Monday, March 3, 2008

Sex, Drugs, and Parenthood

Over at Marge in Real Life Marge wrote a post about this whole kids wearing mohawks issue and she raises the issue of how honest and open parents should be in answering difficult questions about sex and drugs.

Since my kids are young, I have not had to deal with this yet, but I know it is coming. Of course how we deal with these issues will depend on who our kids are at the time, their maturity level and their personalities. But in general, I think I know how we will respond.

I am not squeamish discussing sex as an act or the biological function of it. So far, I have been very open with Sweet Pea. We use the correct name for body parts. We have had a very basic where-babies-some-from discussion. Just last week, Sweet Pea observed me inserting a tampon and we had a bare-bones menstruation conversation.

When the kids are teenagers, I know we will have to deal with the question of if and when they should have sex. I do not believe it is responsible or rational to just tell them to wait until they are married. The vast majority of kids have sex before marriage and I don't think that it is reasonable to expect them not to. I also do not want anyone to get pregnant and would like to make sure they birth control options if they have made the decision to have sex. And of course I would want them to practice safe sex. I suppose I will tell them that sex has an emotional consequence and they should think very hard about their decision and make sure they have sex only with a partner they love and only in a monogamous relationship. And I will probably help them obtain birth control and make sure they know how to practice safe sex.

If they ask me about my sexual history, I will probably be very open with them, especially with Ladybug. There is so much pressure on young women to be sexual and I want to try to head that off. I would tell her that I have had sex with more men than just my husband, and that I deeply regret some of those encounters. I will explain to her that sometimes women have sex in order to make them feel loved and that this never works. I will tell her that having sex with someone who you are not in a relationship with almost never ends well and makes you feel worse in the end. I hope that she will never go looking for love in one night stands or casual relationships and I hope that my being honest with her about the consequences of my past actions will help prevent that.

I also am not worried about discussing alcohol use. It is a topic that we will have to address very seriously as alcoholism appears in both our families and I went through a period of alcohol abuse myself. I know that we will be bluntly honest about this topic.

What I do struggle with is drug use. I am not concerned about discussing my limited drug use since drugs have never held any appeal to me. My experimentation was brief and restricted to fairly benign drugs. I do question how far my husband should go in discussing his past. His drug exposure was much more involved than mine and involved more serious drugs. I am not sure how honest he should be in this because he never had any real problems resulting from drug use. It would be easy for a teenager to think well, Dad did it and he turned out fine. Or some teens might see Dad's drug use as a challenge and something they should try to live up to. I just don't know how in depth we should go with this.

What are your feelings on honesty in discussions on sex and drugs?

Would You Let Your Child Wear a Mohawk to School?

Here's something to far would you let your child go in expressing his/her individuality through clothing or hairstyle?

Just asking because last week, a kindergartner was suspended for wearing a mohawk hairstyle to school. Now, obviously this child was expressing his parents' unique personalities more than his own, as he is a kindergartner. But if your teenage child wanted a mohawk or primary colored hair, would you permit it?

Kelly over at Don Mills Diva wrote a great post about this last week.

On one hand, I sympathize with a teen's desire to stand out or wear wacky things. In my sophomore year of high school, I wore black every single day. I had a lovely pair of skeleton earrings to complete my ensemble. And many of my friends wore out of the ordinary stuff.

I went to a small academic magnet school in downtown Nashville. Everyone at the school was smart. You had to qualify for admission. Our motto was "just a bunch of nerds having fun." This resulted in a student body of the kids who might ordinarily be outcasts in a large public high school. Instead of being ostracized, kids thrived in this environment and it was cool to be different. Some were punk. Some were more granola and dressed in hippie tie dyes. Many guys had long hair. The expression of individuality was appreciated and was never a problem for the school administration because of the nature of the school.

As a teacher though, I can very much understand why, in many school situations, this type of expression might be distracting, particularly in the younger grades. When I was teaching sixth grade before my children were born, I had a boy who got his tongue pierced mid-year. His brother was in the 5th grade at the same school and also had his tongue pierced. Both enjoyed sticking their tongues out and scandalizing their peers, often in the middle of a math or reading lesson. It became a problem. Written into the school system dress code is a provision that distracting clothing, hairstyles, etc. might be prohibited if they were problematic. The boys' father raised hell about the issue, even going to the news stations. Eventually he backed down and the kids took the jewelery out.

I also had a girl who wore provocative clothing to school, with the backing of her mother. Her skirts and shorts were too short, her tops revealed too much. Some of her pants had inappropriate words on the rear. We had to speak to this child and her mother on almost a weekly basis. The mother totally backed the clothing choices, saying that the problem was not with her daughter, but with the boys who looked at her. It became a feminist issue for the woman. She felt that we ought to focus on the boys and teach them not to look at girls and that a girl should be able to wear anything she wants to school. I agree that boys need to be taught to respect women and girls for attributes other than a nice bustline, but girls also need to know what is appropriate clothing for school or work.

I found it ironically amusing when I intercepted a note written from this girl to her boyfriend about what pleasures she was going to give to him the next time they had sex. I turned the note over to her mother who was shocked that her baby girl had any type of romantic contact with boys.

When my kids are much older, I would not have a problem with hairstyles, make-up and dress (as long as it was not sexually provocative). I would actually be overjoyed if my kids bucked the over-riding style and went their own way. I would rather them be individuals than follow the herd. Granola, skater, punk, goth, all that is fine with me. In allowing them do so, however, I would make sure they knew that they might be wrongly judged on the basis of their apprearance and that their style would not be appropriate in a work situation.

I would draw the line at permanent body art, though, before 18 and even then, I would discourage it until they are older. I have a medium sized tattoo on my back and a belly ring. The tattoo I have never regretted except perhaps on my wedding day, where it was very visible through my veil. Other than that, I am happy to have it. On a couple of occasions, people have said judgmental things about it but I chalk that up to their own uncomfortableness with anyone different from themselves. The belly ring I do regret because it hurt like hell and took months and months to heal. I don't wear anything in it anymore and I think it is almost closed up anyway.

If the school contacted me, though, and asked me to restrict something, I would with no hesitation. The moment that my child's style affects the ability of other students to pay attention in class or effects the ability of the teacher to teach, I would pull the plug on it.

So what do you think? Where do you stand? What would you allow and what would you restrict?