When it comes to sexual choices, do you know what our kids need the most from us as parents? t’s not our friendship. It’s our confidence that they can say “No” to sex when confronted with hormones, peer pressure, and the desire for a relationship. Many voices in our culture say, “They’re going to do it anyway, so let’s help them protect themselves.” But if we give them condoms or get them a prescription for the pill, are we really protecting them? Let’s consider some sobering facts:
The 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, supplemented by data from other sources, showed that 48% of women with an unintended pregnancy said they were using birth control during the month they got pregnant.
Some of the most common STDs (HPV, genital herpes, trichomoniasis, and syphilis) are contracted through skin to skin contact or through contact with an infected area. Condoms do not cover the entire genital area and are therefore much less effective in preventing the transmission of these diseases than they are in preventing other less common STDs.
No condom or pill can protect the hearts of our children. Sexually active teens are more likely to commit suicide, be depressed, struggle in school, and abuse drugs and alcohol.
The American Medical Association reported on a recent study that showed that children whose parents had higher expectations for them had higher school achievement and exhibited less risk-taking behavior. Also, children whose parents disapproved of early sexual activity postponed sexual intercourse. So, because we love them, we need to communicate that we expect them to make the healthiest, safest choice…to say “No” to sexual experimentation, and “Yes” to the future they dream of.
I’ve been reading about ask.fm lately. The buzz is about teens that have committed suicide after being bullied on the site. For all the teens that resort to suicide, often after being urged to kill themselves by anonymous bullies, there are many, many more that are living in fear and despair. Anonymity allows teens to act on their worst impulses. I couldn’t help but think of the soul-crushing guilt or loss of conscience that the bullies must feel when they face the very real consequences of their cruelty. Heaven forbid, that my child, or yours, could be that bully. Chicagonow.com has posted an article telling us what we need to know about ask.fm, including the following:
- As is true of Facebook and Twitter, you must be 13 to use it.
- Ask.fm allows anonymous objectionable content, which it does not monitor.
- Therefore, it’s being used for the worst type of bullying and sexualized content.
- Users can’t increase privacy settings, as you can with Facebook and Twitter.
- Ask.fm content can be linked to Facebook and Twitter, increasing the spread of the bullying.
- “A user can disable his/her account, even if the password is forgotten.” Kids have been known to lie about that.
- One user can block another, but the person can still view any interactions under any profile.
Action YOU can take: Find out if anyone is posting hurtful or sexual things. Ask if these “friends” are friends in real life. It’s OK to insist on transparency…sit down and take a look at your teen’s account. Advise your teen, “Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want your family to see.”
A PBS interview discussing teens who are depressed and at risk for attempting suicide revealed that, according to a large, recent study, “More than half of the young people who planned, thought of, or attempted to kill themselves had received at least some treatment.” This is troublesome, when you consider that suicide is the third leading cause of death among adolescents. The study discussed in the interview showed that even though symptoms of depression may improve under treatment, “even if we see these teenagers becoming better in terms of their symptoms of depression reducing, we need to continue to check in with them about whether they’re having thoughts, plans, or ideas around suicide.” Part of the interview discusses what caring adults may be able to do, acknowledging that “teachers and parents, are often very uncomfortable with this idea of speaking with them about it….And there’s a myth in society that if you bring up the topic of suicide with teenagers, that they’re more likely to act on those impulses, when in fact we know the opposite is true, that parents, peers and teachers, when they bring up this notion with teenagers, it shows care and concern and it actually helps decrease some suicidal ideation [formation of suicidal thoughts and ideas].”
If you have any contact with teens, you will eventually meet or hear about someone who has engaged in “cutting.” Teens who harm their bodies are not suicidal, but are looking for a way to release painful emotions, according to an article on WebMD. The article helps parents recognize warning signs, and gives advice on how to help teens who self-injure, quoting experts from SAFE Alternatives (based at Linden Oaks Hospital, in Naperville, IL).
