Understanding Your Teenager

Teenagers Kissing
A girl who gets pregnant in her teenage years might as well kiss college and career good-bye. Parenting is a new life, a totally foreign experience for anyone who does it.

By Bruce J. Gevirtzman
1. Pregnancy Happens. Actually, pregnancy doesn’t happen. For a male and a female who indulge in an activity that has a primary outcome called pregnancy, pregnancy is a choice. “I got pregnant by accident” just doesn’t cut it. An accident is when a 16-year-old is so worried about her mascara that the rearview mirror in her car becomes a vanity device that distracts her from noticing the pole in front of her. Bam! Now, that is an accident. Getting pregnant is a choice.

2. Parenthood Obliterates Our Freedoms. The worst age — the most awful time — for a woman to have a baby is when she’s 16 or younger. During her early teens, a female’s body is not biologically developed for pregnancy or delivery; and, unfortunately, it’s also the most inappropriate time of life for mothering a baby. Sixteen-year-olds should be tossing french fries at each other, not burping infants. Everything changes during parenthood. Everything. The most tenacious and capable adults often pronounce parenthood as the toughest experience of their entire lives! A girl who gets pregnant in her teenage years might as well kiss college and career good-bye (at least, she should, considering her baby is going to need a doting, full-time mother for a very long time). Parenting is a new life, a totally foreign experience for anyone who does it.

 3. Having an Abortion Engenders Eternal Trauma. Women who have chosen abortion usually do not walk away from their experience with a slight shrug of their shoulders and then calmly go on with their lives. Some women — albeit a minority — will never have another child due to complications from their abortions. Some women die. Many women who have abortions live the rest of their lives wondering: “shoulda, woulda, coulda — why didn’t I?”

4. Bad Reputations Really Suck. This is especially true when a major feature of the bad reputation is sucking. Sure, boys can get away with smutty, skanky behavior, while girls can’t — at least, they couldn’t up until recently. And one of the reasons: jerky, inconsiderate, drooling, frothing, salivating boys are a common part of the teenage landscape; in other words, it’s expected. Girls, on the other hand, are made of sugar and spice and everything nice — or so they say; regardless, girls who slut around become the prime targets of the gossip mongers, and their reputations are sullied. And nobody respectable cares too much for the boys who bed-hop around either, especially if they kiss and tell. Come to think of it, just about every teenager — girl or boy — shuns these especially obnoxious braggarts. Having another notch in your belt ain’t all it’s been cracked up to be.

5. An STD Is Not Something You Dump in the Carburetor. Sexually transmitted diseases can kill you. It is known that AIDS still kills, even though fatal cases have decreased in the past few years. Other diseases, herpes, gonorrhea, syphilis — and scores of others I can’t even pronounce — rear their ugly heads, too. Nobody with a lifelong sexually transmitted disease attracts eager sex partners. Ask yourself this question: How enthusiastic are you about marrying a man or a woman with herpes or genital warts, knowing that you could never ever have unprotected sex with him? Sounds very attractive, no? Even so-called safe sex is risky, because some STDs are transferred through skin-to-skin contact — and pills don’t cover skin. Condoms don’t cover all parts of the penis either, especially some penises.

6. Parents — Particularly Fathers — Die When Their Kids Have Sex. Yeah. No lie. If teenagers would keep their sexual escapades a complete secret from their parents for their entire lives, fathers might survive; however, this is rarely the case. Even suspecting that their children are engaged in sex is enough to kill parents. And this is particularly bad for fathers. Fathers know what guys are thinking about their daughters! The thinking is awful enough, but throw in the actual sexual contact and the father’s mind runs rampant with frothing animosity toward the boy. When it comes to their boys, fathers maintain a somewhat different stance on their sons’ sexual escapades. Also protective of their boys, most fathers transfer their own sense of gallantry — even though they may not have had it as teenagers — to their male offspring. Contrary to opinion in some circles, a lot of fathers definitely do not think it is cool to hear that their sons are having sex, especially if their boys are underage: no notches, no kudos, just plain wrong — and a debasing way to treat a lady.

