Youths sound off about parents and opposite sex

At workshop, teens express frustration over lack of communication

October 13, 2006|By Karen Nitkin | Karen Nitkin,special to the sun

Ask youngsters to talk about the opposite sex and they're likely to say things that grown-ups would find disturbing, but not necessarily disturbing for the reasons one might think.

About 20 middle school pupils attended a Wednesday evening workshop at the Miller library in Ellicott City called "Crushes, Going Out and the Pressures to Be Sexy." The conversation wasn't particularly racy, but it was unsettling because the youths agreed that they found it very difficult to talk about their lives with their parents.

"I don't know why, but I don't want to talk to my mom," said one soft-spoken girl. "Now she feels really embarrassing to be around."

(Because this article deals with sensitive topics, The Sun agreed not to use the names of the people quoted.)

The list of topics that youths said they're uncomfortable discussing with their parents covers many aspects of their lives, including school, friends and dating. "I have to say everything is hard to talk about," said one girl.

The Family Communication Night, one in a series hosted by the Horizon councils, the Coalition for Healthy Youth and the library, was for middle school pupils and attracted about 45 participants. The workshop will be repeated Wednesday at the Glenwood library and Oct. 24 at the Savage library.

Katie George, the youths specialist at the Miller library, said similar programs have been held in the past and that a series on drugs will be offered this year.

On Wednesday, the youths were guided by Robin Bounds, a nurse with the county Health Department, while their parents met with Gerry Maxwell-Jones, who coordinates pregnancy parental programs for the school system. At the end, the two groups got back together to go over what they had discussed.

A central theme was improving communication. "I really applaud you for taking the time with your teens to come and talk," said Maxwell-Jones before the groups split up. "It's so important that you take that time now and keep that door open for discussing critical issues."

Parents said they brought their children to the workshop hoping it would give both generations tools to cope with an inevitably confusing time. "We just wanted more information so he would feel more comfortable and I would know how to handle it," said one mother, attending with a sixth-grade son.

One woman said she had no children but wanted to improve her ability to guide her 14-year-old niece. "I don't know how to tell her the healthy attitudes toward guys, toward men," she said.

The pupils said they were dragged along and were mortified to be there.

But after a dinner of sandwich wraps and chicken tenders, the youths went into a room with Bounds, and their initial defensive postures of arms crossed over torsos soon turned to enthusiastic conversation.

Though some of the talk was about dating - mostly complaints about the boyfriends and girlfriends of their friends - the topic that drew the most interest what the youngsters said was their parents' inability to connect to their children.

Bounds first asked the participants about rules of their households. As one boy wrote the answers on a large piece of paper in front of the room, kids piped up: no jumping on the bed, clean up after yourself, no cursing. Bounds asked whether the rules made sense, and some youths said their parents cursed, so it didn't seem fair that they weren't allowed to.

The next question was: "What about rules about going out with someone," Bounds asked. "My mom has to meet the girl," said a boy, "and I can't go out anywhere that's inappropriate."

Others said they weren't allowed to wear overly revealing clothes, and some said they weren't allowed to date.

"What have your parents told you about liking someone as more than a friend?" Bounds asked next. That elicited passionate responses.

One boy said he would never tell his parents if he had a crush on someone. "They're really nosy," he said.

One girl said her mother's rule of thumb is "a crush is a crush because you'll get crushed." Others called that cruel.

All said they hated being teased about crushes.

Crushes were just one topic that teens said they find hard to discuss with parents. One girl said it's easy to avoid conversation. "You get home from school, and it's: `What happened in school today?' `Nothing.' `OK.'"

When they do open up, youths said, they get frustrated by their parents' responses. Several said they hate it when parents talk about their own experiences growing up. "It's just kind of like, you don't really care what happened to them when they were kids," one girl said.

A boy said he is particularly irked when his parents "compare how much work they have with how much work I have."

Bounds asked for solutions.

A new list was started. One girl said her mother should take listening lessons from another mother, whom she described as cool. A boy said parents should let teens start the conversation. "Yeah, don't come to us," said someone else in the room.

"They need to just learn to be quiet," said a girl. "When to talk and when not to talk."

George, who sat in on most of the conversation, said, "I think out of everything they [the children] were saying, what they were really saying was, listen to me."

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