Last night I sat around a table with fellow human beings, ages twelve to forty-four, and we talked about this article: Teen Girls & Social Media: A Story of ‘Secret Lives’ & Misogyny.
Only the under twenty-five crowd had experienced the activity discussed in the article, or knew someone who had. The over-forty bunch, who learned to text in their thirties, couldn’t relate to the adolescent experience in the article at all.
Growing up, I never needed to talk with someone about what to do when a guy asked for pictures of me naked. In junior high my uncharted territory included some awkward kissing games and my butt getting pinched by a stranger at the Battlefield Mall. We simply cannot relate to today’s teen based on our experiences. We need them to teach us.
Many of today’s overwhelmed teens are just trying to make it through the day. They are navigating life in a completely new landscape with few boundaries. They are writing the playbook as they go with little help from an experienced perspective.
Russell Brand says this:
“Living in this culture now, where there’s just icebergs of filth floating through every house on wifi. . . it’s inconceivable what it must be like to be a young adolescent boy now with this kind of access to porn. It must be dizzying and exciting, but corrupting in a way that we can’t even think about.”
Rashida Jones, executive producer of the documentary Hot Girls Wanted says, “the average age now where somebody watches their first porn is eleven…”
Like adolescents, many of today’s overwhelmed parents are also just trying to make it through the day. We have enough of our own baggage to sort through. As women in particular, we’re unlearning who we are and what to expect from ourselves.
Let’s forget everything we’ve read about Todays’ Successful Woman. Let’s refocus and create a list of what we do not need:
a truly great handbag
a healthy, organic dinner for all each night
to read to our children for an hour each day
to attend every event a child participates in
to exercise four-five times a week for twenty minutes
to drink more/less
to eat more/less
to get enough sleep
to be superior at work
to be sexy
to grow our own herbs
to be brilliant and beautiful and smell nice, and have great eyebrows, and white teeth
to paint the living room
a new couch
to discover the cure to cancer or discover another planet
to read more
Okay, okay, some of those are essential. How about we prioritize? We’ll pick four: only four. And let me throw in Number Five:
To see, really see, and listen, really listen, to our people.
I’m convinced this is one of the main needs of humanity, especially children. And they are being sacrificed on the altar of what we think Busy, Successful Parents do.
We absolutely can be busy and successful parents, but we have to be willing to move some items off the “Essentials” list to the “Later, Maybe Never” list.
“I’m too busy for you” is rarely spoken aloud and never needs to be. Kids know.
So we make it up to them with Things & Privileges beyond their development, which help not at all. We are focusing on the next generation here, because of the speed in which we are looking away from one another.
Look at your kids, really look. Not to evaluate, or to measure. Not to see your own disappointments, and absolutely not to control. Just look to see what it’s like. What’s it like to be ten, twelve, seventeen, or twenty-one? Absolutely for sure it is not like it was. What happens in their world?
Listen like a Social Anthropologist.
Don’t listen like a Motivational Speaker.
Wisdom cannot be transferred in one conversation: it’s transferred in moments. Don’t starve your kids of yourself for months, and then expect them to want to binge for a few hours and gobble up everything you have to say.
Parents can’t force their kids to respect them. But respect grows in favorable environments. If respect is gone, it can be rebuilt. When a parent’s words and actions align, a brick is added. It takes time.
Kids need empathetic parents. Remember what it’s like to be a kid. But don’t use that as an excuse for inactivity and noninvolvement. Yes, you remember what it’s like to be a kid, which is why her boyfriend can’t come over until you’re home.
Also try to remember how often your parents sounded like they were from another planet. Now multiply that times one million and think before you speak. You practically don’t speak the same language. So you can’t burst into their world and authoritatively talk with them like you Know Everything.
We’ll get into the details of how to walk this out later, but for now, try to learn about their culture from them.
Comments such as: “When I was in school, no one ever took pictures of themselves naked!” only emphasize how little we have in common, and will absolutely not help our goal of building a connection and mutual respect.
Conversations that matter should happen regularly. The dinner table is the perfect place to discuss orgasms, blow jobs, beauty pageants, school projects, scientific discoveries, drunk driving, condoms, porn, social issues, politics, dating, books, movies, music, healthy proteins, and sex. Don’t cheapen the magic of sex by putting it in a box, focusing only on the physical “facts” and relegating it to the corner of One Awkward Monologue. Talk about sex regularly. Talk about it all regularly.
Talk about performing. Talk about how sex is not a performance. Talk about relationships and how Being Someone Else can stunt our emotional development.
Become a champion for every ounce of cognitive, moral, and emotional development you see. Adolescence is all about Development! And development can be messy.
If your children aren’t comfortable with open and honest discussion, you’ll have to build first. A conversation about porn is probably not a good jumping off point, unless you enjoy #awkward. You will have to model being transparent about your weaknesses.
Focus on building respect, practice becoming a novice social anthropologist (ask lots of questions!), and start by demonstrating respect for people who disagree with you. Also, be prepared to answer anything.
If girls live in your home, train your mouth to be a steel trap when you want to criticize yourself or another’s appearance. Practice acceptance. Work up to a conversation about how smart or confident or amazing girls (like our daughters!) can respond to unsolicited teen requests. Giving them language gives them tools, which gives them more options. And emphasize the learning process.
Explain that any mistakes made by people you love will never be met with shame. Make that verbal commitment to the people you love who make mistakes.
Your children, like all children before them, are growing up with more complex social situations than the generation before them. One side-effect of the gulf between our childhood and their childhood is isolation. Unless we can bridge the gap, they are navigating alone or with a fellow-thirteen year old as their guide.
Imagine the advice of a girlfriend who happily shared photos with the love of her life (together for two months!!) and strongly encourages your daughter to do the same. (“It’s like, so empowering!”) If you’re unwilling to get dirt under your fingernails and scrape up your knees trying to get across the gulf, they miss out on the valuable perspective of a guide with experience, a guide who hopefully has a longer-running relationship than two months to glean from.
We can all benefit from dialogue with others who might not be fortunate enough to share our views. (sarcasm intended) Tonight might not be the best time to talk about porn, but it’s a good time to be honest and stop pretending it’s still 1988. Let’s start some conversations that matter.
Questions, Articles, and Videos: Or How to Get the Ball Rolling
NPR Article: Teen Girls and Social Media: A Story of ‘Secret Lives’ and Misogyny from All Tech Considered, February 29, 2016
50 Shades – Has Porn Ruined My Chance Of A Happy Marriage? Russell Brand The Trews (this link starts at 3 minutes in to avoid the movie clips)
watch this, watch this, watch this
- Share about a defining moment from your own life.
- Share about some of your worst mistakes. This can help the next generation see that mistakes do not define us. We can all learn and grow and move on.
- How old were you when you first saw porn? Was it a positive or negative experience? How has this impacted you?
- Do you believe porn has an impact on your life?
- Has porn had a positive or negative impact on your sexual development?
- Could you stop watching porn when you want?
- Have you tried?
(Be prepared to be honest about your own experiences and addictions.)