There is a new book out for parents that in my opinion is an absolute 'Must Read' entitled Got Teens: The Doctor Moms' Guide To Sexuality, Social Media And Other Adolescent Realities. I like to think I'm some sort of parenting expert, but even I don't have all the answers (shocking, I know) - what I loved most about this book is that it is incredibly realistic and doesn't talk down to parents or our teens, it offers advice in practical, sensible, totally realistic ways when you are trying to help your teen navigate through all the icky realities of the world, social media, rape culture, slut shaming and making their own ways towards adulthood. From the book description:
There are some "inevitables" during adolescence: sexual development, the need for independence, the need to conform, and the need to experiment. We are not alarmists. We are realists, and these aren't innately bad, they are just greatly complicated by our high-tech, sexualized, and mixed-messaged world. Parents are often confused because the world is different today and outcomes seem far more permanent. Some of us become paralyzed by the thought of dealing with issues like sexting, oral sex, or alcohol use.
That's where we come in. We believe that it's time to trust our gut. It's time to deal with the tough issues head on because, guess what, that's our job.
We are moms. We are professionals (a Ph.D and an MD), and the goal of Got Teens? The Doctor Moms' Guide to Sexuality, Social Media, and Other Adolescent Realities is to talk about these adolescent "inevitables" in a way that is thoughtful, entertaining, and informative. Imagine if you were sitting next to your best friends at a bar. That's us. We cover issues ranging from puberty to gender identity, technology to body image, and everything in between. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Got Teens? should assist you in preparing your prepubescent child for what's to come, and give you the motivation to manage the most cringeworthy teen subjects, too. I got to speak with the authors, Logan Levkoff, PhD and Jennifer Wider, MD, all about this incredibly important book.
What topics did you personally feel were important to include in the book? What were your 'biggies" that you felt had to be included?
Logan: I used to wake up in the middle of night terrified that we had left crucial issues out of the book. Yes, we knew we had to tackle puberty and social media and other more common subjects, but we were passionate about the more "political" ones like slut shaming, consent, and reproductive choice. We wanted to create a parenting book that was unapologetic in terms of our beliefs. Yes, parents have the right to their own values, but we didn't want to shy away from ours either.
Jena: After the Chris Brown/Rihanna reunion, which occurred while we were writing, I was horrified when some (many) girls posted tweets like "Chris Brown can beat me down anytime." Where were we going wrong as a society that relationship abuse was not only accepted but desired? I knew we had to address it.
If I had to pick a theme for the book, it would probably be that we need to talk, we need to listen, and we need to remember that we were young too. Which of these do you personally feel are the hardest for most parents to remember to do?
Logan: That's a tough one. I would say that we have a hard time listening (especially because we are afraid of what our kids might say) but going to back to our youth feels equally as difficult.
Jena: I agree with Logan, and I think some parents have a hard time initiating the conversation with their kids, especially regarding sex. I have heard from many parents who would rather "someone else," like the pediatrician, tackle these "uncomfortable topics," with their own children.
On Mommyish we often talk about how grateful we are that most social media didn't exist when we were younger. How much of an influence do you feel social media plays on how we parent today and how our teens are growing up?
Logan: Social media has a tremendous amount of influence on how teens grow up (and by extension how we parent). It forces our kids to think (even more than already do) about how the world perceives them. It places tremendous pressure on self-image, specifically physical image. It was tough enough when you had to get dressed in the morning just for school, now you're getting dressed (or a million other activities) for potentially the entire world. Jena and I are similar to the Mommyish community in that we feel blessed that we never had to experience adolescence in this day and age. We made plenty of mistakes; we never worried about them becoming public and following us around indefinitely.
Jena: Social media is hands down the biggest challenge facing parents today. We spoke with dozens of moms and dads who are completely freaked out over when/if to buy their children smart phones, the amount that their child is texting, the new apps that they can't keep up with, and the list goes on and on. One thing we discuss in the book is the loss of interpersonal skills that so many parents feel their children exhibit. While writing the book, I started to notice the lack of communication among families. Families out to dinner, who weren't carrying on conversations, that instead, were having a four-way text session. Parents need to look at their own habits when addressing social media...we all need to do better.
For you and Jennifer, what personally are the hardest subjects you guys have to speak about with your teens? is there anything they have asked you or you feel you need to speak to them about that you find cringe worthy?
Logan: To be perfectly candid, there isn't much that I have trouble talking about, at least with respect to these issues. That being said, I do have a very difficult time talking about discrimination and prejudice; my kids can't understand why that exists. For that matter, neither do I.
Jena: This is one of the (many) things I admire most about Logan, she is able to discuss what many people would view as "cringe worthy" and make it comfortable and enlightening for everyone involved. For me, having a medical background sometimes gets in the way, so if I discuss the topic of safe sex with my oldest daughter, I focus on the safe part, the risk of STD's, the mechanics, the biology...she'll stare at me and nod, but I know deep inside that her eyes are rolling to the back of her head. After writing the book, our discussions have enabled my to listen more to her and craft conversations that impart my values, addressing her concerns.
