By NICK CHILES
Having brought a boy all the way through teenhood—he is just months from his 20th birthday—I must say I wasn’t surprised to read that teenagers don’t know nearly as much about sex as perhaps we think they do. A new Centers for Disease Control survey of a thousand teenage mothers revealed that a third of them didn’t use birth control because they didn’t think they could get pregnant.
While the CDC didn’t follow up to find out how that preposterous idea could creep into their still-forming adolescent minds, I have my own theory: teenagers are morons. I speak here from years of experience: being a teen, observing other teens, raising a teen, observing other teens. There is no explanation for about 75 percent of the things they do—leaving you with just that one conclusion (the one about them being morons).
Of course, the basic fact of their moronic-ness is the last thing they would like the world to believe about them. But teenagers are the masters of deception. Their entire public persona is designed to fool you into thinking they know more than they actually do about EVERYTHING. They are particularly dedicated to presuming knowledge about adult matters—sex, alcohol, drugs, driving. These tend to be the things they know least about.
In all of our teenage interactions, if we adults adopt the perspective that we are dealing with the behavior and rantings of an entire subspecies of morons, we will save ourselves much heartache and anguish.
Barbara Strauch, a former colleague of mine who is now a New York Times science editor, wrote a brilliant book eight years ago called The Primal Teen: What the New Discoveries about the Teenage Brain Tell Us about Our Kids. In the book, Strauch reveals all the dramatic changes the brain undergoes during the teen years, offering a measure of explanation why body snatchers come along and transform our children into these sullen, rebellious, sometimes ridiculous individuals. In other words, she explains why they become morons.
With my son, I tried to understand his sometimes infuriating behavior—and the fact that we were often clashing—by noting that pretty much everything he wanted to do with his time every minute of the day was the opposite of what I wanted him to do. And we’re talking here about a good kid—straight A’s, star football player. I can’t even imagine how unpleasant those years would have been if he were a true bad ass.
So if a teenage girl can make it through adolescence and still think she can’t get pregnant the first time she has intercourse, what it tells me is that when it comes to our children’s education in matters like sex, we must overdo it. Early and often, way before they get to the point where they are considering actually having sex, we must take every opportunity to make it clear to them what sex is and what results from it. The information must flow freely. All the time.
On the way home from church on a recent afternoon, when one of my pre-adolescent daughters asked me what was the difference between the many religions whose churches surround us here in Georgia, I used it as an opportunity to talk to them about Catholicism and sex and birth control. My wife and I try to have these sex conversations as often as we can, approaching them from a myriad of different directions. We believe that it’s not possible to talk about this too much. Our hope is that when the teenage years are upon us once again and the idiocy starts creeping into their brains, there will be so much good, solid information stuffed in there that there will be very little room for the idiocy to get comfortable. So there will be little chance that they could ever tell the CDC or anyone else that they didn’t know a girl could get pregnant the first time. At least that’s our plan.
That, and a whole bunch of praying.
1. Graduation Day: The Little Boy Grows into a Man
2. Tweens, Sex and the Essence Article That Scared the Crap out of Me
3. How a Single Mom Talks to Her Son about Sex
4. The Best Ways for Parents to Get Ready for “The Talk”