How to watch a sex scene with your teenager

How to watch a sex scene with your teenagerThis is definitely in the Top 10 Awkward Parenting Situations. Maybe you’ve already talked with your teen about sex, or maybe you’ve yet to do so. Regardless, it’s inevitable that at some point, you’ll be watching a movie or a TV show together, and you’ll see characters on screen doing THAT.

So what’s the big deal? Why not take a bathroom break, talk about something else, pick up your phone, or do anything to try to gloss over the fact that both of you would rather not be watching a sex scene together? Here’s why: Because it’s a valuable way to start a tough but needed conversation.

If s/he is typical, your teenager sees a lot of sexual content in the media, on TV, online, in music videos, movies, and even some video games. To simplify a bit, let’s focus on TV. Of the 20 shows most popular with teens, ‘70% include some kind of sexual content, and nearly half (45%) include sexual behavior.’ This is according to a 2005 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

And some of the messages about sex sink in, for better or worse. The Kaiser study found that ‘nearly three out of four 15- to 17-year-olds say sex on TV influences the sexual behaviors of kids their age.’ Those TV shows do not necessarily depict the consequences of sex; in fact, of teens’ favorite programs, only one out of ten shows with sexual content includes a reference to sexual risks or responsibilities, such as STDs or contraception.

So what should you do in this uncomfortable situation?

Keep it light-hearted. We were all teenagers once, and I for one remember wanting to crawl between the cushions of the couch until the sex scene was over and I could look my mom in the eye again. Don’t try to have a Talk with your teenager at that moment unless s/he seems open to it. But you can still encourage her/him to think critically without making it a big production.

Say, “I hope they’re using condoms.” Or “I wonder if both of them have been tested.” Simple comments like these can get your teen to think about the consequences of sex that are probably not being portrayed in the program or the movie.

Say, “Do you think they’ll make good parents?” Few things disrupt the viewing of a sex scene like the thought of accidental pregnancy. Some teens think about it, but many do not, and most TV shows about sex (between teens or adults) don’t address it.

Say, “It seems like all these kids are hooking up with each other all the time. Is that realistic?” This may be Advanced Parenting 101. Only you can know how your teen might react to this question. But if it’s possible to have this conversation, do so. Some shows and movies about teenagers depict them as far more sexually active than teens are in real life. Posing this question may help them talk about pressure they feel, either from their peers or from the media.

It’s uncomfortable for sure, but taking advantage of conversation-starters like these can help your teen process media messages about sex with a critical eye, and make more informed choices in the future.

Talking about bullying without using strong language?

Still of trailer for Meg Medina's book, Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your AssA middle school in Virginia canceled a visit by young adult author Meg Medina, because her new book Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass includes language deemed inappropriate by school officials. The book tells the story of a young woman struggling to defend herself against a high school bully, and its trailer (a still of which is at right) addresses many of the words used by such bullies.

According to an article on, a local news website in Richmond, Medina was told she could visit the school and talk about her book as long as she didn’t show the cover, say the actual title, or use any of the ‘coarse language’ in the book or its trailer.

A statement by school officials reads, “it was decided bullying prevention could be taught without using unacceptable language.”

Is it possible to address bullying without using the same language the bullies themselves  use? Should a book on the subject shy away from the realities of bullies’ cruelty, which have in a few cases led to far worse outcomes than bad words? Parents of middle school and high school age kids, what do you think?


No zombies allowed

Boys jumping off a dock into a lakeJudy’s family has lived in three cities on two continents, and one thing has always set their home apart from those around them: there are no video games allowed.

Her sons, 11-year-old Warren and 8-year-old Andrew (right, on a lake vacation), are allowed to play them at friends’ houses, and she knows they generally favor sports games. But Judy does not allow them to play violent games, and she draws the line at having a console at home.

“I just don’t like it,” she said. “I don’t want it in my house.”

Her primary objection to such media is that she observes kids becoming hooked on them too easily.

When her kids are playing video games, she said, “they get this kind of zombie look that overtakes their expression.”

In contrast, when her boys are playing outside and having fun doing other things, she said they seem to forget what she refers to as the ‘siren call’ of media entertainment. Judy takes very seriously her responsibility to help her children make good choices regarding media.

“Your job as a parent,” she said, “is to teach them to resist stuff that gives them a quick high, but isn’t good for them in the end.”

She’s frequently surprised by comments she hears from other parents, when they say they don’t feel like they can really say no to all of their kids’ media demands.

“I was like, turn. It .Off,” she said. “You’re the parent.”

Judy knows how hard companies work to counter such actions by parents. She worked for many years in market segmentation, and observed first-hand the strategies and techniques companies use to target children.

As a parent, she said, she wants to protect her children from such manipulation, but also ensure they have the knowledge and experience with technology that they need in the 21st century.

At the start of this school year, she decided to let her 11-year-old have an old iPhone, to keep up with his peers. They went over the family rules about it, and talked about cyber bullying and other issues. Her son recently came home with a question that hints at the years to come:

“Someone said they want to be my friend on Facebook. What does that mean?”