by Melodie Davis
**NOTE TO EDITORS: This is part 2 of 4**
for release September 8, 2000
To Combat Sex in Middle School, Start Earlier
This summer the Washington Post Magazine carried a portrait of the world of 12-, 13- and 14-year-old children in the Washington D.C. area-a world so saturated by casual sexual come-ons that boys are described as constantly egging the girls to let them engage in a variety of sexual acts. On one hand, some reports show teen pregnancy down (Alan Guttmacher Institute and the National Center for Health Statistics). Many programs successfully encourage abstinence through "true love waits" campaigns in churches and abstinence programs taught in schools. Some kids are getting the message. Thank God.
Yet one of the most popular songs of the summer (late spring) is called the "Thong Song," and hip hop artist Sisqo is not talking about the shoes we used to call flip-flops. It is offensive in every way, but has a catchy sound and beat so that it was popular with middle school kids and younger who say, "It's just a song. It doesn't mean anything." Then I hear that in dance clubs, women flip up their skirts to purposely reveal this type of underwear. Whether we like it or not, music videos and lyrics and can erode our sensibilities.
Liza Mundy, who wrote the "Sex and Sensibility" article mentioned above, says that even though teen pregnancy is declining, "the average age of first sexual intercourse has dropped by a full year, and the overall percent of sexually active girls under 15 has continued to increase." And perhaps it is no wonder. Sex is everywhere, and it is our younger children who don't have the maturity to sort it all out. Our society has become increasing eroticized, says Mundy, where even watching the evening news with your preschoolers can frequently cause an unwanted lesson in sex education. What is the answer? Handwringing? Stick our heads in the sand? Haul our children off at 13 to a clinic for birth control?
Age 13 is a little too late for suddenly injecting a strong moral compass,
but there are a variety of things all along that help develop personal
convictions and an ability to overcome/live with the sexual society swirling
* Bring children up in an atmosphere that encourages them to think for themselves. Encourage them to ask questions and give honest answers.
* Encourage creativity, exploration, making up their own play and games-rather than just going along with the current craze in toys and games. That gives them wider interests and stirs the imagination so that they will be less likely to unquestioningly adore all the icons of popular culture.
* Delay as long as possible their introduction to shapely fashion dolls, child-sized replicas of teenage clothing, and adult TV. Have them stick to the educational channels and videos you select as long as possible!
* Encourage them to develop a variety of interests and tastes in music. It is probably inevitable that they will be somewhat influenced by the music around them. But when they recognize that rock, hip hop and rap with all their suggestiveness is only one part of the music world, they have a little more perspective.
* If you are married, do everything you can to foster a good relationship with your spouse. Much research shows the benefits of having a Mom and Dad together in the household-especially when it comes to young girls experimenting with sex. Divorce when there are children in the home should only be a last resort in the most difficult of circumstances.
* That said, if you are a single mom or dad, make an effort to have as good as possible relationship with your ex, so that both Mom and Dad have a relationship to the children. Lacking that, carefully hook up with good friends, extended family, or church/community groups who can offer quality male or female role models for your children.
These, at first glance, may seem a long way from solutions to the problem of too early experimentation with sex. But these are ways to raise your children so that they are sure of themselves, feel good about themselves, and have a variety of interests so that "sex" isn't the only thing they can think of to do. They will grow up with a good head on their shoulders. You won't always be able to "be there" and they need to be able to have the inner fortitude to say no to negative influences.
For a free booklet, "Parent/Teen Conflict," write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from a number of organizations including the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three growing daughters.
NOTES TO EDITORS: text = 745 words; end material = 105 words
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