04 April, 2009

Heaven help us!

M and I were out on our balcony this morning enjoying the sunshine when suddenly we heard a giggle from the balcony next door. And then another. I shuddered-- this one small sound and the person it emanated from represent a HUGE cultural barrier for me, one that I don't know how I'm ever going to bridge.

Our neighbors' daughter is 16, and has a boyfriend who spends the night often. They spend weekend mornings in bed and intermittently lounging around on her balcony, smoking cigarettes while she squeals and giggles. This has been going on since we moved here, when she had only just turned 14. (!!) The faces have changed over time, but my irritation hasn't: in the culture in which I grew up it was just not acceptable to have your boyfriends stay the night at that age!

She's got her whole life ahead of her to hang out on the porch and smoke cigarettes like an old married couple! Shouldn't she be out hanging out with friends, playing sports or doing something, ANYTHING other than spending the morning in bed with a boy who doesn't even look like he's old enough to know which end of the razor to use?

M maintains that I'm hopelessly naive. In his well-reasoned, logical way, he argues that if they're going to be "doing it" anyway, it might as well be under the supervision of the parents, so to speak. But I cannot accept that-- should we as parents just jump right in and enable this kind of behavior? Sex, while natural and, of course, fun, comes with enormous responsibilities. The consequences of teenage pregnancy and STD's are staggering, and not something to be taken lightly.

I am very open with my kids. We talked about anatomy when they were in nursery school, and over the past year I've had numerous discussions with them not only about their own bodies, but also about reproduction. I've even cleared up a couple of bizarre myths they'd heard from their peers. I don't picture myself as a puritan, so it bothers me that my neighbor's behavior bothers me so much.

I do hope, though, that by being open and talking about my views early and often, that I might be able to influence S and B's ideas a little bit. At least until their hormones kick in full force-- please tell me that that won't be when they're 13 or 14!?

M thinks I'm hopelessly naive. He says that the culture here and in Holland is different, and that S and B will be influenced by it. By the time they reach puberty they'll be more influenced by their peers' views than by ours. And that because everyone is more open about sexuality that the rates of teen pregnancy are a fraction of what they are in the US.

I can understand his point of view, but it still doesn't totally win me over. I'm thinking this is one precariously rickety bridge between the two cultures that I'm going to need to navigate, and I'm not looking forward to it.

I'd be interested to hear your opinions / experiences on this topic...


Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Oh, Betsy, I could write a really, really long post on this, so I might need to e-mail you.

I have to agree with M, on many levels. 14... um, no. But having had exchange students from Germany, Sweden and Denmark and discussing this issue with their parents and with them, I think openness about sexuality is so much healthier than what we tend to do here in the States. In terms of faces changing - that's what would upset the parents of my students - in each case, the students have had LONG term boyfriends before any of this started. And they've stayed with those boys for years. None of my kids would be lounging around with cigarettes - they'd be off playing soccer with their leagues, seeing their friends, doing their copious amounts of home work, tutoring or doing some other part-time job, and yes, seeing their boyfriends on the weekends and spending the night one place or the other.

Gah... I'm sounding preachy and I'm not. I do think the folks near you may have parenting issues, but I'd think that would be more in the direction of bedhopping (which, from what I understand from my kids is NOT acceptable in their circles) and the smoking.

I'll write you on this - it's a fascinating cross-cultural issue.

(BTW... my students and their families are APPALLED that statutory rape laws here can apply to underaged girlfriend/boyfriend situations - they find that absolutely barbaric - another interesting point... )

Betsy said...

Hi Jen! Wow, that was fast, thanks! You don't sound preachy at all-- I'm really glad you commented so thoroughly and would be very interested in hearing more if you end up finding time to write that email!

I hope that your mom is settling in well and that spring is finally arriving in A2!

Sending a big hug your way!

Betsy said...

Oh, yeah, and just to clarify, because I guess I gave the wrong impression-- she's actually not bedhopping. I think that there have only been 2 or maybe three boys in the picture during that time, and the first one was in the picture for at least 1 1/2 years...

Lisa said...

I like this blog because it engages a complex issue with a multiplicity of angles from which to view it. Yes, yes, I agree with M that, like it or not, life for S and B will reach a point where your influence recedes somewhat and their peer group and society steps forward to shape their outlook. Sheesh, just think about how pivotal a role you've played in my life since WPHS - hands down you inform my views far more than my parents. On the other hand, I still think the values that you have so mindfully instilled will remain the strongest influence on them overall. Its the bedrock, other influences will layer on top of it but its the foundation for everything else. So, its a yes and no as to whether its naive to think you can overcome the flotsam of social mores presented by the world at S and B's doorstep. As to whether the Germans / Swedes/ Danes got it right with adolescent sex, cigarette smoking, and general teenage karfoffling and the Americans are woefully repressed - who knows. Perhaps, perhaps not. I think you certainly offer a worthwhile viewpoint that the 14 year old neighbor has a long life ahead of her for cigarette smoking and sex and so these years might be better spent soaking in the pursuits of, well, 14 year olds. On the other hand, I think sex, or at least the curiosity of it, is a normal interest for 14 year olds - regardless of nationality. I'm not sure whether such curiosity is best addressed with education and reasonable limitation or parental laissez faire abandon but I think S and B are better off for your contemplation of the question in the first place, which leads me to believe that you'll find the groove that is right for your parenting and personal ethos. I also think it might be a bit difficult to imagine how you will cross this bridge when S and B are still just kids but tend to think that it will be less difficult when the time actually arrives for the bridge to be crossed and you've had years of intervening events to build up to the question of whether or not Sander's girlfriend can have sex with your son in the next bedroom.

