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Monday, 29 May 2017

Consent. Hook-ups. Harassment. Why you must talk to your teen about all of it before college.

Life at college can be exciting -- but also scary.
The senior proms are happening. The college has been chosen. The parents are anticipating empty nests.

Chances are, though, that they have not had The Talk.

No, not that Talk, the one that usually comes as puberty approaches. The one sometimes farmed out to health teachers at school. The one that used to be known as The Birds and The Bees.

This Talk, as teens-turning-young-adults head off to college, is not so much about sex – though that can be part of it – but more about forming healthy relationships and having respect for others when charting a path with potential partners. It’s about dealing with so-called “hook-up culture,” sexual harassment, misogyny and sexual violence.

In other words, a long flight away from the Birds and the Bees.

But The Talk, Part 2 is something that happens all too rarely, according to a Harvard University study, and at the same time is something teens are looking for, even if they are sometimes reluctant to say so.

According to a survey conducted by Harvard's Making Caring Common (MCC) project, 87% of young women reported having experienced at least one of the following during their lifetime: being catcalled (55%), touched without permission by a stranger (41%), insulted with sexualized words (such as “slut,” “bitch” and “ho”) by a man (47%), insulted with sexualized words by a woman (42%), having a stranger say something sexual to them (52%) and having a stranger tell them they were “hot” (61%).

Yet, according to the researchers, 76% of respondents never had a conversation with their parents about how to avoid sexually harassing others and a majority had never talked with their parents about misogyny. Perhaps even more worrying, 61% of young people said they had never spoken with their parents about "being sure your partner wants to have sex and is comfortable doing so before having sex" while 57% said they'd never talked about the "importance of not having sex with someone who is too intoxicated or impaired to make a decision about sex."

“This whole area has been terribly neglected,” said Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist who heads the MCC. “Adults seem not to be facing it squarely,” he told the Washington Post. “It’s concerning.”

'The most important thing we do in our life'

"It is maybe the most important thing we do in our life, to figure out how to love someone else and be loved by someone else," Weissbourd told Vice's women-oriented Broadly. "Adults have really neglected this issue and are not providing wisdom to young people."

Over several years, MCC researchers surveyed and interviewed more than 3,000 young adults and high school students, and also talked to adults who work with young people, including parents, teachers, sport coaches and counselors.

The study found “70% of the 18 to 25-year-olds who responded to our survey reported wishing they had received more information from their parents about some emotional aspect of a romantic relationship, including 'how to have a more mature relationship' (38%), 'how to deal with breakups' (36%), 'how to avoid getting hurt in a relationship' (34%) or 'how to begin a relationship' (27%).”

"Healthy romantic relationships can be our most profound source of gratification,” Weissbourd said. “But unhealthy relationships are also often responsible for divorce, depression, alcoholism, domestic violence. The emotional toll is huge, and the emotional upside is so great. So you start to think, why aren't we guiding young people more?"

How women-majority colleges and porn factor in


The report also suggests that some of the issues may result from females increasingly outperforming males in high school and then being in the majority in many colleges.

“Research [indicates] that when women outnumber men in college, men are especially likely to dictate the terms of relationships,” the report says, “And a ‘bros over hos’ culture now prevails on many college campuses and in other settings.

“Casual sex is often narrowly focused on male pleasure … and words like ‘bitches’ and ‘hos’ and terms for sex like ‘I hit that’ are now pervasive.”

The report also cites the ease of access, made possible by the Internet, of pornography.

“Far greater numbers of teens and young adults over the last decade are watching porn regularly,” the researchers said, which also “may fuel certain forms of misogyny and degradation.”

How to have The Talk, Part 2


OK, so how do you actually bring up the topic with your young adult? .

Joani Geltman, a Boston-area family counselor and author
Though talking with your teen about sexual matters is something many parents and their children find embarrassing, Joani Geltman, a Boston-area family counselor and author of A Survival Guide To Parenting Teens, Talking To Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs, and Other Things That Freak You Out, advises parents to find an opportunity for “a natural segue.”

Teens "hate being lectured to,” she said. “Maybe you just read about this study in the paper; use it to talk to your kids. Something like, ‘Hey I just read this really interesting article in USA TODAY and it was talking about dating and sex at college.’”

Geltman says such conversations are most effective if they start based on common ground. “Maybe if parents and kids are watching a TV show. There are a million opportunities for parents to get at this conversation by talking about the characters in the show.”

She also suggests parents frame the conversation by citing the example of other teens, thus taking the immediate focus away from the worries of their own children.

Talking to teens about love and sex: 5 tips for parents, straight from Harvard experts
“Something like, ‘My friend at work told me her son/daughter is having a really hard time at college with the social scene.’

“The key is not to come at with any judgment or criticism as in ‘I can't believe kids behave this way,'" Geltman said. “Instead, it should be something like, ‘I get how this might have happened.’ The first is a conversation closer, the second is an opener.”

And what should you do when your child is at college and is confronted by one of the troubling situations described in the report? What’s the best way to respond when they bring it to your attention?

“Do not jump into problem-solving mode or an approach such as ‘I'm calling the dean!’” Geltman advises. “Parents’ natural need to protect and defend often makes things worse. Kids will often shut down with that approach.

“Instead, you want to empower your student to be in control and problem-solve. Take a deep breath. And start with empathy. “Oh, that must have been so scary. How are you feeling now?

“What kind of action do you want to take?”

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