Tweens and Sex: Parenting is Not a Spectator Sport

A selection of tween fashion from Pinterest (Liz Everett Glam).

A selection of tween fashion from Pinterest (Liz Everett Glam).

Is there anything more horrifying than hearing 11-year old girls discuss oral sex? If you’re the parent of a young girl, as I am, that would be a definite no.

In Newsweek’s cover story, “Sex and the Single Tween,” Abigail Jones (full disclosure: my old editor at The Jewish Daily Forward) catalogs countless examples of how our culture sexualizes tween girls, nudging them toward looking, and acting like, sexually adventurous miniature adults. Jones paints a portrait of a culture so depraved that even culturally liberal parents are likely to shudder.

Depending on your source, Jones explains, tweens are either 8-14 years old, or more specifically 10-12 years old. Either way, “tween” refers to a group of minors old enough to do certain things independently, but too young to have good judgment or true emotional maturity.

Selecting clothes is a prime example of where these girls need parental guidance. The girls wear thigh-high dresses and camisoles, demonstrating zero awareness of how provocative they look. Of course, the parents in the story express fairly laissez-faire attitudes about clothing; if they disapprove, most seem to keep those thoughts private. So, why would their daughters think anything is amiss?

The tween girls featured here seem most interested in not only dressing provocatively, but also discussing sex, watching sexually charged programming, participating in social media, and in some cases, becoming sexually involved. Barbara Daley, a Boston-based child and adolescent psychologist tells Jones: “’Kids seem to be developing earlier and getting more sexually focused earlier . . .  They are sexually active a lot earlier, too; as early as 12 or 13 is not so unusual, whereas before, I’d say about 10 years ago, it used to be really unusual.’”

And as parents, should we shrug? Is it now considered too judgmental and uncool to assert that 12-year-olds should not be having sex? Are therapists like Daley who hear from sexually active 12-year-olds inquiring about the identity of sexual partners and whether these girls are being sexually abused? Or, if these liaisons are consensual – whatever that means, when a 12-year-old is involved – who is looking into what’s happening in that child’s home? Where are the parents, and are they either supportive or oblivious to this behavior?

Such outside professionals’ active engagement is necessary, given U.S. laws. According to Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Mary Rice Hasson, testing for sexually transmitted diseases is now available nationwide to “a 14-year-old (or even a 12-year old in many states)” without parents’ knowledge. Pity the parents who would be more proactive but remain clueless about their children’s activities.

Do parents have a role to play in setting boundaries and helping their children navigate society’s many sexual messages? Jane Buckingham, founder and chief executive officer of the youth-focused consulting firm Trendera, tells Jones, “’Parents have lost their role as gatekeepers.’”

I reject that notion. I refuse to roll over and play dead as entertainment and clothing companies attempt to seduce my daughter with images of a supposedly ideal sexy existence. A 2012 Knox University study demonstrated that a mother can absolutely influence whether or not her young daughter views herself as a sex object, and I prefer not.

Parenting is not a spectator sport. There is no one who cares more about my child’s well-being than her parents. There is no one better suited to explain why we don’t dress explicitly, why we don’t pattern our behavior on precocious television characters, and why we would never jump off the Brooklyn Bridge even if everyone else were doing it.

I applaud parents who rebel against the sexualizing tidal wave, like Nick Schager who penned “Disney TV Is Poisoning Your Daughters”, and Ebony Stith who founded a fashion magazine so that her daughter could participate in pop culture in an age appropriate way. Going forward, I hope more parents feel empowered to speak out about cultural excesses and develop alternatives that allow tweens to actually experience childhood.

It’s tough to stand up and announce you disapprove of everything your tween feels peer pressured to do and society insists is both cool and normal, but it’s critical. Some things are more important than being just like everybody else, and it’s a parent’s job to teach that lesson.

This article appeared in Acculturated.

One Response to “Tweens and Sex: Parenting is Not a Spectator Sport”
  1. Jim Maisano says:

    Reblogged this on County Legislator Jim Maisano's Blog and commented:
    Excellent post from my friend Melissa Langsam Braunstein…if we don’t get involved with our kids and keep an eye on them…who will?

    County Legislator
    Jim Maisano

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