WARNING: SENSITIVE INFO AHEAD. GET YOUR COFFEE AND TAKE THE OLD LAPTOP TO YOUR ROOM. THANKS.
Yesterday USA Today ran a news excerpt about a study from the Centers for Disease Control about the prevalence of STDs in teenagers (ages 14-19). Brace yourself...
A 2003-04 government survey of 838 girls, conducted by CDC analyst SaraForhan, finds that one in four of all teenagers (fully half of all African-American teens) have or have had an STD. The most common is the HPV (human papilloma), along with incidences of chlamydia, genital herpes, and trichomoniasis.
One in four. Kind of makes you want to send them to a convent, doesn't it?
The study further states that in most teen girls, HPV clears from the body without causing disease. (However, I feel compelled to indicate that there are MANY cases that do not -- including those acquired through sexual assault or infection from a spouse who contracted the virus prior to marriage. What is more, male carriers are not always symptomatic.)
This statistic bothered me even more in light of something I picked up last week on Catholic radio -- I believe it was a Greg Popcak. The blurb indicated that the vast majority of Catholic teenagers do not make decisions with their head but with their "gut." In other words, you can give reasons for remaining chaste until the proverbial cows come home, but when push comes to shove it all boils down to instinct. (And as mothers we know how reliable THOSE impulses are.)
The spot suggested that the best way of keeping teens safe is to "program their gut" by frequently and consistently naming actions as "right" and "wrong" so they begin to absorb these values on a "gut" level, rather than a strictly intellectual capacity.
Speaking as a mother who has special concerns in this area (both from my own past history as well as my children's), I am horrified to think of what our children are going to face as they go out into the world armed with nothing but "don't." Without a broader context to guide them, even the most well intentioned teenager hears the "don't" and "WRONG" and figures, "Well, if I mess up, I'd better not tell mom and dad about it." And we don't. Which is why so many -- nearly half -- of victims of sexual assault never tell their parents about it. Myself included.
While it might be tempting to allow them to venture out on their own wide-eyed and innocent, we need to consider whether allowing our children, especially our daughters, to enter adulthood without some practical knowledge in the art of self-defense and the workings of human nature.
I'll give you a real-life example. My freshman year in college, I met a clean-cut young man (we'll call him Mike) in the cafeteria who, as it turns out, had the same chemistry section I did. "Have you seen the textbooks we have to get for his class?" Mike asked me. I had only noticed one on the list, and told him so. "Yeah, but I heard from last year's class that there are supplemental texts you have to get if you're going to get the 'A.' You want me to show you? I have them in my room." (A co-ed dorm.)
I said okay, and followed him up. My mind was on getting the 'A.' Unfortunately, his mind was on ... a different kind of education. Ten minutes later, he was rubbing his cheek where a red welt the shape of my hand was forming. "Hey! What's that for? You wanted to come up here...."
I know, I know ... how stupid of me. I was seventeen. Seventeen-year-olds do STUPID things!
That was (nearly) thirty years ago! It all seemed so innocent ... and it turned in a split second. A few years before this incident, a date turned into a nightmare when a ride home from a restaurant took a bad "detour." More later.
My sisters, unless we are willing to teach our daughters some rudimentary facts of life -- neither too soon nor too late -- we risk leading them out among the wolves. And in this sense I do agree with the radio host. It is all about teaching our children to trust their gut. An informed, wise-as-serpents-harmless-as-doves gut.
Take this little test, and see how well you do ... then ask your daughter what she thinks. All these questions are predicated on the idea that your daughter has decided for herself to be in this situation (e.g. either she is in college and so you would not have had a chance to meet the young man in question first -- or, like so many teens, she decides to test her independence by doing an end run around ordinary parental safeguards by hook or crook ... or by being talked into something by a friend whose parents are not as vigilant).
1. A casual acquaintence of your older sister, whom she met at the roller rink, has asked you to go out to dinner with him. You're flattered, and your sister thinks he's okay, so you go. At dinner he tells you about his astronomy class, and mentions that he carries a portable telescope to check out the stars on clear nights. On the way home from dinner, he takes a detour and starts driving out into the countryside "because I want you to see the stars from my favorite spot." You ask him to turn around and go back home. "What's the matter? Are you afraid to be out after dark? Don't be a baby. This will just take a minute." Your GUT is sending red flags. What do you do?
2. Name four places on a guy that you can hit, jab, or stomp if you have to get away from an assailant quickly. (Hint: If you need help on this one, rent Miss Congeniality.)
3. Name at least two other ways (in addition to "regular" sex) to contract an STD. (Even the first time.)
4. (This one for the guys.) A girl you like the look of at a bar invites you to play a drinking game. She is half your size, and you figure you can handle alcohol better than she does. Besides, she's "chasing" shots with beer, and you're just doing the shots. So how can she be clear-headed after six shots, when the room is starting to spin for you?
5. Your handbag is stolen with your car keys and house keys inside as well as your wallet. Thankfully, you have spares. You decide not to tell the super right away that your apartment keys were stolen because you've been hoping to avoid the $150 change lock fee. As soon as you get home you have a message from an anonymous woman who has your bag and offers to meet you at a local coffee shop to return it. What do you do?
6. You and a friend are sitting at a light, late at night in deserted part of town, waiting for it to change. A stranger accidentally bumps your back bumper, then gets out of his car and motions for you to do the same to check for damage. "No need to involve the insurance company ... It doesn't look too bad to me," he says. He looks honest. What do you do?
7. One night as you're getting out of your car someone approaches you for directions, then grabs you and forces you into your trunk. You can hear you are driving along a heavily traveled interstate, but the engine is too loud for anyone to hear you scream and you can't get the trunk lid open from inside. What do you do?
So ... how did you do? Answers here!
P.S. Today I came across an excellent article discussing why parents should be monitoring their children's movements on the Internet, and how this kind of surveillance is different from swiping their diary from under the mattress. An excellent, worthwhile read.