One topic I'm always interested in, and you touched on this briefly in the book, is the whole arena of slut shaming. I agree with you, in that women and girls should never be judged for how they dress, but when it comes to my own daughter I find it difficult to marry this belief with my own personal desire for her not to wear items that may put her at risk for street harassment or for being judged on how she dresses. How can we deal with wanting our daughters to feel confident no matter what they don't or do wear and the hem lengths of their skirts to the realization that because of the world we live in, they may be subjected to unwanted attention due to what they wear?
Jena: Many girls love fashion and it's certainly a great way to express yourself. But when you're 11,12, 13 years old, dressing in "sexy" clothing before you even know what sexy is, is unhealthy. It's also important to remember that the reason your daughter wants to wear certain types of clothing is because that's what she's seeing in the media; she's been overexposed to these images. Our job as parents is to instill as sense of self esteem in our kids, to let them know that their self-worth isn't tied to their boobs, thighs or butts. They are great just the way they are and definitely do not need to wear things just to fit in if they don't fit properly!
Logan: I trouble with the words we use to describe girls and their bodies -- as if a piece of fabric (or a smaller piece of fabric) automatically changes what they do with their body and who they do it with. (Yes, I'm calling out the word, "slutty.") But I don't have an issue with being realistic with our kids. They should know that while clothing doesn't dictate what they do with their bodies (it is simply an expression of self at a given moment in time), people don't always respond appropriately or respectfully. They need to be armed with this knowledge so that they can feel confident in their own skin and know when to challenge this. Of course, I say that, but when I was nine months pregnant and waddling around in yoga pants and with dirty hair I was still hooted at on the street. So for that reason alone, I would say that we should spend more time with our sons, explaining to them why they should never comment on, gossip about, or holler at girls and women. Our sons don't want to be perceived as predatory, and unfortunately, that's how they appear if we condone that behavior.
As a mother of sons, I'm always trying to raise them to respect women and not to use degrading language when talking about women or their peers, and the meaning of consent and all that good stuff. I like to think I'm doing my best not to raise rapists, but as you're well-aware I'm sure a lot of the parents involved in the horrible cases we have heard in regard to Steubenville and Rehtaeh Parsons thought they were doing their best too. What's the answer?
Jena: Not completely sure that the parents in these cases thought they were doing their best, but since we don't know them: suffice it to say some of their actions lacked judgment. (In Steubenville, for example, they were serving alcohol to minors, leaving the home without checking in on a large group of drinking teenagers, and then actively trying to dissuade the victim's family from legally coming forward.) These heartbreaking and tragic cases both involved a large consumption of alcohol, so as a parent my first inclination is to teach responsible behavior surrounding alcohol. For both boys and girls, it's vital to impress on our kids that drinking until you are not fully aware of what is going in is dangerous; so I would emphasize responsible drinking practices. But that still leaves us with teaching our sons (and daughters) how to respect other people's bodies and understand the meaning of consent. I believe it's our responsibility as parents to model that behavior and reinforce the messaging as much as possible.
Logan: I think that I may have answered this earlier, but in addition to my earlier statement, the conversations to our sons and daughters should be equal in terms of messaging. Consent is a nonnegotiable no matter what their biological gender is. We can also talk to our children about these awful stories as they emerge in the media. Tell them what your values are and be completely clear. Teens want independence, but they also want boundaries, too. Knowing where you stand on issues is essential for their development.
What scares you the most about how kids are growing up today versus what your parents worried about when you were a teen. Do you think it's harder now or do you think because we live in the information age it just seems harder due to the amount of information we have?
Logan: I think that adolescence can be difficult no matter what generation we are raising teens in. That's because the nature of adolescent development is challenging -- even if you were raising kids in a bubble, they would still be moody, complicated, and overwhelming. They would still be attempting to balance who they were with who they wanted to be.
Jena: I wouldn't say that I'm scared, but I think social media adds an additional challenge for parents and kids alike. There's the phenomenon of living in real time, where everything is broadcast to the masses in ways we just didn't experience when we were growing up. But a large reason for why Logan and I wrote this book was to let parents know that the kids are alright! Teenage pregnancy is at an all-time low in our country, cases of sexting among teenagers are much lower than what's reported in the media and tweens and teens are making good decisions all the time. As parents, it's in our nature to worry, but we want to emphasize is: keeping a dialogue going with your child throughout these years can really make a difference and lessen the impact of these challenges.
If you had to pick three rules that are nonnegotiable when it comes to teenagers, what would they be?
1- For tweens/younger teens: I need your password for all social media apps and if used inappropriately, they are confiscated immediately
2-Never, ever do anything you feel uncomfortable with for any reason, trust your gut.
3-- I will pick you up no questions asked anytime, anywhere.
1) Consent is nonnegotiable -- whether it is kissing or touching or anything explicitly sexual (or even if it is posting a photo of a friend on Facebook), you must have agreement, always.
2) Be an upstander, not a bystander. Stand up for what is right; and of course, know when to jump in and when to get help.
3) Every individual has the right to make their own independent decisions without our judgment. There is no double standard.
You can order Got Teens: The Doctor Moms' Guide To Sexuality, Social Media And Other Adolescent Realities on amazon, or pick up a copy at your local bookstore. You can also follow the authors on Twitter at Dr Wider and Logan Levkoff.