It happened again. Another child lost her life in the battle of adolescence. This is not the same adolescence you and I remember, even if we are of different generations. The stakes are higher, and the over-sexualization that is behind her death is out of control.
Chevonea Kendall-Bryan and AmandaTodd are but a few of our young girls that lost their lives in the battle. Their stories are incredibly sad, and there are unfortunately dozens if not hundreds more like them that are not attracting (inter)national attention.
In 2013, the big parenting gimmick being sold is normalizing our children's sexuality. Condoms are available at every turn. Birth control is sold in vending machines, and parents are told that our teens are going to perform sex acts and have sex anyways so we should prepare them early on. Our teens and tweens are bullied not only by peer groups but coerced into physically and sexually violent relationships. Sexting is rampant, as is posting sexualized YouTube videos of yourself. We parents are behind in the game if we are unaware of how prevalent these things are in our children’s lives.
As my heart just breaks for these girls and their parents, I ask myself a few questions. How does contraception, safe sex (oral, anal or otherwise) save our children from peer pressure, bullying and suicide? How does normalizing the hook up culture protect their innocence and save their futures?
Your child does not have to actively participate in hook up culture or over sexualization for it to affect you and your child. You can monitor your child’s internet activity, refuse to buy into the marketing of mature toys and clothes, and talk to your child about sex but there will still come a time where they face the dragon and you are not by their side. There are times at school where the staff just cannot be everywhere at all times, and there are sleep overs, camps and unsupervised time.
I ask in earnest: How do we find a balance? It is a good thing for our children to have time away from us. It enables them to have different experiences and formation apart from us. It gives them some autonomy and helps them learn how to be a person! We are their primary educators in every sense of the word, but they will be influenced by others and have the opportunity to influence others. How do we prepare them for things that we are not prepared for ourselves?
I am a former adolescent and I am not sure that I am fully prepared for all that my children will face as they grow. I know that I am not just heartbroken by Chevonea’s and Amanda’s stories. I am also all the more determined to see things change. The time I spent as an advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual violence made me painfully aware of the extensive damage grown women experience at the hands of abuse, let alone tweens and teens.
I feel as though these experiences were preparing me for the most important job of all: raising my children. My husband and I will have honest and age appropriate discussions about faith, sex, education, bullying, and everything in between with our children. We will not let a little fumbling or awkwardness deter us. We will actively monitor electronics as well as all things happening in our children’s lives: not in an attempt to be a ‘ helicopter’ parent, but because it is important for our children to know we are present.
We do not and will not set different standards or rules for our sons and daughters. We have the same expectations of them regardless of gender, and those expectations are focused around the following question: How can we best prepare them for life? It is not about raising them to be the best of the best, the most attractive, the most intelligent, or the most athletic. It is about raising them to be upstanding citizens of this world that treat others with respect and dignity. It is about helping them hone decision-making abilities as well as form a moral compass. It is about building them up and giving them the tools they need to make it out of adolescence alive and intact. It is about showing them unconditional love.
We cannot control the world that we live in by any means, but we can build a home of love and respect. Change must begin at home, on the smallest scale possible, for it to be lasting change.
I do not have all the answers. I know I will stumble. I will keep on going, because the stakes are high. How will you affect change? How will you change the story?