Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bristol Palin, Emma Willard, and What Teens Need

I was extremely moved by my time with the junior peer educators and the senior women at Emma Willard yesterday. They were smart, friendly, curious, earnest, and open. Their questions, first written on index cards anonymously but often just by raising their hands, ran the gamut. Many of the written questions asked some version of "how do I know if I'm in love" or "how do I know if I'm ready for sex". Several of the cards asked "How do I talk to my parents about my partner/sexual orientation/having sex?"

I think you would have been impressed by their maturity, their willingness to talk to and trust an adult they didn't know, and their hunger for information. It's reassuring to know, as I write in my book, What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know, that our future is in their hands.

I thought similarly when I watched the Fox interview with Bristol Palin. Mature, confident, she both acknowledged her bond with her new baby and that she wished that she had waited another 10 years for child bearing. She said she wants to be an advocate to prevent teen pregnancy (surely one of my colleagues is following up!) and that abstinence-only education isn't realistic. To my surprise, her mother at the end of the interview calls it "naive." She didn't call for it to be defunded, but in some ways, there couldn't be more of an indictment on how telling your teens to "just say no" without coupling it with contraception and condom information is NOT the way to go.

I gave the girls from Emma Willard a strong message that they should wait to have sex until they are ready for a mature sexual relationship -- That no sex beyond kissing should take place unless they and their partner can answer YES to all of the CUHMP criteria (for new readers, that's consensual, non exploitative, honest, mutually pleasurable and protected) and that I didn't believe that most 16 year olds could. But, I also answered their many questions about condoms and contraception honestly and directly (except for the one that asked if condom sales go up during a recession -- I said I had no idea.)

What was clear to me from yesterday -- both my time with these young women and watching Bristol Palin -- is that they (and young men) want and need adult guidance to navigate the years of their developing sexuality identities. I'll try to post the Bristol Palin video here later, but for now, you can go to YouTube and search it. For my readers who are parents, it's tonight's teachable moment with your tweens and teens.


Anonymous said...

Some economist has to look into the condom sales question!

Its awesome to hear this view of young people. I don't think our culture gives them enough credit.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ms. Haffner-

I was one of the girls in the senior class at Emma Willard that you spoke to last night. You told us that you often get a lot of hate-mail, but I just wanted to say thank you for doing what you're doing. The only way teenagers can be safe in the world today is if they are educated in the way you spoke to us last night. My own personal opinion on the abstinence-only sex education program is that it is ridiculous; if you tell teenagers not to do something, they'll do it anyways. As a teenager, I can fully atest to this. Often, when my parents tell me not to do something, I go behind their backs to do it just for the thrill of things. So anyways, thank you for fighting for us and our right to an education with many different view points and information. Please know that you are making a difference in many young people's lives.