It’s Valentine’s Day, the red-letter day for love and romance. In your teen’s world of hip hop, hook-ups and ‘ho’s, is there still room for Romeo and Juliet? For big mushy Valentine cards with lace?
The answer is yes. Not only do teenagers want to find true love and romance, they want parents and “sex educators” to talk about it. They want to learn “How do I know when I’m really in love?” not how to name body parts. They want to know “How can I make love last a lifetime?” not how to avoid STDs.
As a parent of a teen, your job is to teach your child about sex, love and intimacy. Your teen looks to you for information and direction even though she may not act that way. A recent NBC/People magazine poll found that 70% of teens ask for and receive such information from their parents, still the number one source over friends (53%), teachers (53%) or media (51%).
A wise man once said, “It’s not the words, it’s the music.” Likewise, there are two parts to teaching about sex and intimacy. One is the mechanical, the other is the emotional and spiritual. It’s not physical intimacy, it’s the emotional situation that surrounds it. As a parent, you have to teach both the words and music of love.
Teaching the Mechanics of Sex
As the first and most important teacher to your teen, you have to make sure that your teen really does understand the mechanics of sex, and the dangers of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. However, your teen probably already knows a lot from sex education classes and the media. According to a study by the University of New Hampshire, 42% of teens under 18 years have seen pornography on the Internet. Most have seen simulated sex on MTV, movies, and rock concerts.
Talking about the mechanics of sex can be embarrassing, especially if you have no role models because your own parents avoided the issue. If you find out that your teen needs more “plumbing knowledge,” the easy way and traditional way out is to buy a book and share it. Another practical tip is to have these discussions in the car, while you are driving and your teen is a passenger. Your teen is “captive” and you don’t have to make eye contact.
The good news is that teens seem to have gotten the message to be more cautious. The Center for Disease Control reports that more teens are delaying intercourse, teen pregnancies are down, and more teens are using condoms.
Learning the Music of Love
Now comes the hard part: teaching your child how to find love and intimacy with another human being.
“When teenagers fool around before they’re ready or have a very casual attitude toward sex, they proceed toward adulthood with a lack of understanding about intimacy,” according to Sabrina Weill, former editor in chief of Seventeen magazine. Weill and others believe that teenagers today are confused about sex, “What it means to be intimate is not clearly spelled out for young people by their parents and people they trust.”
The NBC/People Magazine poll found that the vast majority of young teens (87%) ages 13 to 16 (87%) have not had intercourse. The reasons they give are a conscious decision to wait (74%), worry about disease (71%), belief they are too young (74%) and worry about what parents think (75%).
There is even some evidence that their parents are more cynical about love and sex than the teens. In the NBC poll, 66% of the teens agreed with “Waiting to have sex is a nice idea but no one really does,” compared to 85% of the parents.
Before you can teach your child about love and intimacy, you may have to “work through your own stuff.” If you have been disappointed in love yourself, you have to let go of your own hurts. You can teach the ideal that every human wants, even if you like most people have not yet attained it. Many adults find themselves jealous of the beauty and freshness of young people. It is hard to put yourself in the position of being “parent dork” and “old guy,” especially if you are working hard at staying young. But your child does not need a peer, she needs guidance. She really wants you to be the dork.
“Parents are actually the most influential factors in teens’ decisions about sex,” Weill says. In her book, The Real Truth About Teens and Sex, she advises parents to keep a constant conversation going. Talk about your beliefs, not just facts. Talk about your hope that your child will find love and a lifelong commitment with another person: not only the love that lights up Valentine’s Day, but lifelong intimacy and sharing. Your daughter or son grew up on Disney fairy tales. Now you have to teach them what happens after the prince and princess decide to live happily ever after and grow old together and create the love story of a lifetime.
Bogey and Bacall. Romeo and Juliet. John Smith and Pocahontas.
Happy Valentine’s Day.