7. Big Investments Receive Little Return. Much of American society has assigned little stigma to teenage boys who have sex. Society figures this is simply something boys are going to do, because there is such an enormous drive to do it. When boys have sex, they often do so without depth of feeling, without investment of emotion. It feels good. It’s risky. It’s a sign the girl cares. All three of these are definite pluses for the boy. Girls, on the other hand, invest more when they have sex: Girls give more of themselves — even all of themselves — in their sexual escapades. For girls, the risk is not that they will get caught doing something daring, adult, and naughty; the risk comes in the form of a question: “What will eventually happen to her investment?” If you invest little and lose it, it’s no big deal. If you invest all and lose it, a crisis ensues, usually of great emotional proportions. I tell my students, “Every romantic relationship you will ever have in your lives will end. Except one. And even half of all marriages end in divorce.” People who manage to stay together until they die have beaten the odds. But even for them, all of their previous relationships had broken up. The return that a girl receives on her sexual investment may not have been worth it; and that is always —  always — tough to take. A girl becomes more jaded about sex every time one of her investments tanks.

 8. And Just How Many Guys Have You Done? If you’re a girl, you need to think about the inevitability of having to answer this question; most husbands or fiancés or boyfriends will get around to asking it. You can respond with indignity and tell him it’s none of his damn business (even if it’s your husband), or you can stand there like a statue, blushing in silence. When wives (and girlfriends) get around to asking this question about boys — and they will — they sometimes expect that the answer will not please them. And they are usually not surprised by the answer. How refreshing it would be to say to your spouse, “I saved myself for you. You have all of me now.” When my students write that they are not going to have sex “until they meet someone special or know that they are in love,” I ask them how many times they have already thought they were in love or had met someone special. Usually, during an uneasy silence, they squirm. For some of them, my question is answered by quite a long laundry list. And most of the girls find it quite embarrassing. By the time they’re 30, if they have not married and settled down, how many sexual interludes will have been in their pasts? Eventually, how will they respond to their (future) husbands’ curiosities about their sexual histories?

9. The Youth Culture Confirms It: In the Muddy Gutter. Most teenagers are tired of hearing about how bad they are. How immoral. How selfish. I know that I hated hearing all of this negativity about my generation when I was a teenager. Some kids always try doing the right thing, because doing the wrong thing plagues them; their deterrent is their conscience. Pregnancy, STDs, and emotional turmoil don’t enter the folds of their daily concerns, because they already know they won’t be having indiscriminate sex — even discriminate sex — with anyone. Why? They hate what it says about their collective reputations, and they don’t intend to exacerbate the problem. Usually, it’s adults who embrace this mature philosophy, but many teens wish to be known as responsible individuals, trustworthy people, and they know that when their group is branded otherwise, it reflects upon them, too. Other teenagers who tarnish the image of even the “good kids” (by virtue of association) repulse them; right or wrong, guilt by association is a reality. These teenagers clearly view engaging in sex, oral sex, or “friends with benefits” as a form of hypocrisy. Philosophically driven, they remain celibate.

 10. Wrong Is, Well, Wrong. Teenagers do not possess an objective sense of right and wrong — many people don’t. And the answer to whether teenagers should be having sex does not come from an objective source, unless we look to the Christian Bible. There are numerous sanctions against unmarried sex in the New Testament. Conviction that having sex out of wedlock is wrong, or babies making babies is wrong, has to be taught from an early age. There is, however, a pragmatic way for teenagers to view this: “This is one pain in my life that I don’t need! Gag me [uh, here probably not the wisest choice of antiquated teenage slang]! What! With school problems, family problems, job problems, friend problems, problem-problems, why add the unnecessary burden of sex problems!” Sex problems push the regular drama of relationship problems up a huge notch.

Who needs that!

Sometimes we simply have to accept that some things are . . . simply because, well, they are: Two and two are four. The sun rises in the east. A teenager who engages in sex is doing something reckless. Intercourse for kids is not kosher. Having unmarried oral sex is degrading, especially for teenage girls. All arguments waged in verbal intercourse do not require recognition that they must have two sides, as most assuredly, sexual intercourse — with all its consequences — looms on the horizon.

©2008 Bruce J. Gevirtzman

About the Author:

Bruce J. Gevirtzman is a high school English teacher who has also, for 34 years, served simultaneously as a sports and debate coach. Also chief playwright for Phantom Projects, an acclaimed youth theatre group that has performed across several western states, Gevirtzman has authored and directed more than 30 stage productions. He has been featured on NBC and PBS, and in the Los Angeles Times. Gevirtzman runs educator workshops focused on teen issues. His book, An Intimate Understanding of America’s Teenagers: Shaking Hands With Aliens, is available in August 2008.

To learn more and listen to a great Podcast on parenting your teen, visit : Parenting My Teen

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