Many parents have very little idea – or completely no clue – how liberated or trapped their adolescents are
She told me that her parents are so proud of her because she is still a virgin; meanwhile she has given BJs to more than six men, two of whom were her father’s friends and has had countless anal encounters. On his part, he is addicted to having routine sex with their domestic worker, and always feels lonely and miserable when she takes her weekend off. He speaks with pride of how his sexual skills have developed since he lost his innocence to this older woman.
Then there is Josh, who looks forward to changing his name to Josephine one day, because ever since he started having sex with males, he is convinced that he is a female trapped in male genitals.
When I started hosting group sessions on sex and sexuality with adolescents ages 13 to 18, myself and many parents (including those of the above children) had no clue what adolescents could be going through.
As I continue to give parent-child support, I am acclimatising to the fact that many parents have very little or completely no clue how liberated or trapped their adolescents are.
Sex by children is illegal, and in South Africa children who engage in consensual sex can be arrested, charged and in some cases, prosecuted. Yet, by this stage, sex has been casualised for many, although some are not having penetrative sex. Alcohol and drugs have set in.
By now, communication should be a dialogue; two ways of self-lessons with advice and the parents acting more as listeners, answering questions, than preaching their views
It does not matter whether we are talking sex or just having a talk with these pre-adults, considerations should focus on their development, parental influence on their behaviour and on parents’ and their preferences.
In the past articles, we mentioned that adolescents perceive their parents as competent sex educators when they communicate openly, make efforts to make them feel comfortable, and allow them to ask questions. Please scroll back on my other articles and search how to talk to children from the beginning.
This age group is almost fully socialised. Many are separated from their homes and are in boarding schools, colleges and universities, where they now interact with peers and unfamiliar adults, and are experiencing new ways of learning love from lovers and from new materials in new environments.
The parents’ roles in sexual socialisation has given way to peers for a few, and romantic partners to many. Few are listening to or even talking to parents.
By this age, parents would have built solid foundations for rules of conduct and morality
Involved parents would have been careful observers and knowledgeable of ways to facilitate positive peer relations, given the varied circumstances at the beginning of this article. Adolescents who trust their caregiver are more willing and eager to be socialised with little harshness or restrictions.
Although sexuality is a normal and healthy part of adolescent development, permissive sexual attitudes and sexual risk-taking are common in late adolescence, and these remain the major concern for parents, schools, and healthcare professionals
Parent-based research has well established that even at this stage, parents can greatly increase adolescents’ knowledge of sex-related topics and reduce the likelihood that adolescents will engage in risky sexual behaviour (Silk and Romero, 2014; Guilamo-Ramos and colleagues, 2012; Miller, 2002). Even so, communication on sexual health and relationships leave many parents uncertain and anxious about what to say and how to say it.
The secret that I gather during sex seminars with adolescents is that when adolescents perceive that their parents are competent in communicating sex, they are likely willing to listen.
I use this to advise adolescent parents that the more effective, or helpful their adolescents perceive what they have to say is, the more likely they may be to heed to parental advice.
Conversations about sex and sexuality with your child should focus on letting them know that it is okay for them to come to you with any concerns
When they approach you, talk about intimate relationships, emotions, feelings, pressures associated with sex, studies, working life, pregnancy, abortions, STIs, how to use condoms and birth control.
Family and friends: By this time, the role of the parents is almost eclipsed by those of grandparents, aunties, uncles or other adult relatives because adolescents believe that these people are more open to talk about sex, and are more knowledgeable than their parents. Funny isn’t it?
Siblings: Those who have older siblings have by now learnt enough to implement. Remember that siblings are not necessarily from the same parents. Today’s families are blended.
School: From comprehensive sexual education to biology, to teachers’ comments, children have learnt a lot from school environments.
Peers: Pressure is at peak and peers are extremely important to this group. Positive peer relations have significant roles in supporting adolescents’ balance.
Churches: In some churches, specific people speak to this group. Most of them talk abstinence.
Initiation centres: Yes. Here, boys have learnt how to assert their masculinity, while girls learnt how to be feminine. Most children leave here ready to try sex.
Extra-mural centres: Soccer, gym, or many others are where children gather and talk. At this stage, most of them commute without their parents. What do they talk about?
Media: We all know. It could be new, social or the traditional media. But plenty of sexual material is found here.
Romantic partners: Kisses? They have. Fondle? They have. Sex? Oh yes!
During my sessions, I often ask these children to tell me about how they kiss, or if they know good kissers. These young people are very creative, excited and not shy at all. They have always disclosed a lot of information that has helped me during sessions with adults.
Sexual promiscuity: Is already visible in attitudes and language. Advise calmly.
Infectious diseases: Either from birth, through consensual, coerced, drugged sex or rape, many would be knowing that they are HIV positive and carriers of other sexually transmitted diseases. While they might be on medications, they need parents to monitor and guide them.
Masculinity and feminism: Model your boys on how to approach girls and vice versa. If they have not known this by now, then we are in trouble.
Sex, rape, drugs, and violence: Talk about how these all play out in their characters and that of their friends. Guide them on how to spot these and to run … run.
Sexual offences: By this age, they are sexually offending adults and younger children. Some are committing incest. Talk to them.
Money and possession: There is no happiness without money, but money buys things that can kill us. Especially if we acquire money wrongly for wrong reasons, at the wrong time, from the wrong people. Talk to them keenly.
Peer status and self-esteem: What do they prioritise? Is it physical looks, gender, sex, education, material, etc.? That will affect how they treat themselves and others.
Bullying: More notable at this stage are teasing and harassment. Bullies are often not good influences and are more likely to be violent, rapists, associated with crimes, drugs and alcohol.
Crime: Violent fights with weapons, theft and robbery. Prosecution age? Oh yes. There is juvenile trial.
Others: Most parents live in denial. When I told my relative that her son has been getting ‘head’ since he was 13, she objected and rejected it vehemently. Be wise. Also educate them that drugs and alcohol consumption reduce self-consciousness by clouding judgements, enabling greater focus on short-term benefits of forced sex and reducing the sense of accountability. Adolescents often consume these in groups, so it exposes them to group sex/rape or unsafe sex and HIV infection.
As your child’s major communicator and best psychologist, you have to look forward to the next stage by being calmer.
Silk, J., and Romero, D. (2014). The role of parents and families in teen pregnancy prevention: An analysis of programs and policies. Journal of Family Issues, 35, 1339–1362
Miller, B. C. (2002). Family influences on adolescent sexual and contraceptive behavior. The Journal of Sex Research, 39, 22–27.
Guilamo-Ramos, V., Bouris, A., Lee, J., McCarthy, K., Michael, S. L., Pitt-Barnes, S., and Dittus, P. (2012). Paternal influence on adolescent sexual risk behaviors: A structured literature review. Pediatrics, 130, 1313–1325.