I learned a few interesting things from the article. Cutting is an accepted part of the “Goth” culture (but is not only done in that group), and is more common in girls than boys. Wendy Lader, PhD, also states that “Very often, kids who self-harm have an eating disorder. They may have a history of sexual, physical, or verbal abuse….Many are sensitive, perfectionists, overachievers. The self-injury begins as a defense against what’s going on in their family, in their lives. They have failed in one area of their lives, so this is a way to get control.” This could hit any family, however, says Lader, who points out that “many kids who self-injure are simply ‘regular kids’ going through the adolescent struggle for self-identity” Lader adds, “They’re experimenting.”
Now that school is back in swing, and your teen can’t stay buried under the covers until noon like he might have during the holiday break, is he getting enough sleep? A study of 12,000 teens by the Center for Disease Control found that 7o% of young people are not getting the sleep they need to face the challenges and temptations that come their way . Lack of sleep negatively affects the prefrontal cortex, which in teens is still developing; this is the part of the brain that helps in making good judgments. So teens who are sleep-deprived are not just at risk of performing more poorly in school, they are also more likely to engage in sexual activity and use cigarettes, alcohol or drugs. They were also more likely to report being depressed or suicidal. The takeaway is that they MUST get more sleep; it’s not just important to their performance in school, but in life. The ABC report on this study also gives some great suggestions on helping your kids get a good night’s sleep, bettering their chances of having a better life.
As parents, we will almost certainly watch our children experience the pain of social rejection, either by friends, or by a boyfriend or girlfriend. There are two pitfalls to watch out for as a parent. One is that we will internalize it, and empathize so deeply that we will have sleepless nights, or worse, interfere in the relationship (I hate to admit this, but my observation is that moms seem to struggle more with this). The other is that we will miss the pain that they are experiencing. I once missed an opportunity to support my child when her friend died, because I didn’t realize how close she and this girl had become. I regret that I wasn’t there for her more at the time. Or we might be tempted to dismiss or minimize the hurt. “Oh, there are other better guys out there for you.” “She didn’t really appreciate what a great guy you are anyway.” A fascinating study found that “feelings of social rejection activate regions of the brain that are involved in physical pain sensation….” In other words, emotional pain “hurts” like physical pain. The researchers also “point out that the findings affirm the wisdom of cultures around the world that use the same language—words like ‘hurt’ and ‘pain’—to describe the experience of both physical pain and social rejection.” The best thing we can do when our child is experiencing the intense pain of rejection is to lend a sympathetic ear. We need to show our love and support by listening and by understanding that the pain, even though we know it won’t last forever, is quite real to our son or daughter.
After I wrote about Facebook etiquette last week, a reader sent us a link to a great article that I just had to share. This article alerts us to “10 Scary Facebook Status Updates” that might indicate our child is in trouble, emotionally or socially. We know that “drama” could be our teen’s middle name at times, but there are some comments that we need to take seriously…and explore what is behind them.
In doing a parent presentation this week, I was reminded that sexually active teens are significantly more likely to be depressed, and more likely to attempt (and commit) suicide compared to their abstinent peers. And it wasn’t attributable to teen pregnancy, but rather a combination of factors, with relational issues playing a role.
So what makes a teen feel so desperate? One article said that “Most teens interviewed after making a suicide attempt say that they did it because they were trying to escape from a situation that seemed impossible to deal with or to get relief from really bad thoughts or feelings….they didn’t want to die as much as they wanted to escape from what was going on. And at that particular moment dying seemed like the only way out.” One less “straw” to break the camel’s back, or even one fortuitous interruption, and the impulse may pass, and a life may be saved.
So what are the warning signs that we should look for? And then, what can we as parents do? I am not an expert in such matters, but there are great resources out there. The article mentioned above also lists warning signs, gives phone numbers for suicide hotlines, and includes other helpful information. Cut and past this address in your internet browser to find out more: http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/feeling_sad/suicide.html#
There’s an excellent resource out there, one that’s fairly new on the bookshelves. It’s a book called Hooked, written by Dr. Joe Mcilhaney and Dr. Freda Bush. It’s a study on how casual sex (i.e. the rampant “hook up” culture that exists today) affects teenagers and young adults.
These doctors study the brain’s activity, specifically in relation to what happens to people as they engage in sexual activity. The results are rather astounding.
It’s an easy read, something you should definitely check out. If you are curious to hear more, check out this article here that lists other books written along the same line.