A few weeks ago, I dropped my Mari off for her first day of middle school and watched her trot up the long walkway to the junior high building, and then I promptly pulled my car around the corner and cried like a baby with a nasty head cold. An ugly, snotty cry.
I mean, I recognize that we have babies and our job is to keep them from killing their fool selves as they grow and then we have to let go and let them begin the march toward being grown up human beings, but on that day, as she pecked my cheek and bounced away from my car, it was very, very clear to me that, well, I ain’t ready for all that.
But in my quiet moments, when I really consider the kind of mother I am and especially the kind of mom I want to be to my babies, I recognize that I have to get ready. Especially for my Mari, who, at age 12, is hurtling head first into puberty and teenhood and all the stuff that comes with the two.
It’s the “stuff” that scares me—the stuff being the boys and the peer pressure and the self-consciousness and the sneaking and the rebellion and the false sense of maturity. I was a teenager once. I remember the mean girls. The cute boys and their sweet talk. The friends with the basements and the liquor cabinets and parents who turned a blind eye. How we all slathered on our war paint—our mom’s mascara and lipstick—and ran toward the fire, books and grades and what we learned at church on Sunday morning be damned.
And that was in the 80s—the good ol’ days before FaceBook and Twitter and smart phones with text messaging and Nikki Minaj videos that give detailed visual instructions on how to give half-naked men lap dances started playing between “G-rated” kids’ programming on Saturday mornings, all while the kids are slurping down their cereal. (I’m not kidding on that last point. Minaj’s Super Bass really is a staple on a channel for children. Seriously, WTF?)
These days, the temptations, the access, the pressure to do what you’re not ready to do is insane. Epic. I was reminded of this not by any grand screw up by my kids or their friends, but by an article in the October issue of Essence. I promise you, Jeannine Amber’s feature, “Our Teen’s Secret Sex Lives,” in which she interviews kids as young as 13 about the pressures to have sex, scared the bejeezus out of me. The boys are watching porn on their cell phones and then demanding girls perform the acts on them; the girls are being harassed into having sex and being mentally and physically abused at school and online if they don’t comply—and even if they do. Teen pregnancy and STDs are soaring, particularly among African American teens. But kids, no matter their economic, social, educational, racial or cultural background, are facing the wrath of sexual madness. Said Johanna Wright, a New Jersey health teacher who sees all of the crazy firsthand:
“What parents don’t understand is these kids are experimenting with things in middle school that their parents did when they were in college,” says Wright. Over the years, Wright has counseled students who have contracted a startling range of STIs, including gonorrhea of the throat, as well as children who were caught performing oral sex in empty classrooms while other students watched. “Kids are seeing these things on TV and the Internet and they are acting them out,” she explains. “We are experiencing a sexual revolution and it’s only getting worse.”
It was the story of one little girl, Jasmine, that really rang my alarm. In the piece, the 13-year-old recalls losing her virginity to her ex, who, of course, told her he loved her and then promptly broke up with her after he got what he wanted. Still, she finds herself in trying predicaments with other boys.
“Even when you say you really don’t want to do it, a boy will start touching you and maybe there’s some nice sexy song playing and then he’ll tell you you’re a good kisser. It’s just like a magical moment and it gets all crazy,” she says. “Once that happens you just forget about how bad you didn’t want to do it.” This is what Jasmine really wants to talk to her mother about. She thinks if she could be more candid her mother might be able to answer her most pressing question. “I wish she would tell me how to say no,” she says.
THIS. This is what keeps me up at night. Because I can't push out of my mind the image of my daughter caving in to some bubbleheaded boy telling her lies to get to what is sacred, and her sitting in her room, confused and heartbroken, too afraid to come to me for info on how to harness the feelings and protect her heart and body and save herself for the right moment with the right person at the right time.
Thank God, I’m not Jasmine’s mom. But I am Mari’s and Lila’s, and I want something different for my girls. I’ve been talking to them about sex since they were old enough to ask how babies are made; no discussion has been off-limits for them. We’ve talked about boobs and body hair. Periods. Wet dreams. Teen pregnancy, abortion and sexually-transmitted diseases. The real way babies are made—not that stork business. But after reading that Essence article and kicking off the Let’s Talk About Sex series on MyBrownBaby, I recognize that this simply is not enough. My girls need more.
So today I dry my tears, let go of my resistance to my Mari growing up and push the fear aside. Today, we get more real than ever about everything—love, trust, intimacy and sex. It's on.
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For more great essays from moms who are talking about how to talk to their kids about sex, check out the MyBrownBabyLet’s Talk About Sex series.
Make a point of picking up the October issue of Essence magazine; Michelle Obama is on the cover; Jeannine Amber's informative, eye-opening feature is on page 152.
As part of their month-long Let’s Talk campaign, Planned Parenthood also released a set of new and super awesome resources that put special focus on encouraging parents to talk to their kids, including:
- An online photo flipbook featuring actor and comedian Aisha Tyler, writer and producer Luisa Leschin, actor Kathleen Turner, and everyday people reminiscing about conversations they’ve had with their own parents and children about sex.
- A humorous, teachable-moment video that shows parents being confronted with questions about sex from kids of all ages and backgrounds. The video, to be released in mid-October, is an amusing yet useful look at how parents can effectively respond to their children’s questions about sex.
- A revamped “Tools for Parents” section of plannedparenthood.org that features tips to help parents talk with their kids about sex and sexual health, build strong parent-child relationships, and set rules for their teens that help keep them safe and healthy.
- An online social networking experience that guides parents through the steps of developing the messages they want to give their children and gets them ready to have conversations during Let’s Talk Month and beyond.
Additionally, the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at the Silver School of Social Work at NYU (CLAFH) will make available Families Talking Together (FTT), a family-based program designed to support effective parent-adolescent communication among African-American and Latino families. FTT is available in both English and Spanish and can be accessed at the CLAFH website, www.nyu.edu/socialwork/clafh.