No. 22-03 / 14 March 2022
Dear Parents and Guardians,
I am proudly prudish.
My dilemma in being prudish is the anxiety I encounter when faced with stories of explicit sexual behaviours among our teens. These seem to be ever more prevalent.
I am not qualified to pronounce judgment on sexual behaviours, but my working with young people for most of my adult life has given me a number of insights. Despite my parents growing up in the 60s with “free love” and the age of experimentation, I was still instructed in the ways of the “straight and narrow” such that certain matters remained taboo and for a later chapter in life.
Unpopularly, I still hold this view.
When teenagers engage in sexual conduct before an appropriate season in their life, they easily get themselves into areas of psychological dissonance which their life experience is ill-equipped to navigate. Of course, the teenagers will disagree – we all did.
I still believe that when teenagers engage in sexual activity, the emotional strain – elation, delayed anxiety and regret – can cripple those who are ill-equipped to handle it. Intimacy, in my opinion, is far more than a physical encounter and should hold the reverence and status it deserves.
Sadly, in my opinion, the extent to which many young people have chosen to risk and experiment sexually is potentially harmful to their development, given the complexities of emotion attached to an act of intimacy.
As parents and adults in the lives of our children we should hold our line, and this line should not be blurred at the edges. Recently although not new, and with regret, I have been alerted to behaviours by teenage boys and girls who cross this line. What I am equally concerned about, though, is that these behaviours are somehow condoned by the significant adults in these young people’s lives. I believe we need to self-correct.
Although there is a large body of literature detailing the challenge South Africa faces with teenage pregnancy rates, the gist of this letter is rather about the behaviours pertaining to intimacy and sex that seem to have been normalised over time and which I believe are damaging for young people. The plethora of media and broad access to these influences has not aided my position on this matter, however we cannot shy away from ensuring our advice is in keeping with a belief in what is appropriate for one’s adult life and what should remain sacrosanct.
When a teenager needs to deal with a relationship break-up, it can be an emotionally difficult time. When this break-up is compounded by the fact that intimacy and sex has been the order of the day, it becomes akin to divorce – an unmistakably traumatic experience. The archaic principle of waiting until one is ready for an adult experience remains one of the tenets of becoming a well-adjusted adult who will be able to marry this physical act with the requisite emotional maturity.
My reason for addressing this matter, as nakedly as I have, is that I believe we need to reclaim some lost ground. We should be more vigilant and more proactive in ensuring our teenagers are not experimenting beyond their years. Allowing your teenager free rein at weekend parties, or un-supervised sleepovers, or being alone behind closed doors are dangerous practices.
Teenagers are teenagers; their journey of self-discovery is still in its infancy, and they need guidance – sometimes, and perhaps most often, guidance that is unpopular and un-cool. As parents and guardians, we need to be careful not to fall prey to the argument that teenagers will have sex regardless. I don’t buy it. Almost always, teenagers respond to the loving guidance of an adult whom they trust. If we are consistent in our approach and honest with our children from a young age, they seek refuge in our counsel – although they hate to show it. We need to arm our children with facts but also with tools to buck the trend, to be able to say no even with the knowledge that they may be unpopular too.
We spend much time at school, in our Life Orientation classes, at house prayers, chapel and assemblies, educating and instilling a value set in our boys. Our only hope of success is when this message correlates with the one they receive at home.
I hope you will dare to be un-cool with me.