Here’s what she had to say:
Common Sources of Overreaction
When girls need privacy. Parents become unsettled when their girls go in their rooms, close the door and only come out for dinner. But, unless there is some other reason to think that something is wrong, and as long as she is doing well on other fronts and is relatively civilized and pleasant when she comes out of her room, parent’s needn’t worry. Privacy is important for teenagers. They want privacy to do the same things they did before they had their door closed. Now, they just do it with the door closed.
Romantic activity in 5th & 6th grade. Parents can become uncomfortable when they hear their 6thgrader talking about romantic activity. What I loved about a study I read on the subject is that romantic activity in the 5th and 6th grade mostly changes how the girls interact with other girls and what they are talking about with each other. It doesn’t actually have much of an impact at all on how they interact with the opposite sex, and in fact, they continue to barely interact with the opposite sex most of the time. Talking about romantic activity in 5th and 6th grade is often the full extent of girls’ involvement in it.
When girls dress in sexy clothing. It is really common for adolescent girls to experiment with dressing in a way that looks sexy and to imitate what they see on TV, online, or in magazines. A common scenario is that a girl is looking at this imagery, and as an experiment, she puts together an outfit that is pretty racy. To her, she is only imitating what she sees. She is not thinking about the sexual implications or how she might be viewed by others or how she might be viewed by adults. Those thoughts might not be accessible to her.
A difficult interaction is when the girl comes downstairs looking pretty inappropriate, and the parents have a 45 year-old reaction which is to think, “Oh, my gosh. You look like a tramp.” That may not make sense to a teenager or have anything to do with what is on her mind. This is an instance where parents are investing more meaning in something than the teenager does.
Real Grounds for Concern:
The impact of pornography on developing sexuality. Boys are looking at pornography much more than girls are looking at pornography. But what we know is that what boys are looking at is changing the landscape of what they think sex involves and what their expectations are around sex. We know this from research that looks at adolescents that are viewing a lot of pornography, and we can see the impact on their sexual behavior. Teenagers can feel like they are learning about what sex is when they are learning about pornography.
Part of being a responsible parent of an adolescent right now is to talk with girls and boys about what is out there, what dark quadrant of human sexuality is represented by the pornographic world that is available for free online, and how that is not actually healthy adult sexuality.
I think these are really difficult conversations that no one is in a rush to have, neither the parents nor the teenager. But, I think adults are in one camp talking about handholding and very low grade sexual activity and teenagers are in a completely different camp looking at things that would really overwhelm even a very worldly adult.
Boys asking girls for nudes. They will not just press girls for photos, they will harass girls for photos. And girls don’t always understand how out of bounds this is because it is pretty common for this to happen. Girls will deal with these scenarios on their own when they would benefit from adult support. It’s important for parents of girls to say “If anyone asks you for a picture, you say ‘no.’ And if they ask you again, let me know.”
Dangerous drinking habits and the effects of alcohol on the teenage brain. The reality is that teens are often in tricky positions where they are surrounded by kids who are drinking a lot and they are feeling pressure to drink. And, a lot of the ways that teenagers drink is extremely unsafe.
Sometimes, adults think they have done their part when they have presented the facts to an adolescent and told them to avoid alcohol. This is a great first step, but there is much more support that teenagers need to actually act on that information. They need strategies for what they will do when they get to a party and they are being asked to drink.
There is a worry among parents that if they talk honestly about what teenagers are facing, that they are somehow endorsing unsafe behavior. But, in order for parents to give relevant advice to teens, they must be willing to discuss (not lecture on) the realities. Framing conversations in terms of safety can be a useful approach.