The new “thing” for my thirteen year old daughter has been to hang out with her friends at the library after school. Generally, I’m cool with this. I’m not so naive as to believe they’re only working on homework, I understand the social elements of this age group. I’m wary of their curiosity – well, more of them educating their peers on their own understandings of said curiosities – but I can’t stop the rain from falling. So I compromise, I take a second glance at the situation and here’s what I see: I can’t control everything, and honestly I wouldn’t want to. Experience is the true teacher, but it can still involve my guidance. So I let my daughter go be with her friends and I maintain a close connection and communication with her about what happens. She’s learning that for her honesty she’s rewarded with more freedoms and can continue to enjoy this activity of library gathering. I’m grateful for this pattern, though I don’t mind telling you it quite frankly scares the snarf out of me. Last week, I learned how her friend sitting next her was chatting with a cute boy on Facebook and how she kept pulling my daughter over to see the conversation. Suffice it to say, the boy was boldly sharing what he wanted to do to her in the too typical crude language of today. Good news, my daughter is frankly sharing an event of the afternoon. Bad news, it is so obvious that this behavior is viewed by kids as both acceptable and just the way things are today. Enter the reason for this post, the book.
We were driving home and my daughter asked me what ‘p u b e s’ spelled and meant. My first instinct is a negative relation, but I answer her honestly that I don’t know, it’s not even a real word to my knowledge. She hands me her book and says, it’s right here. I read the paragraph it was listed in:
Snow Angel: i could NEVER not shave my pubes. that is just gross. but even if i did have a pubic hair problem, which i do not, u and zoe would still luv me, right?”
So my first instinct was sadly right on target. But where did it come from? What’s the point in writing like this? So I go back a few paragraphs to find the reference and find this:
mad maddie: my brother’s new girlfriend doesn’t shave her pits OR her pubes. he brought her to this family party at lake lanier this weekend and she wore a bikini.
Snow Angel: that’s sick
mad maddie: it was basically like she had a pelt. the pops pulled me aside and said in this really loud whisper, “guess she forgot to mow the lawn, huh?”
I’m speechless. Between wrestling with the content itself, the idea that dad would talk like this to his daughter, the grammar, etc. I feel like I’ve been swallowed in a torrent of information leaving me disoriented. Knowing that my daughter is waiting for a response, I ask her what caused her to choose this book. She says simply her friend told her she just had to read it that it was really great. She’s just started it, which was true as this was only page three. (Incidentally, later I asked her if she’d been able to realize in her first three pages that the book was going to be full of content not worthy of her time or in alignment with her values. She said no. This, I told her is why she needs to ask for my help so she can learn how to do that for herself.)
Side story, a few weeks ago another “friend” told her about a website she just had to go to because it too was really great. We’ll leave it stated simply that the video chat site referred to is a disaster. So pulling from this experience I gently remind her that sometimes our friends don’t have the best advice and it would be in her best interest to share their suggestions with me before diving in.
Okay, so reality check here. The stuff her “friend’s” are suggesting are definitely morally corrosive. The good news is, she’s sharing them with me. I hope this means I’m playing a few cards right and that I can maintain that relationship. I can’t imagine not knowing about this stuff she’s dealing with every day. It still scares the snarf out of me.
That last line by the way is the crux of this book’s author’s reasoning. Since being exposed to this book I’ve done a little research to see how other parents were receiving it. I found an article where the author addresses being under fire for her books. She states: “…that parents anger springs from fear.”
I would like to address this because there is fear here, as I’ve clearly stated but I don’t think it’s of the variety the author is describing. I’m not afraid of tackling tough and sensitive subjects with my kids. It comes up all the time. I’m actually a very big supporter of my kids hearing the right information – from me. I’ve got a very open door policy on talking honestly about what moral and sensual things mean. My fear stems from the flippant and rampant acceptance of crudeness and lack of moral compass views thrown at our youth. This time in their life is so turbulent anyway, they don’t need any help stirring the waters they are forced to navigate. While it’s easy to recognize the physical changes taking place, they’re far from the only thing developing. These adolescent years are formative brain development years, a time when their development turns to the frontal region as they begin developing their reasoning and impulse control skills – which by the way, won’t fully mature until their mid-twenties. This is one major reason why pleasure seeking activities are so prevalent among teens. Scientifically, we can now prove how their brains are starting to process differently rewards and pleasure. So they turn outward for more social interaction and peer pressure takes center stage.
THIS is what scares me. We’re taking our youth at their most vulnerable state and asking them to process very adult moral concepts and themes. And we’re asking them to do it before their ability to successfully process it is developed. I defy you to find an adolescent who didn’t feel that pleasure and reward rush from reading a book like this, even if they’re able to acknowledge the content isn’t of moral material. With such direct and powerful image wording and descriptions let alone the addressing of topics they’ve been told by adults they aren’t ready for yet, we’ve just sugar coated an already tantalizing treat. The danger to me is how we’re helping them form their thoughts and opinions during a time of key development. Most parents don’t want to be excluded from their child’s process during this time, but tools like this book are aiding that war as well. Morals never have and never will compete with the glitz and glamour of immoral, and those presenting immoral material will never share the realistic results of the behaviors. After all, no one wants to see the disease and hardships that come from immoral choices – there’s no fun, money or profit in that. Parent’s are already at the disadvantage and children are already vulnerable – why do we need to exploit both yet more? I don’t understand it. I mean, kids have every reason to target parents in their battle for independence, we make them brush their teeth, shower and finish homework. We’re evil. Trying to help them process and understand why content like that shared above is morally corrupt is fuel to an already glowing bonfire. This is where my fear turns to anger. So yes, I am angry and it does stem from a fear, just not the fear the author is talking about.
The only thing I know to do as a parent is keep up the second glance. I can’t take it for granted that what my daughter is doing or seeing is okay – even though I know she’s got the foundation of a strong moral compass – I’ve got to take second looks. I’ve got to stay involved no matter how hard because I’m my daughter’s best advocate while she’s growing her own armor. I can’t send her into battle without full protection. So until that brain is developed fully, you can bet your buttons I’ll be crusading in front of her and I’ll gladly take on authors like Lauren Myracle and all the content she’s addressing head on.
Other thoughts on parenting teens: