I was glued to the TV, watching the supreme court confirmation hearings which were both riveting and cringe-worthy. When I had to leave my house, I continued listening on my car radio, as Ford and Kavanaugh shared their opposing truths and then were subjected to hours of relentless and grueling questioning. Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, I’m sure we all can agree that once again we have been dragged down to a level of discourse unbecoming our great nation.
Yet there is a silver lining! Regardless of how embarrassing these hearings were, they present a teachable moment and a golden opportunity for parents around the country to discuss the most uncomfortable and undiscussed topics: teenage sex and teenage drinking.
Often, our first instinct is to avoid talking to our kids about difficult subjects, thinking that they are unaware or still too young to comprehend. We want to believe that by avoiding complicated and painfully mature topics (binge drinking, date rape) we can shield our children from the anxieties or fear that may accompany the discussion. Yet, many children are already aware of these types of situations, through social media or from overhearing comments made by older siblings and older school friends.
Although the graphic details of Dr. Ford’s and Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony were disturbing, the hearings present an opportunity to teach our children lessons of preparedness, respect for self and others, honesty, integrity, mindfulness, maturity, and resisting peer pressure.
Our Tanach offers us examples of flawed personalities such as Yehuda and Tamar, David and Batsheva, from whom we learn that even our biblical ancestors struggled with human frailties, urges and desires. Perhaps the Torah is teaching us that human beings are fallible and that we also can overcome our impulses and transgressions and ultimately choose integrity, honesty, and respect.
Here are some tips and take-aways from the Ford-Kavanagh hearings to discuss with your teenage children:
- Talk about the perils of seemingly harmless behavior that can get out of control.
- Discuss the dangers of binge drinking.
- One drink at a party maybe is OK, but drinking to the point of getting sick and blacking out NEVER is OK.
- Kissing, if the partner consents, is OK. Touching and getting physical, when it’s not consensual, NEVER is OK.
- “No” always means No! “No” NEVER means “maybe” or “yes”.
- Don’t get caught up in the “mob mentality”. Just because a group of kids are acting a certain way – don’t join in if you think that you will be ashamed or will regret your behavior the next day.
- Be aware that the private jokes and comments that you share in a yearbook or on Facebook, Instagram or other social media are a permanent record, and can come back to haunt you many years from now.
- Be truthful always, because if you are caught telling a half-truth, even once, then it will cast doubt on everything else that you say and do.
- Teens should be reminded not to go off with anyone that appears to be drinking or drunk.
- Emphasize the importance of letting a friend know where you are going and with whom.
- Explain the dangers of leaving a group or party without telling someone of your whereabouts.
- The more respect you have for your body and yourself, the more others will respect you.
- Girls need to be better prepared for what they may encounter, even as early as middle school.
Parents, it’s normal to feel uncomfortable when talking to teenage children about sex and drinking. Your adolescent may feel even more uncomfortable than you do. That’s normal too. Yet, it’s still crucial to impart accurate knowledge, since very often kids get misinformation from peers and other sources. Besides being a reliable source and giving good information to kids, parents also need to provide their children with clear limits and boundaries. Simply put, children want and need to know what the rules and consequences are regarding drinking and sex. It’s helpful to share your family’s values and beliefs as a cornerstone and rationale to explaining your approach to the topic.
The teenage brain is wired differently than the adult brain and does not yet think in terms of cause and effect; behavior and its consequences. Therefore, it’s necessary to have in depth conversations about the ramifications of all types of behaviors, in advance. Set up Imaginary scenarios and process them together; discussing possible outcomes with an emphasis on making good decisions. This will help prepare your teen for that moment when he or she is thrust unexpectedly into a thorny situation, and it will help them make more responsible decisions on the fly. Research shows that kids whose parents have spoken to them in advance about drinking, drugs and sex, are much more likely to make good choices than children whose parents who have shied away from the topic.
While the confirmation hearings seem like a low point in our governmental proceedings, let’s turn it into something positive and ensure that it generates healthy dialogue between parents and teens about uncomfortable topics. Then, at least, they will have served a valuable purpose.
Dr. Tani Foger, LPC
Founder of “Let’s- Talk” Guidance Workshops: For all Ages at all Stages