Opinion

Teen sex and the privilege of privacy | Amy Johnson

With the advent of swiftly-changing technology, the parenting game has changed.

Social networking sites and “apps” change so quickly that many well-informed adults have trouble keeping up. Children and teens have access to much more information than their parents ever did, and yet, they have less education about much of the information they come across.

Sexually explicit messages are everywhere: magazines, television, video games, the Internet. Children and teens are exposed to more images and messages about sexuality with less reliable education about what to do with that information. Even if your children do not have access at home to these images, they most likely go to school with children who do. Now, more than ever, we need to be talking about sex and privacy.

While our country continues a loud debate over funding abstinence-only-until-marriage education vs. comprehensive sexuality education in our schools, Federal Way’s children suffer from lack of accurate and complete information, as well as the opportunity to practice critical thinking skills when it comes to decisions about sex, relationships and values. To date, there is no guaranteed consistency of education about sexuality from state to state, district to district, school to school, or even classroom to classroom within a school. And certainly, there is no consistency in the messages children receive from home.

Our judicial system is such that youth can be labeled sex offenders and charged with child pornography because of an impulsive decision to send nude or semi-nude photos or texts electronically. Certainly, we can agree more education is needed to at least address safety and privacy issues regarding sexuality.

Here is the first installment (of two) of guidelines for you, as parents and others who work with and care for children, about navigating this increasingly complex recipe of childhood, sexuality, privacy and technology with children and teens.

1. Play date privacy. Children who have play dates do not need to play with the door closed. Keep the doors to their rooms open or have them play in a common living space. This is not a violation of privacy; it is supervision. If you don’t already have one, make a matter-of-fact family rule that the door stays open when friends are over.

2: Monitoring your teen. As your child gets older, remember that teens who are monitored closely by their parents (as opposed to those who say they aren’t) are eight times less likely to be sexually active, according to Dr. Stephan Small at the University of Wisconsin. Here’s what “closely monitor” looks like when you are negotiating outings with your teen:

• All your safety criteria are met

• You, the adult, stay in charge and loving

• If your child will be out, you know where your teen will be, who your teen will be with, what your teen will be doing, when your teen will be home and how your teen will get home.

Requiring and verifying this information is not violating your teen’s privacy. It is monitoring them for safety, and teaching critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making. In addition to being less likely to be sexually active, monitored teens are also:

• Eight times less likely to have used marijuana.

• Four times less likely to have been drunk.

• Twice as likely to have a grade point average of B or higher.

The next column will discuss monitoring media, social networking sites and cell phones

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