OnCommonGround was given the exclusive right to excerpt this essay from the anthology, Rethinking Responsibility: Reflection on Sex and Accountability, published by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. For more OnCommonGround excerpts in this series click here.
As a mother of three, including two teenagers, I’ve come to realize
that the whole concept of “responsibility” for young people is simply
part of growing up, and it’s an uneven, back-and-forth process. Each
year parents give their kids more and more room to take responsibility:
for their studies, for what they wear, for how they spend their time,
and for how late they stay up, and how late they sleep. It’s exciting,
but it’s also a bit overwhelming because teenagers seesaw
back-and-forth between childhood and adulthood for many years. And then
one day, you look up and they are totally grown.
out for one’s health and the health of others is just another aspect of
growing up and becoming responsible. But it may be the most complicated
one. As teens, you have all kinds of impulses: to do what others are
doing, to fi t in, to seem cool and mature — even when it means doing
stuff that isn’t really in your best interest. These impulses defi
nitely include having sex before you’re really ready whether physically
or emotionally. So you have to be responsible for protecting yourself —
or your girlfriend or boyfriend — from getting into circumstances that
can lead to unhealthy situations.
A recent online survey of
young people asked what they were most concerned about related to their
health and wellness. Three of the top four concerns were contracting a
sexually transmitted infection, having or causing an unplanned
pregnancy, and becoming involved in an unhealthy relationship. While
the solution for young people may not always be defi ned as being more
“responsible,” it’s clear that the concerns we have as parents are
shared by our kids.
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I believe that responsibility for
sexual health is a two-way street. It is both in the teaching and in
the taking. As parents we hope and expect that our kids will take
responsibility for having healthy relationships, for waiting to become
sexually active until they feel they are ready, and for using birth
control and condoms to prevent unintended pregnancy and to keep from
getting or spreading an STI. But that means we parents have
responsibility, too — for talking to them openly about sex and taking
the shame, stigma, and confusion way from something that is a natural
and healthy part of life. We also have to take responsibility for
insisting that our public offi cials support policies that provide
young people with age-appropriate sexual health information and
education. We have to take responsibility for supporting open, honest
conversations about sex, sexuality, and sexual health from our living
rooms to our churches, temples, and mosques, and in our schools.
Young people are looking for our support as parents, teachers, adult
friends, and role models. And, even when everyone is teaching and
preaching responsibility, our kids make mistakes — and, frankly, so do
we. If we do our jobs as parents and adults, then we can hope that our
kids, or any kid, can turn to us when they need help, when they are in
crisis, or simply when they are struggling to sort through their sexual
health concerns and relationships. In the end, the most important
responsibility is our resonsibility for each other.