Remember that very first feeling of romantic love? Remember when it was the most important thing in the world? It felt like it would last forever and ever? Then something happened and the feeling was gone -- until someone else came along.
Too many parents don't remember those youthful days and subsequently make the mistake of minimizing their own children's experiences, said Sol Gordon, psychologist, sex educator and nationally known author of books such as "Life is Uncertain . . . Eat Dessert First" (Delacorte, 1990) and "Raising a Child Conservatively in a Sexually Permissive World (coauthored with Judith Gordon, Fireside, 1989).
"Parents need to take [young emotions] more seriously and not act like their kids are sexless, unfeeling human beings," said the 69-year-old Dr. Gordon, who has been studying sexuality for more than 30 years.
Dr. Gordon brought his message to about 200 teens and parents yesterday at the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation in a lecture titled "What parents and teens wish the other knew." His talk was sponsored by the Board of Jewish Education and Baltimore's four reform congregations.
Most of all, the doctor said, parents should not trivialize young love. "To kids, it is their most intense and serious experience," he said in an interview.
Not that parents need to overdramatize the situation either. The goal is to allow children to know that they can come to their parents to talk about anything without being put down, he says.
"A lot of kids say, 'Oh, I can never tell my parents that. They would kill me!' So teens won't tell their parents when they are pregnant or if they are involved in sexual experiences." To avoid this, parents should strive to foster tolerant and understanding relationships with their children.
On the other hand, parents need understanding, too -- and children can help to foster better communication, he said. Parents want teens to understand that they do make mistakes and realize maybe they didn't have the benefit of a good, open relationship with their parents. "We really need more open communication," he says.
Dr. Gordon, who lives in San Francisco and is semi-retired, is not without critics. Some, who are against sex education being taught in schools, occasionally turn up at his lectures to protest.
He said he doesn't feel as if these critics represent the majority opinion. "Polls show that about 85 percent of the public favors sex ed in school. A few extremists are trying to impose their values on others," he said.
In fact, he says, statistics show that about less than 10 percent of the population waits until marriage before having their first sexual experience.
Dr. Gordon advises teens to wait until they are older before having sex. "I say hold off having sex until you are older. You're too young. You're too vulnerable. But if you're not going to listen to me, use a condom. Or if you are going to drink, don't drive."
The doctor's open-communication philosophy applies to other subjects between parents and teens besides sex -- drugs and alcohol, for instance.
And open communication doesn't mean using the "Just Say No!" approach, Dr. Gordon said. "We can't be sanctimonious. We can't get away with just saying no. Kids are not paying attention. Just saying no means not giving out information."