What People Are Saying

A lot of different things. I am referring to the discussions, sparked by The Sleepover Question, about how parents can best respond to their children’s sexual maturation.  Today the New York Times published several letters to the editor.

One of the most interesting discussions, with a nice mix of opinions, can be found among New York Times’ columnist Lisa Belkin readers’ commentsCarrie Seim at Guyspeakcom asked men and women about their experiences with “the talk” and got many different answers.

At offsprung.com, pajamasmedia, and clutchmagazineonline, you can find discussions across the political and cultural spectrum.  Anne Engelland, MD gives her perspective as an adolescent medicine specialist. And Caroline Miller at the Child Mind Institute responds to the article with these words:

What’s most compelling here is the idea that teenagers don’t necessarily have to drift off into a parallel universe, leaving their parents out of touch with where they are and what they’re doing—and even more important, who they’re becoming

Meanwhile, I continue to receive very moving responses from parents.  One came from a mother who, when asked whether I could quote from her email, wrote:

Yes, of course you may quote from my e-mail. Thank you for asking. I have never written to a newspaper, magazine, author, etc. like this before. The fact that I felt compelled to write to you reflects how important this issue is to me now.

Earlier, she had written:

Until I happened to see your recent NY Times Opinion article, I was unfamiliar with your work. Your article made me so happy because I have been instinctively handling sex issues with my teenage daughter in the same way that most Dutch parents do.

When my daughter was little, I NEVER would have predicted that I’d handle things that way (sometimes I still can’t believe it), but when she was 17 and the issue of sex with her boyfriend came up, my heart and my gut told me to respect her decision, listen to her, and use the opportunity to guide her so that she’d be making safe, healthy choices. At the time, nothing else made sense because my husband and I realized that she was going to have sex whether or not we approved. So we let her make her own decision about whether or not to have sex, although I talked with her about it a LOT, I went with her to the doctor’s office when she got on the pill (which she was already on before she had sex for the first time), and we let her have sex with her boyfriend in our house and allowed him to sleep over with her. He was very much a part of our family while they were together, and although they broke up after almost two years, he still stays in touch with me regularly.

I am telling you all this because while I didn’t have any doubts about the way my husband and I dealt with these issues, I felt like I had to keep it a secret from most of my friends and family because I knew they would judge me and think I was crazy. I know absolutely no one who has handled their teens’ sex issues this way, and I know a lot of parents of teens. People just do not do things this way in the U.S. I felt isolated and worried that people would find out. Frankly, it was kind of a difficult, lonely time. Reading your article made me feel like I wasn’t crazy – I did the right thing! And there are some parents out there in the world who ‘get’ that!

As comments to an an earlier post show, there are other American parents who have decided to permit sleepovers for older teens.  I wonder how common it is for American parents who make this decision to feel the same way as the mother quoted above?  Comment welcome as always.

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Amy Schalet is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Read More...