C N Heidelberg said...

I feel torn on it. On one hand it seems sad for them to grow up so quickly when they could enjoy a few more years engaged in less adult pursuits. You really do have your whole life for that stuff, and childhood is so brief. Also, the possible consequences of a condom slippage or whatever are decidedly too adult and will completely end one's childhood.

On the other hand, people are in such good form in their teenage years, why not enjoy it fully before you're older and fretting so much about other things. The worry and the aging can really detract from your sex life. Maybe they ought to be enjoying it before then.

I do think the US is dangerously repressed when it comes to sex/nudity. Still, can't really imagine having my teenage kids bonking under my own roof.

So, I really don't know.

Goofball said...

Hi Betsy,

I grew up in Belgium and this story blows my mind. I do not know a single family personally where this would be allowed at that age at all. (hell my mom even formally forbad me to date a boyfriend before I was 18....which didn't stop me from falling in love before that age and keeping it a secret to her).

I do agree that we need openness about sexuality and I'm often quite annoyed by the prudishness of the American society.

Yet 14???? 14 my gosh is too young, 14 is really still a child. I don't think I could ever allow my children at that age to have a sexual relationship with my consent. Right now she's 16...I do think that's an age where you can't control them as strict anymore or you might loose the relationship with your children. They'd go their way in secret then. There's probably a point where you must let them go and do their thing in order not to loose them ...and by letting them go you can probably still influence their lives more. But I truly don't believe 14 is the age yet. And even later on I'd not feel at ease with such a situation you've just described.

And a long-term relationship or not, sexual relationship or not....I'd still want all teenagers to have a teenage life with friends, sports, music events, having a job to learn the value of work and money etc...as well and not solely lounging with a boyfriend.

Anonymous said...

I'm torn too. Just 100/200 or so years ago, teens were middle age, no?

Let's consider biology. Wouldn't it seem that humans mature in those years (teens) to reproduce and start a family? Not necessarily mature in the 21st century way of thinking because I really believe that we are trying to fight nature by making them wait until they are older.

Isn't it against nature that we think 30 is the new 20 and that we think that is a good time for couples to marry and reproduce? I think it's pushing nature too far. Women are born with a finite number of eggs that are healthy (when younger) to fertilize. If your culture forces individuals to postpone adulthood, then you have sexual dysfunction. And more birth problems with women who wait too long (in their 40s even).

I think the Americans are prudish but we're talking about centuries of cultural beliefs that have been bastardized by religious fanatics. They say abstain from sex until marriage and overnight, you're allowed to have sex? It just doesn't make sense to wait for that magically date. Back 50 yrs ago, some marriages were simply performed so that the partners could have sex legally.

It's a big question for men and women and mostly parents of which, I don't qualify (parent). I just know what I've seen, what I've experienced and my own 'sexual' history.

I think we've got a long way to go around the world to melt our cultural thinking together for what's best for humans and not forcing prudish thoughts on our children. Sex is human nature. Not having sex is against human nature. We should find a balance.

Lurking Lisa in Stuttgart.

anno said...

My first thought: In Europe, don't you have to be at least 18 years old, take many hours of professional instruction, and pay a lot of money just to get a driver's license ? Oh, yes, but driving a car is a serious responsibility with real consequence for other people's lives.

And having sex isn't/doesn't?

(Not that I'm advocating waiting until you're 18 or saving yourself for marriage. Neither would I advocate getting married at 15 or 16 or any age just to have sanctified sex.)

Unfortunately, our biological, intellectual, and emotional development seldom proceed in synch. In the States, at least, early first intercourse (before 16) seems to be correlated with a higher probability of being in an abusive relationship. So, while a girl or boy might be physiologically ready for sex at 14 or 15, this seems like an age better suited for developing 1) a strong core of personal interests & abilities; and 2) the social & communication skills needed for long-term successful relationships.

And in any long-term relationship, there are times when having sex is either not possible or not advised. Waiting requires learning a different level of appreciation for another person; it's a good thing to learn. And, yes, I think parents need to demonstrate in words & deeds that this is important, that having sex is important, and that it matters when and with whom you have it.

Don't get me started on parents who let their 14-year-old smoke.

OK, I'm in deep enough now. I'm not waving, I'm drowning. Time to make my way back to shore.

Interesting discussion!

Paula and Skip said...

Hi, just found your blog. I am German and a recent transplant to Florida. NOT all 14 year old German teenager are like your neighbours. However the education in this matter is in Germany more open, more free and starts often much earlier. I grew up with a healthy relation to my body and my sexuality (which I often have the feeling is missing in the States - -watch for generalisation)I dont agree with teens having sex with 14, if so better under my roof and some supervision and not in secret, uneducated and unawre. I feel that the internet and its content increases curiosity and irresponsibilty too. However I dont think with the German open way there are not so many teenager parents around like in the States. Yes, they could do different with tehier time or at least add something more to their young lifes. I appreciate all the groups, sports, social activities and community work in the US - it does help - partly. Their is no right or wrong, we all have to find our way in educating our kids, keep our openminddess and let live. Hope you dont mind my German view and my personal opinion - and apologiize my English. Paula xx

Betsy said...

Hi Paula! I'm happy to have a German perspective here-- I'd hate for this to be a one-sided discussion!

Funny-- you're a German transplant to Florida and I'm a Florida transplant to Germany! :-) Where are you living? How do you like it so far?