Is it normal for my teen to be moody? How do I talk to my teen about sex? Am I giving the right advice? These questions are surprisingly common. Whilst many parents worry about their teen, they often don’t know how to discuss topics such as sex, sexuality, drugs, self-harm, or bullying.
Teens are part of a rapidly changing, technology-saturated world. Unfortunately we’re seeing an alarming increase in teen-suicides, drug addictions, unsafe sexual behaviors, eating disorders as well as cyber bullying. Despite this, many specialists continue to follow traditional forms of knowledge that only focus on the individual.
Teens who struggle with poor self-esteem, or who are bullied because of their sexuality, identity or body are often labeled with a disorder, told they are in need of therapeutic interventions, and encouraged to change their behavior. Their parents are often advised to work on their teen’s ‘confidence’ by sending them to classes or camps said to teach ideals of ‘inner beauty’, ‘self-esteem’ or ‘better team-attitude’. These services often lack the necessary expertise on gender, identity, and sexuality and can have lasting, harmful effects on a young person.
This approach simply doesn’t work. It relies on outdated myths about adolescence and identity failing to consider the complexities of teen’s lives today. It also blankets difficult cultural attitudes from media and dominant peer groups.
Parents, peers and environment strongly shape a teen’s attitudes. Although puberty is a time when hormones increase, these aren’t linked to behavior. Because teens’ brains are developing, stresses such as peer-pressure, make some more susceptible to anxiety, risk-taking, or drug experimentation. Conflicting messages about sex, sexuality, the body, ethnicity, religion, or parental separation strongly impact on a child’s sense of self and their world.
Since 2004, there’s been a steady increase in youth suicide on the coast. Suicide isn’t uncommon. We just don’t hear about it because of community sorrow or shame. Most teens who become depressed, and who consider self-harm, are strongly affected by stresses in their environment such as homophobic attitudes or bullying, not because of internal, hormonal imbalances.
In Sweden and Norway, where comprehensive home and school education on sexuality and social health start much earlier, and where education is separated from Judeo-Christian ideals, teens are less like to to engage in unsafe sex or drug use. Fear-based, moralising messages on pregnancy, sexuality, infections, addiction or assault, actually stop young people from making critically-informed decisions. Instead they cause confusion, guilt, discomfort and depression.
While media and popular culture often normalises and trivilises heterosexual sex, many teens don’t relate to these ‘home and away’ identities and relationships. Teens are given contradictory messages about sex or love and many are ill-informed about STI’s and how to navigate around sexual coercion and unwanted sex. Parents often feel embarrassed and awkward talking to their teens about sex. Many more assume their teens gain the most valuable information on sex, sexuality, and other social issues such as alcohol and peer pressure.
Many schools still focus on restrictive, procreative sex education reflecting larger norms. Teachers often don’t have time, lack the skills, or struggle to find opportunities to talk to students about complex issues. Because of systemic restrictions, many teachers are encouraged to avoid conflict and controversy and feel limited in teaching controversial topics such as abortion, sexual violence, sexual intimacy, pleasure, contraception and LGBTIQ issues.
Dr Jamilla Rosdahl is a gender an interdisciplinary researcher and lecturer in sexuality and gender studies at the University of the Sunshine Coast.
"It can be challenging to raise a teen. I work closely with parents and individuals to unpack the experiences and regulations around difficult issues. Parents must keep up to date with the latest information, knowledge and resource materials available for teens. Parents who are informed, feel secure, and confident in developing social tools, are better able to keep reflective dialogues with their children. This creates lasting life-skills in teens."
Regular parent information evenings are now running in Caloundra, Maroochydore and Noosa. Topics include identity, bullying, sex, sexuality, body image, drug use, and social media. For bookings, Tel: +61 7 0423 384 119 or +61 7 0479 154 920.