A few days ago, I was arguing in the comment section of this article about how many parents oversexualize and/or unnecessarily freak the hell out when anything remotely sexual comes up in relation to their children.
Quite a coincidence that I read this in today's Dear Prudie column.
A few days ago I was walking from my downtown office to lunch when I spotted my 14-year-old son "Tom" walking down the street with "Becky," a classmate and friend of his. It was on a school day with an extended lunch hour. The school is not in walking distance, so I knew they'd taken the bus downtown. I resisted the urge to accost Tom and Becky on the street. When I spoke to him about it later, he was untruthful when I asked him what he did at lunch that day. I'd prefer he stay on campus, but it's not against school rules to leave, and I don't think they were up to anything illicit. I told Tom I feel obligated to let Becky's parents know that they had left campus together. Tom, naturally, pleaded with me not to. Becky seems like a lovely girl, and she and Tom seem to be spending a fair amount of time together. We have not met her parents, but I feel an obligation to inform them what their daughter was up to with my son. On the other hand, they're good kids who were just enjoying their youthful companionship, and I understand how mortified my son will be if his mother tattles on his gal pal. Is there a middle ground here?
Since I'm the mother of a girl, I would wonder what message the boy's mother was sending by alerting me to this little adventure by two high school freshman. You note neither of these kids was doing anything wrong. But think how thrilling it must have been for them to escape from school and go on a lunch date downtown! I'm feeling a little giddy just imagining it. Sure, Tom should have told you the truth when you asked about his day. But instead of setting him up, you should have said, "Hey, I saw you went downtown for lunch today." This is the time in life that teenagers are testing their independence. You want Tom to feel he can come to you for the big things he's going to face, like "I think someone is getting addicted to drugs," or "I need to talk to you about birth control." Rat him out now over nothing, and he will be reluctant to ever trust you.
Although the mother's letter isn't on hysteria levels, I do sense a paranoid undertone to it. She wants to call this girl's mom to tell this woman what her daughter was "up to with [her] son"? (And if that's some sort of crime and/or sexual activity, I've was guilty of that on Tuesday.)
I also got the sense that this woman was reacting to something she couldn't quite articulate — precisely the same sort of crap I saw in my parents. Whatever the basis for that reaction, it's eerily similar to when people sexualize red nail polish or high heels or make up or a friendship between a straight guy and a straight girl. (In one of the Facebook comments, a woman said that scenarios like this are how teen pregnancy happens. I guess she didn't hear the news that those rates have been going down.)
Prudie's advice, although a bit off sometimes, was spot on here. Not only was she right, but my complete silence on all things personal extended well into my adulthood for exactly the reasons Prudie cites. Any information that didn't resemble pure, clean, chaste details were prime for an absolute parental freak out. Then again, maybe all teenagers, regardless of the type of relationship with their parents, go underground about that personal information. I'll never know.
I really wish I could figure out where parents like this letter writer are coming from because that mentality is not only especially destructive to young girls but it assumes the worst in young boys and men. What a crappy message to send to everyone.