The joke goes like this… A father says to his son, “I would like to talk to you about sex.” To which the son says, “Sure Dad, what do you want to know?” Recent research suggests that kids know and have experienced much more at a younger age than most parents realize.
Yesterday U.S. News and world report published an article detailing the findings of a new survey of 7th graders. The study was co-sponsored by the Blue Shield of California Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Futures Without Violence. Researchers polled 1,430 students,half boys and half girls of every ethnicity, in five cities and the results are appalling.
The survey defined teen dating violence as any form of physical, sexual or emotional violence occurring within the context of dating. Psychological violence includes controlling behaviors, such as not allowing a girlfriend or boyfriend to do things with other people. Electronic violence covers bullying and name-calling online or via texts, and physical violence includes pushing, grabbing or kicking one’s partner.
Asked about these and other behaviors in the previous six months:
- Thirty-seven percent said that they had seen boys or girls being physically abusive towards their dating partner. About one-quarter had a male or female friend who was physically violent to a partner, and more than 20 percent had a friend whose partner was physically violent to him or her.
- Forty-nine percent said they had been sexually harassed, either physically or verbally, by being touched inappropriately or joked about.
- Seven percent strongly agreed that it was okay for a boy to hit his girlfriend under certain circumstances, such as “a girl who makes her boyfriend jealous on purpose.” Interestingly, 50 percent strongly agreed that it was OK for a girl to hit her boyfriend in the same situation.
- Sixty-three percent agreed with what the pollsters considered a “harmful stereotype” about gender, such as “girls are always trying to get boys to do what they want” or “With boyfriends and girlfriends, boys should be smarter than girls.”
WHAT? I am not even sure where to start. First let me remind you, these are 11-14 year olds, who are “dating”. It is shocking.
Another study done in 2008 yielded these results:
Dating relationships begin much earlier than adults realize.
- 47% of tweens and 37% of 11 and 12-year olds say they’ve been in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.
- 72% say dating relationships begin by age 14.
Nearly one-third of tweens and parents say sexual activity is a part of tween dating relationships.
Specifically, the percentage of tweens and parents identified below acknowledge the following acts as part of a dating relationship:
- Touching and feeling up – 37% of tweens and 31% of parents
- Oral sex – 27% of tweens and 26% of parents
- Sexual intercourse – 28% of tweens and 26% of parents
Tweens in relationships report sexual activity among their peer group.
- 47% know a friend or someone their age who has touched and felt up a partner.
- 31% know a friend or peer who has had oral sex.
- 33% know a friend or peer who has had sexual intercourse.
Parents continue to believe ‘it’s not my child.’
Of the parents who say that sex is part of a tween relationship:
- 59% know that their child has kissed a boyfriend or girlfriend.
- 17% know their child has made out with a partner.
- Only 7% say their child has gone further than kissing or making out.
Parents think they know what’s up, but many don’t have any idea.
- More than three times as many tweens (20%) as parents (6%) admit that parents know little or nothing about the tweens’ dating relationships.
- Twice as many tweens report having “hooked up” with a partner (17%) as parents reported of their own 11-14 year old child (8%).
- Parents are largely unaware of the reality of tween dating abuse.
- Only 12% of parents (compared with 23% of tweens) know someone their son’s/daughter’s age who has had a boyfriend/girlfriend threaten to spread rumors about them if he/she didn’t do what the other person wanted.
- One in four parents (24% – compared with 40% of all tweens) know someone their son’s/daughter’s age who has been called names or put down by a boyfriend/girlfriend.
- Only 22% of parents (compared with 36% of all tweens) know someone their son’s/daughter’s age who has been verbally abused (called stupid, worthless, ugly, etc.) by a boyfriend/girlfriend.
- Abuse via tech-devices is much more prevalent than most parents realize.
- Nearly twice as many tweens as parents know someone between the ages of 11-14 who has been checked up on by calling their cell phone more than 10 times per day (15% parents vs. 28% tweens) or texting them more than 20 times per day (13% parents vs. 24% tweens).
