Someone’s Gotta Say It
Teen Years in a Cyberworld Requires Parent Re-boot
By Marina Sampanes Peed
Executive Director of Mosaic Georgia
A friend who is helping raise his grandkids asked me why I keep saying it’s important to start conversations with tweens and teens about relationships, dating, and sexual health. “We’re old school and learned the old-fashioned way (from the streets and Playboy magazine).”
Yep – when car wheels had hubcaps and whitewalls, CDs were Certificates of Deposit, and family rules like “what goes on in this house stays in this house” reigned. We had pen pals. We had 3 local TV stations and were thrilled when MTV and CNN came along. There was no internet, social media, on-line “friends” and “likes” or doorbells with cameras & microphones. Our developing brains could process these advances due to the tolerable pace of change.
The teenage years are a time of incredible transformation and growth. As parents, understanding these changes can empower us to guide our children through this pivotal developmental stage in today’s environment.
Here is a refresher on the intricacies of the adolescent brain, the impact of hormones, societal pressures, and the role of technology and media in shaping our teens’ development. We’ll also explore how teenagers learn about love, relationships, self-worth, and address the pressing issues they encounter, such as the normalization of sexualized violence and the risks associated with teen dating abuse.
1. The Adolescent Brain and Hormonal Shifts
Human adolescence is marked by significant brain development, influencing decision-making and emotions. Did you know the brain continues its development until 26-28 years of age? Hormonal changes add an extra layer of complexity to this journey, affecting mood and behavior. It’s essential for us, as adults who care for youth, to recognize these biological transformations and approach them with empathy and understanding. When you ask “what were you thinking?” and they say, “I don’t know” they are telling the truth.
2. Navigating Complex Social Structures and Expectations
Today’s teens are navigating more complex social structures and grappling with mixed societal expectations. “I live in two worlds – my home sounds, smells, and tastes (insert parents’ country of origin) and then at school, I want to fit in. I switch back and forth and it’s hard sometimes.” Many kids split their daily lives between two homes when parents separate; they adjust to different rules and norms before they head to school. They’re learning to find their place in the world while forging their individual identities. Social cliques have implicit and explicit rules of attitude and behavior, and peer pressure is strong.
3. The Digital Age: Impact of Technology and Media
I remember when call-waiting was a big deal – with five teens in the house and one landline, competition for connectivity was fierce. My kids got flip-phones (without internet) and I thought they were so spoiled; but we needed to be able to reach each other. Today’s teenagers have “smart phones” with more capacity and access than our first computers. With constant connectivity, they’re exposed to a myriad of influences, including easy access to explicit content, and marketing strategies that often promote unrealistic standards. This continuous exposure shapes their views on relationships, self-worth, and sexuality.
4. Learning Through Observation: Love and Relationships
Children listen and observe MUCH more than we realize. Teenagers gather insights about love and relationships from various sources, primarily through family interactions. Adults around them set the norms. Do they hear arguments followed by calm resolution? Yelling, blaming, and name-calling? Emotional, physical, or financial abuse of power? Relationships on social media, TV shows, movies, music videos run the gamut from rom-com silly to outright violence. In American society, violence has become normalized over the last 30 years. Violence is regarded as currency in some “real man” sub-cultures.
5. Nurturing Self-Worth and Potential
A teenager’s sense of self-worth and how to engage in the world is shaped by their family dynamics and peer groups. All kids hear how the male adults in their lives talk about women and girls and learn 1) this is how to treat them; and 2) this is what to expect from men in my life. Do they cat-call? Comment on their physique or outfits? And expectations of males are also modeled – studies show positive reinforcement from male adults can boost their confidence and help them recognize their inherent value.
6. Challenging Unhealthy Belief Systems
Several belief systems perpetuate unhealthy relationships, including gender stereotypes and misconceptions about consent. It’s crucial for parents to actively challenge these beliefs and initiate conversations about respect and healthy sexuality.
7. Pornography and Media as Educators on Sex
Unfortunately, pornography has become a primary source of sex education for teenagers. Since the advent of high-speed internet around 2007, free porn sites have become accessible to anyone with internet access. Pornography that attracts the most views entails violent sex acts against women and disregards the importance of consent and mutual pleasure. Porn addiction rates have sky-rocketed in recent years and represent the leading cause of erectile dysfunction among males age 20-40. The little blue pill does not help because the ED is caused by neurological changes in the brain.
Social media is full of erotic images that are edited and unrealistic; and reinforce insecurities of teens and adults who try to fit in. This presents a distorted view of sexuality, often fixating on unrealistic body images. Parents must be aware of this influence and provide accurate, age-appropriate sex education.
8. Confronting the Normalization of Sexualized Violence
Terms related to sex, music, video games, and online content often normalize sexualized violence. For instance, teens see sexist and pro-rape comments in men’s magazines and popular music. Objectifying women and glamorizing violence trivializes or normalizes inappropriate behavior. When adults recognize and address this issue with teens, they provide opportunities to discuss the importance of healthy relationships and respect.
9. Teen Dating Abuse: A Growing Concern
Alarmingly, a significant number of teenagers experience abuse in their dating relationships, which can manifest as physical, emotional, or digital abuse. As parents, understanding the causes and recognizing the signs of teen dating abuse is essential to protect and support our children.
10. Fostering Healthy Teen Relationships
Parents play a pivotal role in nurturing healthy relationships among teenagers. This includes modeling effective communication, respecting their privacy, and encouraging positive social interactions. A checklist for maintaining a healthy teen dating relationship can serve as a valuable resource.
Empowering Teens for the Future
As survivors of the teenage years, it’s our duty to guide and stand by our tweens and teens during these transformative years. By recognizing today’s environment, promoting open and honest communication, and providing resources, we can help them navigate this critical phase successfully. Hopefully, they can pay it forward to the next generation.
Remember, your voice and support can have a profound impact on your teenager’s life. For additional resources, explore websites such as That’s Not Cool (http://www.thatsnotcool.com), Do Something (https://www.dosomething.org), Love Is Respect (http://www.loveisrespect.org), and others dedicated to fostering healthy relationships and empowering young people.
Feel free to reach out for more details or to arrange a customized training session designed for parents/adults or your youth groups/clubs. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org for inquiries.