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Friday, November 12, 2010

Does Anyone Who Writes Advice for Parents of Teens Have One?

I was having a discussion the other day with a peer about middle and high school kids and how much more sophisticated they are than we were. I grew up in a suburb of Long Island and I didn't even know what homosexuality was until high school.

I never met a lesbian until college - and the reason I found out that this girl was one is because I was seeing a guy she was really close friends with, she was beautiful and I was jealous. He wasn't even the one who told me she was gay but when I found out, I felt like a total idiot.

This blog is about science and alcohol but more and more it's also becoming about what it's like to raise a teenager and what signs we should watch out for. I have a 15 year-old and an 11 year-old who know so much more about sexuality, alcohol and drugs than I did at their age. My son is debating legalization of marijuana in his tenth grade class. When my daughter was in 3rd grade, I asked her if she knew what sex was and she turned around and explained it to me in detail. Then I felt better when she said Eeeew. 

But my point is the discussion we had was about how so much of the material developed for young adolescents is more appropriate for first graders than a 10 or 11 year-old. I saw a presentation awhile ago developed by a PR firm for middle school kids that featured a character named King Candy Tooth. First of all, how that ever saw the light of day I don't know. But when we asked about the age range of the kids and they proudly said middle school, the parents in the room shuddered. It was the equivalent of that board game that they play in pre-school these days - Shoots and Ladders. Middle school - my goodness.

Is it that those of us who have kids today live in a parallel universe from everyone else? Is it that the people who develop material for kids (I'm not talking about the schools but the contractors and many of the advice givers) have no clue what today's kids are like? 

Or is it more - as a teacher said recently that sarcasm was offensive to her but the kids responded well to it. 

Then there's the other end of the spectrum. A parent that I like very much, who is from Scandinavia, was worried about taking a group of 11 year-olds to the new Harry Potter movie because it might scare them. These same kids have read The Hunger Game - a dark, extremely readable and well told story about a futuristic world where everyone except the leaders are starving and two kids from every "district" that is left on earth are chosen to fight to the death in an arena each year with the entire world watching. 

The winner gets to live a better life. I read it and wouldn't let my daughter read it for awhile - even her brother recommended that she not read it because there is a scene where wild dogs rip apart a child. She wasn't old enough to understand the satire and political implications - she would just read it as is. This past summer I relented because it's so hard to get her to read anything. And she really liked it - but she chose not to read the sequel.

Kids today are so sophisticated - cartoony and silly is meaningless. They watched the World Trade Center fall. The news is violent and frightening. You can turn off the television in your own house - but you can't turn it off in someone else's. And your average 8 year-old knows how to get around every parental control on a computer.

Today I came across this material for parents that is so sanitized and unusable I had to share some of it. Maybe that's where this unawareness of what kids are really like is coming from - the Advice People. Here's a little bit about how to talk to your children about their sexuality. It's supposed to be for 8-18 year-olds. If I ever tried this stuff on my kids they would laugh me out of the house. 

This is from the 10 Essentials Your Teen Needs to Know about their Sexuality by a fairly popular advice columnist. 

Essential #2: He/She will need to become aware of how his/her sexuality is tied to his/her body image. Your teen will need to understand that how he/she feels about his/her self and his/her appearance is a big key to whether he/she will be happy with in his/her sex life. 

Essential #4: He/she needs to discover the normalcy of sexual feelings. As your teen learns to recognize them and accept them as normal feelings he/she will learn to deal with these feelings maturely. 

Essential #5:  He/she needs be taught about physical act of sex. Not only do teens need to know what intercourse is, he/she should also be made aware that intercourse is pleasurable and why it’s pleasurable for both sexes. What's more, teens need to learn that there is more than one way of having sex.

All I can say is WOW.

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