Look to your right and to your left at the next PTA meeting. At least one of the three of you is in serious denial. CNN recently reported that 10% of tweens have “sexted”. Other sources give thesse statistics on pornography use among tweens and teens:
- Average age of first pornography exposure with boys is age 10-13
- Average age of first pornography exposure for girls is age 11-14
- Average age of first Internet porn exposure is 11 years old
- 90% of 8- to 16-year-olds have viewed porn online
- 80% of 15- to 17-year-olds have been victims of multiple hard-core porn exposure
- By the time your child is 15… 25% of girls and 30% of boys have had sex
- By the end of 9th grade…21% of them have slept with four or more partners
- 50% of 17 year olds have had sex
- 80% of teens have sex by age 19
- 55% of teens ages 13-19 have engaged in oral sex
And if you are a Christian (as I am) and you think this protects or inoculates your child in some way, think again. According to a prior issue of World Magazine, a bi-weekly publication that reports the news from a conservative evangelical Protestant worldview,
Statistically, evangelical teens tend to have sex first at a younger age, 16.3, compared to liberal Protestants, who tend to lose their virginity at 16.7. And young evangelicals are far more likely to have had three or more sexual partners (13.7 percent) than non-evangelicals (8.9 percent).
And in 2003 Northern Kentucky University study showed,
61% of students who signed sexual-abstinence commitment cards broke their pledges. Of the remaining 39% who kept their pledges, 55% said they’d had oral sex, and did not consider oral sex to be sex. A roughly equivalent percentage of self-identified evangelical college students said they do not consider anal intercourse to be sex.
All I can say is parents and adults in general need to wake up and smell the coffee. This is part of the reason why Kent and I have always taken the approach of talking to our kids early and often (in an age appropriate fashion) about sex, pornography and abuse. When my son first heard the song Centerfold by the J Giles Band, we talked about pornography. When my daughter asks what Miranda Lambert‘s Gunpowder and Lead means, we talk to them about abuse. When she wants to know “why that woman is crying” and I have to explain acid attacks and honor killings. When they ask about babies, we tell them (wait for it…) the truth. SOMEONE or SOME WEB SITE will teach your child about sex. I want my kids to hear the truth from me. FIRST. I don’t want to just be damage control after the fact.
My 9 year old daughter and 10 year old son already know:
- The mechanics of sex and where babies “come from”
- That sex is a beautiful thing that they should want to do with the person they marry. (I never tell them it is dirty or awful or something they should not want to do. Mainly because those are lies and I try NEVER to lie to my kids)
- What abuse is and that it is NEVER okay
- What pornography is and why it is harmful
- That women are equal. I have also taught my daughter never to play dumb to get a boy to like her.
- How to protect themselves from online predators
Next on our family agenda is to talk to them about masturbation and oral sex. I know some of you parents out there are cringing at the idea of talking to your kids about these topics, but you MUST do it. If you don’t there are people lined up waiting to do it for you. The time to do it is BEFORE they are chin deep in hormones. BEFORE they have heard about it from anyone else. Our kids know that we tell them the truth about whatever topic we are discussing. They know now and always that they can come to us for the straight skinny. When some kid tries to talk my daughter into something she doesn’t want to do, she will have the information and the tools and the support to stand up for herself. My son does not have to wonder if something his friends tell him about sex is right, because he already knows. Please, Please, do not wait! Start talking to your kids today. It is not as scary as you think. We have to stop lying to ourselves that our kids aren’t the ones. They are. If your child is over 11 it is likely that they already know more than you think.
If you are a teen or tween who is a victim of dating abuse there is help available. Go to a parent, teacher or other adult you trust. You can also go to loveisrespect.org for help and advice. This is also an excellent resource for parents, teens and anyone else who wants to get educated or get involved.
(and yes, I do know the video is from Planned Parenthood, it is a good video)
- Working To Combat Teen Dating Violence Despite Disturbing Apathy (huffingtonpost.com)
- Teen dating violence often occurs alongside other abuse (eurekalert.org)
- Sample Proclamation for Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month (preventviolence.wordpress.com)