This week’s column, as well as many of the conversations around my house lately, are rated PG-13. Be aware that the following material may not be suitable for children, pre-teens or anyone who’s easily offended. Consider yourself forewarned.
For those readers curious enough to move on to this second paragraph, let me explain. Our oldest kid turned 13 two months ago. This milestone, in and of itself, is enough to rattle parents who feel like it was just yesterday that we brought him home from the hospital wrapped up like a baby burrito with nothing but his tiny, blue-capped head peeking out.
A lightning-fast 13 years later, our first “baby” is now in middle school, where the traditional three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic) have been joined by a modern-day “R” called reality. And the reality is that, whether or not parents choose to have “the talk” with their teenage kids, “the talk” is all around us. It’s everywhere.
If you don’t believe it, turn on the nightly news around 5:30 p.m. and wait a few minutes. I can almost guarantee that the annoying woman in the blue dress will pop up during one of the commercial breaks and have a heart-to-heart about the merits of Viagra. She doesn’t care one bit if your inquisitive 8-year-old daughter happens to be in the room eating a bowl of macaroni and cheese.
Between 1998 and today, the number of sexual scenes on television has doubled. According to CommonSenseMedia.com, music videos show about 93 sexual situations per hour, with about 11 of those scenes considered to be “hard-core.” As a parent of kids ranging from elementary school to middle school, I can tell you it’s scary. Because when I was growing up, this kind of stuff wasn’t as “in your face” as it is today and it definitely wasn’t only a click away. Now, it is.
Tom and I tackled “the talk” with our oldest kid about a year ago but it’s still an ongoing conversation. In fact, his middle school recently made it part of his homework. He just finished an 8-lesson course on sex education, and, after each class, he brought home a worksheet with questions he was supposed to ask his parents. He wrote down our answers to questions like these:
Are love and sex the same thing? How do you know when you’re in love? What advice would you give about setting boundaries in relationships? What are some of the most common sexually transmitted diseases?
After he asked me that last question, I rattled off a list of diseases while he took dictation and filled out the questionnaire.
“How do you spell that word, Mom?” he asked.
“It’s spelled G-O-N-O-R-R…”
As I spelled the word, I mentally floated out of my own body and looked down at the two of us in partial disbelief. “Here I am,” I thought, “helping my kid with homework by spelling this kind of word.” (And if you think spelling the word is tricky, try explaining how and why it’s so important to avoid it to a person you have always wanted to protect from the ugliest parts of the world.)
As awkward as it is to have these conversations, I’m realizing more and more how important they are. Asking and answering the tough questions is so much better than leaving kids to gather scraps of unreliable information from friends, movies, dog-eared pages of steamy novels, and school bathroom rumors.
As the credits roll on this PG-13 column, I and so many of my fellow parents feel like we’re facing an incredibly tough job – to raise good, decent kids in a world where Superbowl burger commercials often look more like porn and the standards for what society will accept slip down even lower than necklines.
Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.