get to know their friends and the parents of their friends. For example, are their friends “cutting”? Do their friends experiment with alcohol? Are any of their friends being bullied? Who are they texting or ‘face-timing” at all hours of the night? You may be surprised by their answers and what you find out if you ask.
- Get to know the other adults in their lives. Who are their “favorite” teachers? If your teenager is involved in sports, go to games and practices. Get to know the other parents and coaches. Be vigilant. Trust your gut. If another adult is paying unusual attention or seems fixated on your child that is a RED FLAG.
- “Smart” phones and mobile devices, including computers, can allow surly teenagers to be even more distant from parents. Consider restricting the types of downloads and amount of texts as well as monitoring the websites they visit. Many providers such as ATT offer parental controls that you can restrict from your computer. Software is also available to monitor computer use and texts. If they are on social media, make sure you are their “friend” and know their password so you can monitor their posts and pictures. Remind them that once an image or comment is on the internet, it cannot be changed. It may affect their future college or job prospects.
While many of these topics may not make your teenager happy with you, and may cause you to risk being seen as “uncool”, it’s OK to BE THE PARENT. They already have friends.